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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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What triggers and ends Mitty's second, third, and fourth day-dreams?

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Walter's second daydream is triggered after he drives past a hospital. In the daydream, Walter is a specialist working with other doctors to save the life of Wellington McMillan, the millionaire banker and personal friend of Roosevelt. In all, there are four medical professionals presiding over the operation: two doctors, Dr. Renshaw and Dr. Benbow, and two specialists, Dr. Remington from New York and Dr. Pritchard-Mitford from London.

In this second daydream, just at the moment the other doctors are stumped and Walter is getting ready to save the day, our protagonist is rudely pulled out of his reverie by the parking-lot attendant's shouts. Apparently, Walter has unwittingly driven into the "Exit Only" lane and is about to run into a Buick. To prevent further mishap, the attendant tells Walter to leave the key in the car so that he can park it.

Walter's third daydream is triggered when he walks past a newspaper boy shouting "something about the Waterbury trial." In this daydream, Walter is on trial for murder; he is also a skilled marksman and highly experienced firearms expert. When his attorney argues that Walter's injured right arm rendered him incapable of having fired the fatal shot, Walter coolly proclaims that he could have killed the victim at three hundred feet with his left hand if he had wanted to. The courtroom breaks into pandemonium after his stunning pronouncement. Out of nowhere, a dark-haired beauty leaps into Walter's arms. At this point, the District Attorney strikes at the girl, and Walter punches him in the chin, yelling "You miserable cur!"

Upon hearing himself say the word "cur" (dog), Walter is abruptly pulled out of his daydream. He suddenly remembers what his wife wants him to pick up: puppy biscuits. Satisfied, he walks into a store and purchases a box of dog biscuits with the phrase "Puppies Bark For It" on the box.

Walter's fourth daydream is triggered when he sees "pictures of bombing planes and of ruined streets" in a magazine article entitled "Can Germany Conquer the World Through the Air?" In this daydream, Captain Walter Mitty appears to be the only one who can save the day. Apparently, all the soldiers in his unit are either injured or in no condition to fly the bomber plane that will take down the Germans. So, Walter has volunteered to do the deed himself, despite the protestations of his subordinate. Before he goes, Walter downs some brandy, and the sergeant proclaims with admiration that no one can hold his brandy like Captain Mitty. Walter leaves for his mission humming "Aupres de Ma Blonde."

Walter is rudely pulled out of this engrossing daydream when his wife taps him insistently on the shoulder and complains about having difficulty finding him. Walter asserts that he's been thinking about things. However, this statement irritates his wife, and she proclaims that she will take his temperature when they get home.

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     Mitty's second daydream is about performing emergency surgery on the millionaire banker Wellington McMillan.  The dream is triggered by Mitty's driving past a hospital.  Mitty is pulled out of the dream when he nearly smashes his car into a Buick as he pulls into a parking lot.

     The third daydream begins when Mitty hears a newsboy "shouting something about the Waterbury trial."  Mitty dreams that he is on trial for a shooting murder.  As Mitty delivers some shocking testimony, a near-riot ensues in the courtroom; as part of the pandemonium, a "lovely, dark-haired girl" leaps into Mitty's arms."  The District Attorney hits the girl.  Mitty punches the man on the chin, and refers to him as "you miserable cur," (a cur being a dirty, mutt dog).  This dream-comment reminds Mitty that his wife had asked him to buy some dog biscuits.  Mitty says, "puppy biscuit" and is back to reality.

     In the fourth daydream, Mitty flies a bomber plane.  The dream is triggered when Mitty waits for his wife in a hotel lobby and picks up a magazine and begins to read an article entitle, "Can Germany Conquer the World Through the Air?"  Mitty is brought out of his dream when his wife arrives and taps him on the shoulder.

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In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," what triggers Mitty's second, third, and fourth daydreams? How is he pulled out of each one?

Mitty's second daydream begins when he drives past a hospital after dropping his wife at the beauty shop. His brilliant medical career ends when the parking lot attendant yells at him to "Back it up, Mac! Look out for the Buick!"

His third daydream begins when a paperboy walks by, selling his papers by shouting about the Waterbury trial. His role as trial defendant ends when he weaves reality into his fantasy by saying "Puppy biscuit," an item on his wife's shopping list; a woman passing by laughs about this to her friend.

Mitty's fourth daydream begins when he picks up a copy of Liberty magazine and starts reading a story about German bombers in World War II. Captain Mitty's military career ends when his wife returns and hits him on the shoulder.

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