The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality Theme Analysis

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.
The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality Theme Icon

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.

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The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality 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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The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality 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 The Overlap of Fantasy and Reality.
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:

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“Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” said Mrs. Mitty. “What are you driving so fast for?”

Related Characters: Mrs. Mitty (speaker), Walter Mitty
Related Symbols: Car
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty, Mrs. Mitty
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty
Related Symbols: Car
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Puppy biscuit,” said Walter Mitty. He stopped walking and the buildings of Waterbury rose up out of the misty courtroom and surrounded him again.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

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“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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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“It’s forty kilometers through hell, sir,” said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. “After all,” he said softly, “what isn’t?”

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

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“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.

Related Characters: Walter Mitty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gloves, Overshoes, Sling, and Handkerchief
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

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