Walter Mitty’s Secret Escape


In James Thurber’s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the character

Walter Mitty uses his imagination as a need to escape and express his emotions of anger and self-pity. By daydreaming, one might be able to escape the petty details of life and obtain freedom from their reality. Through the literary elements of character, setting, and symbolism, James Thurber shows how Walter Mitty escapes his everyday life by daydreaming.

Character traits throughout the story are one of the elements that helps reveal the theme to the reader. Walter Mitty is described as a meek and mild-mannered, hen-pecked husband who learns to escape reality through daydreams (Thurber 77). Most of Walter Mittys sluggish behavior is probably caused by his wife’s overpowering and demanding attitude. “She is a nag and an extremely overbearing woman, who is perhaps the ultimate cause of Walter’s secret life” (Mann). We begin to see that Mrs. Mitty is definitely the dominant one in the relationship, and as orders are given by her, Walter begins to wander into his fantasy world. Living with Mrs. Mitty clearly poses problems and frustrations from her husband, but Walter never seems to complain. Walter’s lack of rebellion clearly indicates that he has finally defeated his nagging wife by escaping into his own world (Mann). The thought of becoming “the best doctor” or a “heroic army general”, portrays the way Mitty deals with his self-fulfillment. To the outer world, Mitty seems to be controlled by his wife, however, in his dream world Walter is completely in touch with how he feels. “Walter Mitty, the Undefeated, inscrutable, to the last” (Cheatham 608).


This quote that describes Walter Mitty at the end of the story suggests that he is finally triumphant over his wife, and the obstacles he faces in the real world. James Thurber clearly demonstrates the theme of the story through his use of character traits.

The different settings throughout the story help clarify how Walter Mitty can escape through these imaginative dreams. Throughout the story, Mitty’s fantasy dreams stem from some detail during the story. When Walter is driving his wife past the hospital, he imagines himself being a famous physician, and while lighting a cigarette against the stone wall, he imagines himself becoming a German army hero. Thurber uses these details to further explain how Walter Mitty is able to reach his dream world. This suggests that the setting has to do with the imaginative mind of Walter Mitty, and shows how the setting easily leads him into his imaginative world. Without being at the places he travels, Walter Mitty may never have imagined these types of dreams. The fact that Walter Mitty drives his wife to town every day also plays a huge part in the setting of the story. Many observations that Walter Mitty makes while he is strolling through town sets his mind up for the imaginative stories he dreams. While walking through town, Mitty comes upon a woman in the street who laughs at him for talking amongst himself. This sparks the imaginative mind of Walter Mitty and he begins to daydream because of his low self esteem (Sweet 111). Most of Walter Mitty’s daydreams are caused because of the environment around him and the negative reaction of other people toward him. By using the literary element of setting, James Thurber makes the theme clearly visible in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.


James Thurber’s use of imagery and symbolism throughout the story also play a role in revealing the theme to the reader. For example, both Walter Mitty and Rip Van

Winkle use their imagination and dreams to escape adult responsibility and their shrewd wives (Sweet 77). Sweet interprets Mitty’s character as another Rip Van Winkle and the use of symbolism here shows the reader how Walter is able to escape his reality and daydream into a place of no return. The character of Mrs. Mitty also represents symbolism throughout the story. Mann’s interpretation of Mrs. Mitty is compared to Eve in the Garden of Eden, and Thurber uses a description of Mrs. Mitty to represent a demanding and overpowering wife. Because Mrs. Mitty is described this way, Walter is set up for his imaginative dreams throughout the