The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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Themes and Colors
Heroism and Masculinity Theme Icon
Illness and Mortality Theme Icon
Public Image and Embarrassment Theme Icon
The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality Theme Icon
Concealment Theme Icon
Humor Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Concealment Theme Icon

The real-life Walter Mitty keeps his true self hidden, literally and figuratively. Whether he’s reluctantly putting on gloves and overshoes in obedience to Mrs. Mitty’s concern about his health, or planning to wear a sling on his arm to save himself from embarrassment, he believes concealing himself is necessary for his own protection; revealing his true self in any way would mean a risk of exposing his flaws. In his fantasies, however, Mitty is completely in control of what he conceals or reveals, and concealment is always an example of his strength. His heroic alter egos are calm and cool, expert at controlling their feelings—in particular, the enigmatic fighter pilot Captain Mitty remains self-possessed even while drinking. But Mitty won’t accept any concealment imposed by others. In the courtroom fantasy, he refuses to use the sling as a disguise even when it could potentially save him from conviction: he wants everyone to know the truth about him and his abilities. His declaration, “To hell with the handkerchief!” in the final scene is similar—in declining a handkerchief blindfold, not only does he refuse to show fear before the firing squad, but he also refuses to conceal his face.

For “Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last,” this moment of pride and bravery is triumphant in spite of his death. Yet there’s a sad irony to the fact that he remains “inscrutable”—that is, impossible for others to understand—up to the moment of his death, because this description applies to his real life as well as his fantasy. Just as his wife appears to be a stranger at the beginning, he will always be unknown and unknowable to her, and nobody will ever know what goes on in his secret life.

Concealment ThemeTracker

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Concealment Quotes in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Below you will find the important quotes in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty related to the theme of Concealment.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Quotes

He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty, Mrs. Mitty
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Walter has just awoken from a vivid fantasy, in which he's been playing the role of a military Commander. Walter is a little dazed: he barely recognizes his own wife, Mrs. Mitty, because his imaginations has been so vivid.

We already knew that Walter retreated into fantasy when Mrs. Mitty was bullying him. But here, it becomes clear that Walter's fantasy life is more than just a conscious defense mechanism--Walter's fantasies are so rich and so vivid that he forgets why he started fantasizing in the first place! In general, Walter is both a highly relatable character (who hasn't daydreamed to get away from reality?) and a farcical, humorous figure who disappears into his imagination to an almost unrealistic degree. In real life, this would also be somewhat disturbing--he seems to be hallucinating while he's driving a car.


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Walter Mitty drove on toward Waterbury in silence, the roaring of the SN202 through the worst storm in twenty years of Navy flying fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty
Related Symbols: Car
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Walter slowly returns to reality, but his imagination continues to overlap with that reality. He's been fantasizing (hallucinating?) about being a military commander, but his wife's nagging temporarily snaps him out of it. Interestingly, it then takes Walter a while to forget his fantasy and focus on what's in front of him (the road, since he's driving!).

The passage reinforces the strength and vividness of Walter Mitty's fantasies--when he's fantasizing, his visions are so clear that he forgets where he is and what he's doing. Even after he's "woken up," it takes Walter some time (a decent chunk of this short story) to drift back to consciousness, and his fantasies and real-life actions continue to overlap (at least here he's driving something in both his imagination and in reality).

The next time, he thought, I’ll wear my right arm in a sling; they won’t grin at me then. I’ll have my right arm in a sling and they’ll see I couldn’t possibly take the chains off myself.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker), Parking-Lot Attendant and Grinning Garagemen
Related Symbols: Car, Gloves, Overshoes, Sling, and Handkerchief
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Walter Mitty has a hard time with cars. He's tried to remove the chains from his tires before, and bungled the job--as a result, Mrs. Mitty forces him to go to the garage whenever he wants to remove the chains. Mitty resents having to rely on other people to take care of his car, as he knows that being able to take care of one's car is a sign of power and masculinity -- and the garage workers seem to know it to, as they "grin" at him when he takes his car in.

