The Role of Fantasy in Walter Mitty's Life

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a short story written by James Thurber, a well-known American humorist. The story was first published in the New Yorker magazine, for which he worked, in 1939. Thurber's narrative got a lot of acclaims. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, he employs comedic settings and personalities to tell the story of a henpecked old man who tries to escape his monotonous life by daily excursions into fantasy. In the real world, the protagonist portrays him as a forgetful man who obeys his wife's commands. However, in his fantasies, we witness Mitty as brave, intelligent, and the epitome of manhood. The fantasy world for him is a place where he makes up for all the attributes he does not have in the true world of the heroic and brave characters he envisions in his fantasies. Ultimately, Mitty in his fantasy world passed away, but his death was heroic. In this essay, I will analyze the role of fantasies in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

The first instance of fantasy is at the beginning of the story. Thurber starts the story by taking us into Mitty’s world of fantasy, we assume that the man being described to us is real, but only to realize that he is only the hydroplane’s commander in his imagination. He commands Lieutenant Berg and his crew to sail even though his crew thinks that they will not make it because of the hurricane. We see him as tough, respected, and fearless when his members say to each other, “The old man ain’t afraid of hell!” (Thurber 1). Though his wife brought him back to reality when she complained that he was speeding. She says, “Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” (Thurber 1). At this scene, we realize that all the commanding in the hydroplane was nothing but mere images of illusions created in his fantasy world. In the real world, Mitty can hardly make a decision in regards to driving speeds and his wife scolds him when she commented, “You know I don’t like to go more than forty.” (Thurber 1). He only sits, stares, and listen to his wife listing the errands she needed him to do. After dropping his wife, he drives around town aimlessly to pass the time in his usual ordinary, boring existence. Therefore, Mitty’s hydroplane fantasies portray him as tough, fearless and respected.

Another fantasy scene occurs when Mitty drives by the hospital. He envisions himself as an educated, intelligent Dr. Mitty. Mitty sees himself a skilled surgeon conducting an operation; when the aesthetic machine broke down no one was able to fix it except him. He is intelligent and a problem solver because he used a fountain pen to fix the broken machine after extracting the worn out piston, “Give me a fountain pen…That will hold for ten minutes” (Thurber 2). After introductions in operation room, Dr. Pritchard-Mitford acknowledges Mitty’s skills and knowledge illustrated in his book on streptothricosis. Additionally, Dr. Renshaw and Dr. Benbow were unable to continue with the operation and was requested to step in. This is evident in Dr. Renshaw words, “If you would take over, Mitty?” (Thurber 2).

In his third fantasy, Mitty pictures himself on a murder trial. Though he has an alibi, the author presents him as the world’s famous pistol shot and was capable of killing Gregory Fitzhurtst with the left hand at three hundred feet away; upon this admittance, a commotion erupted in the courtroom. “A woman’s voice above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Mitty’s hands.” (Thurber 3).

Thurber expresses Mitty as an insouciant, forceful, and dauntless Captain fighter pilot in the fourth fantasy. He is the only remaining pilot after all the other get sick with fear and panic. Mitty readies himself alone to fly into the anti-aircraft hell. “It’s forty kilometers through hell, sir.” (Thurber 4). Finally, Mitty experiences his last fantasy while waiting for his wife outside a drugstore. He envisions himself as a part of a firing squad. Mitty faces the firing squad motionless, erect, disdainful and proud, Walter, the inscrutable, undefeated to the end. In his mind, Mitty will never run away from his ordinary, tepid life and so he is hopeless (Thurber 4).

In conclusion, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty leaves us in suspense, imagining if Mitty is dead or his execution fantasy was unlinked to his true life. In all the fantasies, Mitty is heroic, respected, the center of attention, and dauntless; while in realism, he is a completely normal old man who is hardly recognized by anyone. Towards the end of the story when his wife realized that something was wrong with him, she should have made an effort to help him. Mitty’s wife is submerged in her materialistic world while commanding her husband and failing to try to critically access his situation. The role of fantasies in this story is to provide freedom and escape from Mitty’s world of inadequacies and confinement.

December 15, 2021

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