Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty -James Thurber.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a humour which employs the use of ‘Stories within a Story’ style in a mix of fantasy and realistic fiction. The story introduces Walter Mitty, an average American Male, who escapes his mundane life by resorting to elaborate fantasies. Anyone who has ever day dreamed can relate to Walter. Indeed, the name Walter Mitty has become synonymous with a person who enriches his private life with daydreams while working or listening to everyday conversations. The story focuses on escapism from mundane life into the world of fantasies triggered by stimuli. The story portrays stereotypical male and female roles for e.g. the timid husband, the hero, and the over – bearing wife.

Conflicts in the Story:

Internal:         Mitty in the real world versus Mitty in his fantasy world.

External:       
·         Mitty versus his wife
·         Mitty versus society especially his struggle to follow conventional social norms.

Technique Used:
·         Stories within a story

Advantages:
ü  Builds suspense.
ü  Provides variety to the readers.
ü  Makes the story interesting.
ü  Shows a change in character.

Disadvantages:
ü  Creates confusion.
ü  Readers may lose track of the story.
ü  Spoils the flow and enjoyment of the story.

The story is told in third person narrative.

Writing in third person is the most common way of telling a story.
Third person is the workaday point of view, the one that calls the least attention to itself. This is an advantage: it keeps the reader focused on the story more. Stories are carried by a Third Person
View point than by any other, and it's usually the best option to look at first, before considering other techniques.

The story tells what "he", "she," or "it" does. The third-person narrator's perspective can be limited (telling the story from one character's viewpoint) or omniscient (where the narrator knows everything about all of the characters).

Theme: Escapism from a mundane life. Portrays the stereotypical male and female roles.



The five day dreams of Mitty.

1.      The pilot of a US Navy hydroplane – Commander Mitty: Walter Mitty is driving too fast so he thinks he is a Naval Commander. Mrs. Mitty brings him back to reality. The noise (pocketa- - -) is repeated in most of his day dreams. Mrs. Mitty is characterized mostly through her interaction with Walter and his jolting back to reality. She is going to the beauty parlour and Walter is going to get overshoes. Doctor Renshaw is Walter’s doctor. Mrs. Mitty wants him to go and have a checkup as he is acting strangely. Walter drives around a while and passes a hospital. Then he begins to fantasize that he is fixing a machine in the hospital - a broken piston with a fountain pen.

2.      A surgeon- He is a famous doctor. The parking lot attendant jolts him back to reality. The attendant makes fun of him and embarrasses him. He said that next time he would wear his right arm in a sling and sure he does in his third fantasy. Then he leaves to get the overshoes. He had forgotten the item that Mrs. Mitty had wanted him to get.

3.      An assassin: on the street he hears the newsboy shouting about Waterbury trial; and fantasizes that is a famous assassin on trial for murder. Finally during the fantasy he remembers the puppy biscuits and said it loud. A woman passing on the street laughed at him because he was talking to himself. He goes in the A & P and buys the biscuits whose name he had forgotten. All he remembered was the label ‘Puppies bark for it’ on the box. His wife would be finished in 15 minutes, so he goes to the hotel where he meets her and begins to read an ‘Old copy of Liberty’ probably published during World War II.

4.      A Royal Air Force pilot – RAF Captain Mitty: He dreams that he is a courageous pilot in the war. His dream is shattered by the arrival of his wife who begins to nag him about hiding from her and not putting his over shoes. She thinks he is ill because he is acting strange. She is going to take his temperature when he gets home. She has forgotten something and darts off for the drug store to get it.

5.      Fearless Mitty – Person fearlessly facing the firing squad: Walter’s final dream is that of facing the firing squad mysterious as to the end without handkerchief and smoking a cigarette.


Stimuli:

1.      The powering up of the “Navy hydroplane” in the opening scene is followed by Mrs. Mitty’s complaint that Mitty is driving too fast, which suggests that his speedy driving led to the first day dream.

2.      Mitty’s is a brilliant surgeon after taking off and putting on his gloves as a surgeon puts his surgical gloves and drives past the hospital.

