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Written by Timothy Sexton
"WE'RE going through!" The Commander's voice was like thin ice breaking.
The opening line of Thurber’s short story tosses the reader directly into the middle of an action scene. No context is provided that the action is anything but the opening line of a story having something to do with the military. What Thurber is striving for by doing this is to give the same immediate sense of reality to Walter’s fantasy life as is given to his real life. For Walter, there really is no dividing line; the life inside his head is every bit as real as the life taking place around him outside his imagination at any given point.
"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!" said Mrs. Mitty. "What are you driving so fast for?"
After an entire paragraph describing emergency action taking place on board a Navy hydroplane, Mrs. Mitty’s domineering personality intrudes for the first time into Walter’s fantasy life and the reader finally becomes aware of the true content of the story. The introduction to Mrs. Mitty is perfectly pitched because the relatively tame nature of her dominance over her husband simultaneously reveals just how little it takes to control Walter, thus providing tremendous insight to the personalities of both husband and wife.
"A woman’s scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Walter Mitty’s arms."
Not for the first time, a woman in in Mitty’s fantasy life is pointedly described in terms of physical attractiveness. In fact, most of the woman who call the inside of Walter’s mind home are pretty. At least, those women who are not one of the league of various enemies whom Walter always heroically overcomes. The suggestion here is that part of impetus of Walter’s need to establish an identity inside him mind is related to at least a certain level of disappointment with the physical attributes of the woman to whom he is married.
“Once, he had tried to take his chains off, outside New Milford, and he had got them wound around the axles. A man had had to come out in a wrecking car and unwind them, a young, grinning garageman. Since then Mrs. Mitty always made him drive to a garage to have the chains taken off. 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.”
Mitty’s escape into fantasy is not simply entirely the result of being henpecked by his wife. His submissive mental state which has been exploited by his wife occasionally manifests itself in ways that lead to public humiliation. The example of having trouble trying to remove the snow chains from his car’s tires is an example of how a singular humiliating event of almost no consequence grows into a constantly recurring disgrace due to his wife’s exploitation of an isolated failure that could have happened to anyone.
“The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.”
More than just an example of onomatopoeia, Mitty’s description of the pounding of the cylinders becomes a repetitive device that reveals just how intricately connected is the reality of his fantasy life and the world around him. That “ta-pocketa” sound actually describes the sound the car he driving throughout the story makes. It is also the sound made by a hydroplane, an “anaesthetizer” machine in a hospital and a menacing flame-thrower. The sound is one of the few constant links between the real world and every imaginary world created by Mitty’s fantasy life.
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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.