The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


James Thurber

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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.

Heroism and Masculinity

As Walter Mitty ferries his wife to her hairdresser’s and then buys some overshoes, he falls into fantasies that cast him in heroic and traditionally masculine roles: a naval commander, an expert pistol shot, a daring surgeon, a fighter pilot. He is admired for macho qualities like strength, bravery, aggression, lack of emotion, and holding his liquor, and is easily able to dominate the all-male social groups where his imagination makes him a leader. In…

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Illness and Mortality

Mrs. Mitty is preoccupied with her husband’s health and possible illness (“You’re not a young man any longer,” she reminds him, insisting he put on the gloves and overshoes he doesn’t want to wear) and uses her concern to dismiss his feelings and assert control over his behavior. When she catches Mitty in the middle of a fantasy, she suggests he see the doctor, and when he asserts his right to be “sometimes thinking,” she…

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Public Image and Embarrassment

Walter Mitty is very anxious about how others perceive him: for instance, he is so fearful of the young garagemen’s judgment that he plans to wear an unnecessary sling on his arm to avoid it, and he finds even the revolving doors of the hotel “faintly derisive.” Most other characters, from Mrs. Mitty to the traffic cop to the woman who laughs at him for saying “puppy biscuit” aloud on the street, interact with Mitty…

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The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality

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…

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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…

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One of the most striking characteristics of Walter Mitty’s fantasies is their silliness. The fantasies may be heroic, but only melodramatically, cartoonishly so; from the fountain pen Mitty uses to replace a piston to the beautiful woman who materializes in his arms, they contain events and elements that couldn’t possibly happen in reality, and read like exaggerated parodies of action movies or adventure stories. Like a child playing pretend, Mitty makes a pocketa-pocketa-pocketa sound effect…

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