3.      The court room drama “perhaps this will refresh your memory” which begins the third fantasy, follows Mitty’s attempt to remember what his wife told him to buy and also a newspaper boy using news of Waterbury Trial to sell his newspapers.
4.      Mitty’s romanticized version of British pilots in the early days of World War II is inspired from his looking at an old copy “liberty”, which contains images of a war in which The United States was not yet involved at the time of the story’s publication.

5.      The closing firing squad scene comes when Mitty is standing against the wall.

Summary of the story:

As “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” begins, a military officer orders an airplane crew to proceed with a flight through a dangerous storm. The crew members are scared but are buoyed by their commander’s confidence, and they express their faith in him. Suddenly, the setting switches to an ordinary highway, where Walter Mitty and his wife are driving into a city to run errands. The scene on the airplane is revealed to be one of Mitty’s many fantasies.
Mitty’s wife observes that he seems tense, and when he drops her off in front of a hair styling salon, she reminds him to go buy overshoes and advises him to put on his gloves. He drives away toward a parking lot and loses himself in another fantasy. In this daydream he is a brilliant doctor, called upon to perform an operation on a prominent banker. His thoughts are interrupted by the attendant at the parking lot, where Mitty is trying to enter through the exit lane. He has trouble backing out to get into the proper lane, and the attendant has to take the wheel. Mitty walks away, resentful of the attendant’s skill and self-assurance.

Next, Mitty finds a shoe store and buys overshoes. He is trying to remember what else his wife wanted him to buy when he hears a newsboy shouting about a trial, which sends Mitty into another daydream. Mitty is on the witness stand in a courtroom. He identifies a gun as his own and reveals that he is a skillful marksman. His testimony causes a disturbance in the courtroom. An attractive young woman falls into his arms; the district attorney strikes her and Mitty punches him. This time Mitty brings himself out of his reverie by remembering what he was supposed to buy. “Puppy biscuit,” he says aloud, leading a woman on the street to laugh and tell her friend, “That man said ‘Puppy biscuit’ to himself.”

Mitty then goes to a grocery store for the dog biscuits and makes his way to the hotel lobby where he has arranged to meet his wife. He sits in a chair and picks up a magazine that carries a story about airborne warfare. He begins to daydream again, seeing himself as a heroic bomber pilot about to go on a dangerous mission. He is brave and lighthearted as he prepares to risk his life. He returns to the real world when his wife claps him on the shoulder. She is full of questions, and he explains to her that he was ‘thinking’. “Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?” he says.
She replies that she plans to take his temperature when they get home. They leave the hotel and walk toward the parking lot. She darts into a drugstore for one last purchase, and Mitty remains on the street as it begins to rain. He lights a cigarette and imagines himself smoking it in front of a firing squad. He tosses the cigarette away and faces the guns courageously — “Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.”




1. What is the setting in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?

a. Throughout most of the story, Mitty is driving around town with his wife, then he drops her off at the hairdresser while he runs some errands. He first gets scolded at by his wife for driving too fast and then gets yelled by another driver while stalling at a green light. He has trouble parking, and then forgets just what it was he was supposed to pick up at the grocer's while his wife gets her hair "done." In his daydreams, however, Mitty finds himself dominating difficult situations in more exotic settings - in an icebreaker up near the pole, in an emergency surgical unit, in a courtroom, and finally before a firing squad. The contrast between Mitty's real life and that of his imagination is of course the humour of the story.

b. There is a contrast of settings between the boring humdrum suburban existence which Mitty has and his fantastical hero exploits. In reality Mitty is driving his wife to town, then waiting around for her whilst completing the menial tasks he has been set to do:
''Remember to get those overshoes while I'm having my hair done,"

The second setting is as wide as Mitty's imagination which ranges from the depths of a hurricane to the warring skies; the tense operation theatre and the dramatic courtroom. One of the most engaging aspects of the story is facilitated by this distinction in settings.

