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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


Garage Man: Person who removed chains from Mitty's tires. Daydream 1 Commander Mitty: Pilot of a navy hydroplane. Berg: Lieutenant. He ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • By James Thurber (1894-1961)

Type of Work and Publication Dates
  • "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a short
    story centering on the daydreams of a henpecked
    Connecticut husband.
  • It was first published in the March 18, 1939,
    issue of The New Yorker.
  • Harcourt, Brace and Company published it in
    October, 1942, in a book collection of Thurber's
    works, My World--and Welcome to It. 

  • The action takes place in the late 1930s in a car
    traveling to Waterbury, Connecticut, and in the
    city itself in the area of Main Street.
  • Waterbury is in west-central Connecticut on the
    Naugatuck River.

Characters (Real-Life)
  • Walter Mitty Meek Connecticut man who retreats
    into daydreams in which he becomes a hero.
  • Mrs. Mitty Mitty's domineering wife.
  • Parking Attendant After Mitty pulls into the
    wrong lane in a parking lot, the attendant takes
    the wheel and parks the car.
  • Policeman Officer who orders Mitty to pull away
    after a traffic signal turns from red to green.
  • Pedestrians Woman and her companion who
    encounter Mitty on the street. When the woman
    notices Mitty talking to himself, she makes fun
    of him. 
  • Dr. Renshaw Mitty's family doctor. Mrs. Mitty
    tells her husband to see the physician for a
  • Garage Man Person who removed chains from
    Mitty's tires.

Daydream 1
  • Commander Mitty Pilot of a navy hydroplane.
  • Berg Lieutenant. He cautions Mitty not to fly in
    stormy weather.
  • Crewmen

Day Dream 2
  • Dr. Mitty One of the world's most eminent
    surgeons. Wellington McMillan Millionaire
    patient and friend of President Franklin D.
    Roosevelt. McMillan requires immediate surgery.
  • Dr. Renshaw One of the physicians attending
    McMillan. (Renshaw is Mitty's real-life
  • Dr. Benbow One of the physicians attending
  • Dr. Remington Eminent New York specialist called
    in on the McMillan case.
  • Dr. Pritchard-Mitford Eminent London specialist
    called in on the McMillan case.
  • Nurse
  • Intern

Daydream 3
  • Mitty Suspect in a murder case. He is an expert
    marksman who is on the stand answering the
    district attorney's questions. Gregory
    Fitzhurst Murder victim.  District Attorney
    Prosecutor in the murder case. Woman "Lovely,
    dark-haired girl," the narrator says, who throws
    herself into Mitty's arms. Judge

Daydream 4
  • Captain Mitty Devil-may-care World War I pilot.
    Sergeant Soldier who urges Mitty not to fly
    alone. Raleigh Shell-shocked flier. Von
    Richtman Allusion to Manfred von Richtofen,
    known as the Red Baron.

Daydream 5
  • Mitty Defiant prisoner about to be executed.
    Firing Squad

Point of View
  • Thurber tells the story in omniscient,
    third-person point of view, enabling the narrator
    to reveal the thoughts of Walter Mitty as they
    are in progress.
  • However, the narration does not peep into the
    mind of Mrs. Mitty.
  • Instead, it reveals what she is thinking through
    her spoken words.

  • Escapism
  • Henpecked Mitty deals with his everyday
    frustrations by escaping into daydreams. 
  • Boosting the Ego
  • Mitty is a submissive, accommodating chap.
  • But when he makes himself the hero of his
    daydreams, he becomes a veritable demigod.
  • His daydreams help him sustain his ego against
    the nitpicking of his wife.
  • Vicarious Adventure
  • Even an ordinary man can become an extraordinary
    herowith the help of his imagination.
  • And who is to say that the secret world of Walter
    Mitty is not a real world?
  • After all, daydreams are part of everyday

Thurber's Humor
  • Narration and dialogue that mock the melodrama of
    hack novels.
  • " 'We're going through!' The Commander's voice
    was like thin ice breaking. He wore his
    full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided
    white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray
    eye. 'We can't make it, sir. It's spoiling for a
    hurricane, if you ask me.' 'I'm not asking you,
    Lieutenant Berg,' said the Commander. 'Throw on
    the power lights! Rev her up to 8500! We're going
    through!' "
  • Or consider this passage " 'With any known make
    of gun,' " Mitty said evenly, 'I could have
    killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet
    with my left hand.' Pandemonium broke loose in
    the courtroom. A woman's scream rose above the
    bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl
    was in Walter Mitty's arms." 

Thurber's Humor
  • Repetition of sounds and images that fascinate
  • For example, Thurber uses the onomatopoeia
    pocketa-pocketa to imitate the sound of an
    aircraft engine in the first daydream, to imitate
    the sound of the anesthetizer in the second
    daydreamwith the addition of queep when the
    machine malfunctionsand to imitate the sound of
    flame throwers in the fourth daydream.
  • (Flame throwers, of course, don't go
    pocketa-pocketa but instead make a whooshing
    sound. But so what. Pocketa-pocketa is more
  • In addition, Thurber uses images of complicated
    dials in the first and second daydreams and of a
    gun (Webley-Vickers 50.80) in the third and
    fourth daydreams. 

Thurber's Humor
  • Oddball neologisms and malapropisms. Note, for
    example, that Wellington McMillan suffers from
    obstreosis of the ductal tract and later
    develops a condition called coreopsis. The
    former is a made-up disease and the latter is a
    genus of colorful  flowers. 

Thurber's Humor
  • Descriptions of incredible feats that the
    daydreaming Mitty performs or claims he can
  • For example, he repairs the anesthetizer with a
    fountain pen and claims that he could have killed
    Gregory Fitzhurst from 300 feet by shooting a gun
    with his left hand. (Mitty is right-handed.)

Thurber's Humor
  • Abrupt transitions from the mundane Mitty of
    everyday life to the heroic Mitty of the
  • For example, after Mitty slugs the district
    attorney in the courtroom dream, he remembers
    that he must buy puppy biscuits. 

Mitty's Ineptitude
  • Mrs. Mitty bullies poor Walter, but it appears
    that his obvious ineptitude and carelessness play
    no small role in inciting her nagging and the ill
    treatment he receives from others. 
  • Consider, for example, the matter of the gloves.
  • Next, consider the matter of the overshoes.
  • Consider also the following incidents that attest
    to his ineptitude
  • (1) he pulls into the Exit Only lane at the
    parking lot
  • (2) when attempting to remove snow chains from
    his car tires, he ends up getting them wound
    around the axle and has to call a garage man to
    undo his bungling.
  • Mitty also tends to be forgetful

  • There is no climax in the story unless one
    interprets the final daydream as a turning point
    in Mitty's life.
  • .However, given the tone of the story and the
    meekness of Mitty, it is likely that he takes no
    remedial action of any kind but simply continues
    to daydream and tolerate his wife's nitpicking. 

  • The car, the overshoes, the gloves, and the tire
  • These all symbolize Mrs. Mitty's control over
    bumbling Walter.
  • She orders him to buy overshoes, wear gloves, and
    slow down from 55 to 40. In addition, she
    requires him to take his car to a garage to have
    the snow chains on his tires removed. 

  • Policeman, parking attendant, garage man
  • They symbolize the control that the world exerts
    over Walter.
  • Images of war and guns
  • They symbolize the strong masculinity that Mitty

Allusions, Names, Special Terms, and Malapropisms
  • Coreopsis See Oddball Neologisms and
  • Hydroplane Seaplane plane that can take off and
    land on water.
  • Liberty Weekly feature magazine published
    between 1924 and 1950.
  • Obstreosis of the ductal tract See Oddball
    Neologisms and Malapropisms.
  • Von Richtman's Circus Von Richtman is an
    allusion to Manfred von Richtofen (1892-1918), an
    ace World War I German pilot known as the Red
    Baron. Circus is an allusion to the Flying
    Circus, a unit of elite pilots commanded by
  • Webley-Vickers 50.80 Made-up name for a gun.
    Webley and Vickers were separate British
    companies that manufactured weapons. Webley made
    service revolvers Vickers made machine guns.
    (Vickers also constructed ships and aircraft).
  • Archies Anti-aircraft weapons.
  • Auprès de Ma Blonde French folk song composed in
    the 1600s. The title may be translated as "Near
    My Fair-Haired Lady" or "Next to My Dear One."
    The French word blonde may also connote mistress.
    It is said that French soldiers sometimes sang
    the song when going into battle.
  • Coals to Newcastle These words are often used as
    part of the phrase like carrying coals to
    Newcastle. Newcastle upon Tyne is a British city
    famous for the production and export of coal. To
    say that performing a certain task is like
    carrying coals to Newcastle is to say that one is
    executing a needless task.

Study Questions
  • Is Mitty's daydreaming normal? Or is it a symptom
    of a deep-seated problem?
  • Make a list of your most frequent daydreams. What
    do they tell you about yourself?
  • What do you believe is the main source of
    inspiration for Mitty's daydreams? Movies?
    Novels? Newspapers? Magazines? 

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