These covering garments symbolize the fearful, shame-based self-concealment that characterizes Walter Mitty’s
everyday life. Since Mrs. Mitty
insists that he wear the gloves
to protect his health now that he’s “not a young man any longer,” they act as badges of physical weakness, and also, arguably, of a paranoia against the weather to match Mitty’s paranoia of strangers’ judgment. While he puts up a halfhearted resistance to wearing them—his “I don’t need overshoes” is as mild and easily overruled as his later comment, “Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?”—he quickly gives in, and not only in obedience to his wife. In one telling moment, he takes off the gloves as soon as Mrs. Mitty leaves him alone, but guiltily pulls them on again when a cop scolds him for lingering at a traffic light, as if by taking off the gloves he has exposed himself to public judgment. The sling
he imagines wearing to deceive the garagemen
works the same way, proclaiming physical unfitness and thereby shielding Mitty from expectations he can’t meet. In his fantasies, however, Mitty is strong and brave and has no need for concealment: he declines to use the sling as an alibi when he is a crack shot on trial for murder, and he rejects the handkerchief
over his face as he stands before the firing squad, fearlessly refusing to hide his face from the executioners.