But because Walter knows he can never prove himself to other men through skill or confidence, he tries another tactic. Instead of trying to elicit wonder from other people, he tries to elicit sympathy by placing his arm in a sling. Notice, though, that Walter doesn't actually place his arm in the sling: even here, he relies on fantasy and imagination to solve his problems.

Walter Mitty raised his hand briefly and the bickering attorneys were stilled. “With any known make of gun,” he said evenly, “I could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet with my left hand.”

Related Characters: Walter Mitty, Gregory Fitzhurst
Related Symbols: Gloves, Overshoes, Sling, and Handkerchief
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we enter Walter's third fantasy. Notice how each fantasy gets a little more pessimistic than the one before: at first, Walter was a calm, courageous commander, but here, he's on trial for his life. Walter imagines himself being accused of murder. Instead of denying the crime, Walter calmly boasts of his ability to kill any man, even with his arm in a sling.

The passage is interested because it suggests the way Walter is at odds with himself. Walter wants to wear his arm in a sling in order to draw pity from others, but he also wants to be perceived as strong and dangerous, as he makes very clear here (and in his fantasy, then, the sling becomes a sign of heroism, not feebleness). Walter doesn't know what he wants: he's both narcissistic and rather masochistic. Perhaps more than anything else, he just wants to be taken seriously, whether for his heroism, his intelligence, his competence, or his dangerousness.

“I was thinking,” said Walter Mitty. “Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?” She looked at him. “I’m going to take your temperature when I get you home,” she said.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker), Mrs. Mitty (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Walter Mitty comes close--as close as he ever gets in the story--to responding directly and asserting himself to his wife, Mrs. Mitty. Mrs. Mitty criticizes her husband for his constant daydreaming, and Walter mutters something about how he's "thinking." Walter knows that it's wrong to spend so much time immersed in fantasy, and wants to justify himself to his wife. But he lacks the courage or the confidence to stand up to Mrs. Mitty and go further with this statement. As a result, Mrs. Mitty further dismisses Walter's individuality and adulthood by suggesting that his behavior is just a medical problem.

Notice also that Mrs. Mitty says that she's going to "get" Walter home--despite the fact that Walter has been doing the driving throughout the story, Mrs. Mitty is clearly the one in control. By suggesting that Walter is sick, Mrs. Mitty implies that even Walter's meager attempt to stand up to her is just a "lapse" on his part. Her domination over Walter seems almost total.

They went out through the revolving doors that made a faintly derisive whistling sound when you pushed them.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker), Mrs. Mitty (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

In this cleverly detailed passage, Walter and his wife leave the building and prepare to return to their home. As they exit, they go through a revolving door.

Note that a revolving door makes a big, dramatic entrance impossible--you can't "burst" through a revolving door, as Walter the armchair adventurer would like to do. One could even say that revolving doors are another symbol of emasculation: in modern society, there are no opportunities for showing off one's masculinity and courage, as even walking through a door is a slow, shuffling process. Thurber underscores the pathetic nature of Walter's exit by describing the "derisive" sound of the revolving door--he's so anxious and unconfident that he imagines even the doors mocking him.

“To hell with the handkerchief,” said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gloves, Overshoes, Sling, and Handkerchief
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

In Walter's last and grimmest fantasy, he's being executed before a firing squad--a symbol of the way his wife has lashed out at him for daring to express his own individuality. Even in his daydreams, he's about to die--although still in a macho, confident way.

Why does Walter dream about being shot? Perhaps Thurber wants to suggest that Walter's emasculation is partly Walter's own fault: on some level, he seems to enjoy the way his wife needles him. In another sense, Walter's fantasy shows how pathetic his life has become: even to be executed with dignity is a vacation from the mundanity of his everyday existence. In his fantasy, Walter bravely shows his face to the firing squad, eschewing the customary handkerchief that's given to prisoners before they're shot. Walter wants to assert his bravery and freedom, but he's not really brave enough to do so in the real world.

And yet there's a slightly poetic turn at the end of this passage: "inscrutable to the last." Part of Walter's core self is his vivid imagination, and his concealment of that imagination from all other people. He is inscrutable to the outside world, or certainly to his wife, and so despite his seemingly mundane and pathetic existence, his "secret life"  and its "inscrutability" make him in a way a romantic, if tragic, figure.