Theme in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” written by James Thurber is a short story that takes place during the trying times of World War II. Thurber’s description of Walter Mitty is of a married older man who lives in a town called Waterbury and has an imagination of a three-year-old. In this excerpt of Walter Mitty’s life we are able to see into his mind and discover the many conflicts that disturb him. The theme, although it may seem hidden, is of Walter Mitty’s quest to be in control of something, perhaps his life. By day dreaming of situations in which he feels in charge, he is able to escape from being pushed around by the people in his town, the parking attendant, and especially his wife. Through the development of the plot and the use of imagery we are able to see Mitty’s conflicts and feelings of inferiority in his everyday life.
As the story of the secret life of Walter Mitty begins, the reader finds himself wondering where the story takes place and for what reason is this seemingly ordinary old man dreaming or wishing he were in another place and time. Through the development of the plot, Thurber enables the reader to pick up subtle clues to the reasoning behind these odd outbursts of daydreams by Walter Mitty. Thurber does an excellent job of using Mrs. Mitty and other towns people, like the parking attendant for instance, to show us reasons why Walter wants to escape reality and dream of such elaborate places. The portrayal of Mrs. Mitty is very important to the development of the plot. Without her, the severity of the daydreams and the theme of this story would not be as easily understood. Thurber makes Mrs. Mitty out to be a strong older woman who has to have the control in the marriage and feels that Walter is incapable of thinking for himself. Every chance that Walter has to be his own man and make his own decisions is stomped by his wifes lack of confidence in him. Mrs. Mitty has to put in her two cents and over power Walter’s thoughts in every situation:
“You’re tensed up again,” said Mrs. Mitty. “It’s one of your days. I wish you’d let Dr. Renshaw look over you.” Walter Mitty stopped the car in front of the building where his wife went to have her hair done. “Remember to get those overshoes while I’m having my hair done,” she said. “I don’t need overshoes,” said Mitty. . . . “We’ve been through that,” she said, getting out of the car. “You’re not a young man any longer.” He raced the engine a little. (Thurber 1170)
This excerpt alone shows how Mrs. Mitty does not even let her husband make his own decisions and how he starts to become agitated by this. Thurber develops the plot nicely in that every time Walter is not day dreaming, or every time his daydreams have been interrupted, he is being told what to do by someone else. This use of plot development makes it able for the reader to better understand the theme and the reasoning behind the unexpected situations of Walter Mitty.
Not only is the development of the plot important, but also the imagery used throughout the story is important to the manifestation of the theme. Imagery is defined as the use of mental images or descriptions, as produced by memory or imagination. Thurber’s use of imagery enables the reader to picture what is going on in the day dreams and to feel the control that Walter feels in every situation. By using imagery, Thurber also allows the reader to see what triggers these daydreams and to understand their origins:
He picked up an old copy of Liberty and sank down into the chair. “Can Germany Conquer the World Through the Air?” Walter Mitty looked at the pictures of bombing planes and of ruined streets. . . . “The cannonading has got the wind up in young Raleigh, sir,” said the sergeant. Captain Mitty looked up at him through tousled hair. “Get him to bed,” he said wearily. “With the others. I’ll fly alone.” (1172)
The use of imagery by Thurber also provokes thought in the reader’s mind. He shows what is really going on in the characters heads and relates what is being said to the theme of the story. For instance, in the fourth daydream the scene is of a captain going into battle to save everyone. Here Mitty says, “We only live once, Sergeant. . . . Or do we?” (Thurber 1173). By using imagery it is obvious to see why Mitty says that in his daydream, but it also has to do with what Mitty is going through with his wife. He feels he is not living his own life, therefore, he is not living.
In conclusion, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a short story based on plot development and the use of imagery in order to manifest a theme. The quest for Walter Mitty to be in control and to have his own thoughts is the reason for the sudden setting changes in this story. The way Mrs. Mitty and the people around Walter treat him provides the reader with an understanding to the imagination of Walter Mitty. As the story progresses feelings of sympathy and understanding are felt for Walter Mitty and his secret life. All completely free essays online in our database are accurately proofread, checked for formatting and referencing styles, so that we can show you how it’s done.