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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

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Amy Nguyen

on 30 September 2014

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Transcript of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
Themes
Dreams VS Reality
Analysis
Some Questions to Think About
1. Discuss the use of onomatopoeia and its repetition that occurs in each day dream. What purpose does it serve?
2.How do each of Walter Mitty's day dreams connect to his real life? What moments in his life cause each day dream to occur?
3. How did the time that this story was published affect the content?
4. In what ways does the speed at which the passage goes change the effect on the reader?
Amy Nguyen & Emma Will
Ms. Caritey AP English Lit
Other Elements of Thurber's Writing
Literary Devices: Symbols & Imagery
Connections
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
Escapism
The Concept of Masculinity
"Real Life" Mitty represents typically non-masculine traits. He is:
inept
forgetful
weak
passive
However, in his day dreams Mitty is the epitome of masculine:
strong
brave
respected
and he always gets the pretty girl.
What is Thurber saying about masculinity?
Is he an advocate for the idealized concept of masculinity as presented in Mitty's daydreams or the more realistic view of the real Mitty himself?
Walter Mitty is generally dissatisfied with his life and his surroundings. Whenever this happens people are often inclined to seek out escape from the life that they are living. This often happens in the form of books, games, music, and in this case, daydreaming.
There is a pretty substantial difference between the real and the fictional in this story. This stark contrast can either be seen as comical or as something a bit darker. The story can be taken at face value: Mitty is just a meek guy that likes to imagine himself as something bigger and better. Conversely, it can also be taken that Mitty will never amount to what he desires to be most and will remain his boring, mundane self forever.
Symbols
Gloves and Overshoes
Before she is dropped off, Mrs. Mitty insists that Walter Mitty get overshoes and remember to wear his gloves while driving. These items become symbols for the control that Mitty's wife places upon him. How this control, as well as the items that symbolize it are not without their purpose. Mrs. Mitty uses these items to protect her husband, in such a way that the gloves and overshoes keep him warm. While her heart is in the right place, she is still remarkably overbearing.
Imagery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
is a very imagery rich story. Each of Mitty's daydreams are vividly described using all of the senses. The most common of the sense used is sound. The common theme of sound ties all of his daydreams together, specifically the sound of "Pocketa-pocketa-pocketa". This is the sound of the Navy hydroplane's engine, the new "anesthitizer" and the flamethrowers. This sound would not generally be connected to these items, mainly the flamethrowers. However, even in its unorthodoxy, it still grounds his daydreams in reality and reminds the reader that that is all they are: daydreams.
Tone
The tone of this story could be taken in one of two ways, depending on how one looks at it: comic, or tragic.
Comic
On one hand, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty can be taken as an amused look into the somewhat deranged life of a man with his head in the clouds. The author himself seems to push the reader into thinking this way; creating Mitty as a likable, albeit a little distracted character.
Tragic
Another way of looking at this story is to focus of the tragedy of the inevitable: Mitty will likely never achieve his dreams. His is almost definitely confined to his daily grind and boring, mundane life. He will continue on as he is. The tragedy in this stemmed from the hopelessness of the situation. It is almost ironic that someone as seemingly hopeful as Mitty can be trapped in such a hopeless situation.
Structure & Syntax
Writing Style
Dialogue
"We're going through!"
Thurber kick-starts the story with dialogue. He instantly sends us into Walter Mitty's dream. The conversations between the characters in his dream go back and forth rapidly, speeding up the pace of the story.
Each line of dialogue is not its own paragraph, like traditional writing. By doing this, Thurber controls the pace of the story well and contrasts dreams and reality. (i.e. first paragraph)
"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 8,500! We’re going through!” The pounding of the cylinders increased:
ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa
. The Commander stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated dials. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” he shouted. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” repeated Lieutenant Berg. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” shouted the Commander. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. “The Old Man’ll get us through,” they said to one another. “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell!” . . .

“Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” said Mrs. Mitty. “What are you driving so fast for?”
A Look at the Text
In a nutshell, the story is a playful dream. Thurber creates a strong feel of adventure and fantasy, however, the exaggerated language and embellishments clearly make it a dream. The writing is very free, which captures how dreams feel.

1. Compare the movie clips to the story. What are their similarities and differences? What points do each of them highlight from the short story?

2. The story was made into two films, one in 1947 and most recently in 2013. Why did the directors choose to make this story into a film? How does it translate into film versus the text?

3. How does the title The Secret Life of Walter Mitty connect to the story?

4. Does Walter to other literary characters? If so, how?

Thurber divides the story in a very specific way. The paragraphs mark his dreams and reality. By using this kind of structure, it shows how immersed he is into his dreams and the paragraph break indicates a break in his thoughts.
Walter's dreams are not romantic and "dreamy." They're adventurous, action-packed, and fast-paced. This is reflected in the word-choice as well as the sentence structures. The descriptions are colorful and vivid, but not lyrical. Thurber chooses words such as hurling, pounding, and rakishly.
Also, by using third-person for the point of view, it gives the reader an overall look at Walter. However, the narrator is not telling the story in an objective manner. It is third-person, but the narrator is influenced by Walter's mindset
Like many, Walter is a dreamer. This is the thing that connects him to us as well as literary characters because dreaming is a universal concept.
Walter connects to Jay Gatsby, several characters from A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, etc. Anyone who becomes lost in a dream can connect to Walter, which makes him relatable.
Wal·ter Mit·ty noun \ˌwȯl-tər-ˈmi-tē\
a commonplace unadventurous person who seeks escape from reality through daydreaming
— Walter Mit·ty·ish adjective
Thinking Questions
The Author Himself
James Thurber was not only an author but a cartoonist, journalist, and playwright. He celebrated "the comic frustrations and eccentricities of regular people." He was one of the most popular humorists at the time.

By looking at Thurber as a person, we see how his personality is reflected in his writing. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has elements of comedy and plays with the average, everyday person giving into day dreaming. There are aspects of surrealism and fantasy as well.
His cartoons were simple and surrealist. They were published in The New Yorker, which was also where The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was published.
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