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Written by Timothy Sexton
So here’s the thing about “The Secret Life of Water Mitty” that you need to know: it doesn’t contain an abundance of major characters. And most of the minor characters are only figments of Walter’s imagination. The entire story is just a little over 2,000 words long, but that is more than enough time for Walter Mitty’s densely populated fantasy world to introduce the reader to a number of minor characters who, taken together, create an almost postmodern collective crazy-quilt stitching together the multiple facets of his psyche that remains hidden from the world around him. In this way, being afforded the very special and rare insight into the inner workings of Walter’s brain turns reading the story almost into an experience similar to furtively sneaking a peek at the notes a psychologist has been keeping on a patient with whom dream analysis is a major diagnostic tool. The reader of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” should feel a certain sense of great honor at this opportunity to peer into his fantasy life because in the short span of those barely more than 2,000 words we get to know Walter far more intimately than the other major character in the story has, does or ever will.
Walter Mitty was created in 1939 as an example of a comedic trope that was guarantee to draw laughter from a knowing audience at the time. He is the henpecked husband; eternally dominated by a wife with a much more forceful personality than his own. Mrs. Mitty is not particularly overbearing and she certainly is not a shrewish type of wife given to wielding dominance over a more submissive husband. Therein lies the universality, of course. Just as millions of men over the decades have seen themselves in Walter, so likely have millions of woman seen themselves in Mrs. Mitty. On the surface, Mrs. Mitty can be connected with by those wives who are absolutely certain they know what is best for their husband whose domineering manner is seen as an act of love and tender care. And so well may it be. Except that Walter’s fantasy world of attractive woman as take-charge Navy commander, highly respected surgeon, sharpshooter suspected of murder and World War I flying ace all point to a decided attempt to escape the clutches of Mrs. Mitty’s tender loving usurpation of his right to make decisions on his own regarding his own life that makes it highly likely that Walter does not view her role as entirely benevolent. Of course, it is vital to keep in mind that the only Mrs. Mitty the reader is allowed access to is the one viewed through the very subjective lens of Walter’s perspective. Nevertheless, if Walter’s version of certain events are taken at face value, his wife has without question contributed to the lack of self-esteem in her husband that can only be addressed and reversed through a remarkably active, inventive and vivid fantasy world.
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber.