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 declares she will take his temperature once she gets him home.
Mitty, whose age is part of his sense of weakness, resents these constant reminders of his mortality—in one fantasy scene, he is a surgeon who outperforms the very doctor his wife has told him to see. (The patient he saves is named Wellington, which also happens to be the name of a famous brand of rubber boots: not only is “Dr. Mitty” too healthy to need overshoes, but he can also restore overshoes themselves to health.) Yet, even so, death is always at the forefront of Mitty’s “secret life”: He defies death as a naval commander, stops death as a surgeon, deals death as a gunman, embraces the risk of death as a pilot, and finally, as a prisoner before a firing squad, dies courageously. This changing relationship to death in the fantasies—with death evolving from something he can control and overcome to something that he can only face defiantly as it comes for him—parallels Mitty’s initial resistance and ultimate resignation to his boring, unsatisfying life.
Illness and Mortality ThemeTracker
Illness and Mortality Quotes in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
“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.
“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.
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.”
“It’s forty kilometers through hell, sir,” said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. “After all,” he said softly, “what isn’t?”
“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.
“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.