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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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What tasks are Walter Mitty and his wife carrying out in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

Quick answer:

Mitty and his wife are carrying out the task of running their daily errands. Mitty's wife has her hair done while he shops for overshoes and puppy biscuits.

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Walter Mitty and his wife are running errands. Mitty is taking his wife into Waterbury to get her hair done, and, after he drops her off, he is supposed to go and buy some overshoes for himself. He doesn't want any overshoes, but his wife insists.

Mitty leaves his car in the parking lot (after almost hitting another car in his distraction) and walks along Main Street down to the shoe store. He purchases his overshoes and then recalls that there is something else his wife wants him to buy while he's waiting for her. He just can't remember what it is. He finally remembers that he must pick up some puppy biscuits, so he heads to the A & P to get them. Then he goes into the hotel lobby to wait for his wife. She finds him there, and as they walk back to the car, she stops in at the drugstore for a moment.

These little daily errands are highly uninteresting to Mitty. In fact, for the whole day, he allows his imagination to carry him into a world of adventure, far away from the boring shopping and waiting of the real world. He is a fighter pilot, a famous surgeon, a military commander, a defendant on trial, and even a man facing a firing squad. Indeed, Walter Mitty's daydreams save him from falling into a spiritless stupor as he and his wife go about their routine.

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In the “real world,” what tasks are Mitty and his wife carrying out?

The tasks that Walter Mitty and his wife carry out in the real world are presented as being as mundane as possible. This is a deliberate strategy on Thurber's part to provide a stark contrast with the contents of Mitty's exciting daydreams. Indeed, Mitty only retreats into his dream world because he finds real life so incredibly boring.

Heading into the city for a shopping expedition is an incredibly boring prospect for Walter. It's fair to say that Walter doesn't go in for retail therapy all that much, so the thought of accompanying his wife while she visits numerous stores doesn't exactly float his boat, so to speak. Truth be told, it positively invites him to retreat into this dreamworld.

His first such foray into fantasy comes when Mitty and his wife are driving into the city. The dullness of this drive is contrasted with the excitement of Walter's daydream, in which he's the commander of a military aircraft, standing brave and resolute while his crew are scared stiff.

Later on, right at the end of the story, Mitty's wife pops into the drugstore for one last item before they had back home. Not surprisingly, dreamy Walter's over-active imagination conjures up yet another fantasy. This time he's in front of a firing squad, smoking his last cigarette before being executed as a traitor.

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