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.
Humor Theme Icon

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 for machines from airships to flamethrowers, and his vision of the machines is hazy beyond “complicated” dials and wires. His characters shout out nonsensical jargon: “Coreopsis is setting in,” says the imaginary Dr. Renshaw, giving the surgical patient’s condition the name of a daisylike flower. In some ways, Thurber’s humor undermines Mitty even further; he is so pathetically far from having the skills he dreams of excelling in that his fantasies don’t even make sense. Yet the real Mitty is also capable of wordplay—“toothbrush, bicarbonate, carborundum, initiative and referendum?” he muses at one point, free-associating with the items on his shopping list—and his real life can be darkly ridiculous too (“Don’t tell me you forgot the what’s-it’s-name,” Mrs. Mitty will often say). For that matter, Mitty and his wife are such cartoons of the proverbial henpecked husband and nagging wife that their real selves are hardly more dimensional than the characters Mitty imagines, which means that a less tongue-in-cheek rendition of his macho fantasies could come off as self-pitying or misogynistic. Mitty’s secret life is what gives him depth—and the lighthearted, humorous tone of his fantasies is what makes both sides of his character sympathetic.

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Humor ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Humor appears in each section of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Humor 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 Humor.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Quotes

“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!”

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker), Lieutenant Berg
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

“Remember to get those overshoes while I’m having my hair done,” she said. “I don’t need overshoes,” said Mitty. She put her mirror back into her bag. “We’ve been all through that,” she said, getting out of the car. “You’re not a young man any longer.” He raced the engine a little.

Related Characters: Mrs. Mitty (speaker), Walter Mitty
Related Symbols: Car, Gloves, Overshoes, Sling, and Handkerchief
Page Number: 55-56
Explanation and Analysis:

A huge, complicated machine, connected to the operating table, with many tubes and wires, began at this moment to go pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.

Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ve read your book on streptothricosis,” said Pritchard-Mitford, shaking hands. “A brilliant performance, sir.” “Thank you,” said Walter Mitty. “Didn’t know you were in the States, Mitty,” grumbled Remington. “Coals to Newcastle, bringing Mitford and me up here for a tertiary.” “You are very kind,” said Mitty.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker), Dr. Remington (speaker), Dr. Pritchard-Mitford (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

In a way he hated these weekly trips to town—he was always getting something wrong. Kleenex, he thought, Squibb’s, razor blades? No. Toothpaste, toothbrush, bicarbonate, carborundum, initiative and referendum? He gave it up. But she would remember it. “Where’s the what’s-its-name?” she would ask. “Don’t tell me you forgot the what’s its name.”

Related Characters: Walter Mitty, Mrs. Mitty
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker)
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

“I never see a man could hold his brandy like you, sir,” said the sergeant. “Begging your pardon, sir.” Captain Mitty stood up and strapped on his huge Webley-Vickers automatic.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker), Sergeant (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis: