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 Quotes in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
They went out through the revolving doors that made a faintly derisive whistling sound when you pushed them.
“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.