abstract illustration of a man's face and several accoutrements: scissors, gloves, glasses, tweezers, facemask, and a cigarette

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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How might Walter Mitty's personality trigger his last daydream?

Quick answer:

Walter Mitty’s last daydream is of being in front of a firing squad and of declining the handkerchief offered to him, with which he might cover his eyes to make the experience less frightening.

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Mitty's last daydream is one where he is shot before a firing squad while he is smoking a cigarette. In this daydream he has the ultimate escape from his domineering wife-through his death.  The smoking of the cigarette, which seems to make this death somehow more casual and more macho, underscores Mitty's desire to "be a real man" - an idea which shows up in all of his previous daydreams as well.  It is important to note that his other daydreams are interrupted - only this one where the end is his death, goes all the way to the end. In his imaginary life, Mitty is all those things he cannot be in reality - brave, courageous and the stereotypical male.

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What is Walter Mitty's last daydream?

Mrs. Mitty tells her husband to wait for her on the corner because she’s forgotten something and needs to run into the drugstore. Though she tells him she will be quick, she’s not so quick, despite the fact that it begins to rain and sleet outside. Walter leans against the outer wall of the drugstore and lights a cigarette while he waits. Here, he imagines that he is about to be executed by a firing squad, and he has just declined the offer of a handkerchief, which would typically cover the eyes of the person about to be executed.

The handkerchief is generally thought to be a mercy to the prisoner, something to make it easier to face one’s imminent and violent death, so for Walter to decline it—even in his fantasy—shows that he wants to think of himself as someone who is brave and proud, someone who can face even the toughest and scariest of situations without fear. He imagines that, “erect and motionless,” he would stare down the firing squad as one who is “undefeated, inscrutable to the last.”

Such a daydream might encourage us to conclude that Walter feels powerless in his life, that he feels he is at the mercy of other people, like his wife, and that he can do nothing to circumvent or avoid them. However, what he can do is face them with unblinking courage.

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