While at first glance Walter Mitty’s dramatic “secret life” couldn’t be more different from his mundane, routine reality, there are connections between the two lives. A newsboy’s shout about an ongoing trial triggers Mitty’s courtroom fantasy, and reading about aerial warfare turns him into a fighter pilot. More broadly, the themes and events in the fantasies are directly linked to the frustrations Mitty feels in reality, particularly his sense of not being in control of his own life. Through his fantasies, Mitty can escape his wife’s nagging reminders to drive slowly and see the doctor; he can tear through hurricanes and firestorms against all advice to the contrary, demanding obedience from sailors and surgeons. His imagination can transform him from a man who struggles with tire chains to one who can fix an “anaesthetizer” with a ballpoint pen. However, a turning point comes when, at the point in the courtroom fantasy when Mitty would be condemned, the word “cur” reminds him that the real Mitty needs to buy puppy biscuit—though his imagination can offer a temporary escape, he remains imprisoned in reality.
As the story progresses, the fantasy life and reality life blend together more and more: When Mitty goes to the store to buy the puppy biscuit, he is still self-identifying as “the greatest pistol shot in the world” as he wonders what brand of biscuit to buy. Similarly, in the final scene, Thurber transitions into Mitty’s firing-squad fantasy without a paragraph break—a formal decision that shows just how much Mitty’s two lives overlap in his mind. This sense of overlap is important for Mitty’s character. He doesn’t just dream of the exciting life he might have had; it’s as if he truly lives the impossible adventures of his imagination, and this small but important distinction is what gives him at least a little bit of the strength and willpower he longs for. Mitty doesn’t have much control over his life, but he does control his own interior world—he can prove his own worth, escape the confinements of his world, and be any kind of hero he wants to be, if only in his mind.
The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality ThemeTracker
The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality Quotes in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
“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!”
“Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” said Mrs. Mitty. “What are you driving so fast for?”
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.
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.
“Puppy biscuit,” said Walter Mitty. He stopped walking and the buildings of Waterbury rose up out of the misty courtroom and surrounded him again.
“I want some biscuit for small, young dogs,” he said to the clerk. “Any special brand, sir?” The greatest pistol shot in the world thought a moment. “It says ‘Puppies Bark for It’ on the box,” said Walter Mitty.
“It’s forty kilometers through hell, sir,” said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. “After all,” he said softly, “what isn’t?”
“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.