2. What type of character is Walter Mitty?

Walter Mitty, the main character in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," is a daydreamer. He spends a good deal of his time imagining that he is someone else. His daydreams all have him as a successful, courageous, heroic individual, who is called in to save the day.
"He imagines himself the hero of his fantasies as a navy pilot commander, doctor, sharpshooter, bomber pilot, and noble victim of a firing squad. Mitty is married to a woman who treats him more like a child than a husband. This is due to his immature tendency to escape into fantasies rather than live in the real world."

In real life, Walter Mitty is a bumbling fool who would rather spend his energy dreaming of things he isn't, rather than make a real change in his life. Throughout the story, Walter Mitty changes very little, the only thing that changes are his daydreams. In his final daydream, he imagines himself facing a firing squad. Of course this is another expression of his exceptional courage and bravery. But I always wondered if this daydream didn't mean something more, like maybe he had a secret desire for death to escape his boring, controlled existence under the constant nagging of his wife.

This thought gives some credibility to Mrs. Mitty's concern for Walter Mitty's health. He clearly suffers from some mental disorder in my view.

3. Compare and contrast Walter Mitty in real life with Mitty in his daydream.

In Walter Mitty, the author James Thurber has created an Everyman. Henpecked by his wife and beaten down by life, Mitty is a middle-aged man trying to navigate the challenges of ordinary life, with little success. Nagged constantly by his wife and mocked by others he encounters in the course of his mundane existence, Mitty retreats into a fantasy world of extraordinary events.
In his imagination, Mitty becomes a daring combat pilot, a uniquely skilled surgeon called in to consult on a puzzling medical case, and a brilliant lawyer whose eloquence saves the day in a tense courtroom drama. In all of these fantasies, Mitty is the hero, a sharp contrast to the little failures of his real life.

Indeed, it is exactly that contrast that gives Mitty relief from the humiliation of his day-to-day existence.

4. In the ''Secret Life of Walter Mitty'', in what ways is Mr. Mitty's final daydream a comment on his fate of real life?

In Walter Mitty's final daydream, he imagines that he is about to be put to death by a firing squad. In one sense, this can be seen as an indication that Mitty's fate is to lose his "battle" with his boring, mundane life. He will continue to be dragged on boring shopping excursions by his wife, who will continue to scold him for his forgetfulness.

Mitty's attitude toward the firing squad, however, hints at a different aspect of his fate. Mitty faces the firing squad bravely, refusing to cover his eyes with a handkerchief; he is, at his last moment, "erect and motionless, proud and disdainful." This hints that he will triumph over his boring life, in a sense: he will continue to live an exciting life in his daydreams.

In this sense, Walter Mitty can be seen as an example of an existentialist hero. Existentialism  is a philosophy that looks at people as being lonely, isolated and overpowered by an uncaring world; the most a person can do is to choose a path that is true to his or her own character and not give in to what someone else has chosen for them (a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe.) Walter Mitty, in his mild little way, chooses his own path and refuses to give in to the demands of his wife or society at large.

6.      In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," how do the tasks of Mitty's daily life compare to those of his fantasy life?
7.       
In his daily life, Walter Mitty is a bored, hen-pecked husband who has little control about what goes on around him. He runs errands for his wife and then listens to her complaints each and every day. In his fantasy world, he is able to tune out his wife and daydream about exciting activities which he will never be able to accomplish. Whenever things begin to become too stressful, Walter switches to fantasy mode.

In the end, even a firing squad seems to be preferential to his daily grind.

6.      What is the mood in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

The mood of a story is also called its tone, the feeling it produces in the reader. The tone of a story is determined by the author's attitude toward the characters and their situation. Does the author take them very seriously, for example, or does the author find humor in them? The tone in Thurber's story is one of gentle humor. Walter Mitty loses himself in the most thrilling, dramatic adventures, and the humor in the story is created by the contrast between Mitty's mental fantasies and his real life daily activities.

In each of his daydreams, Mitty is the hero--brave, daring, powerful, and the center of everyone's attention. This emphasizes how meek and powerless he really is, pushed around by an overbearing wife.
This may make Mitty seem like a sad little man, but Thurber does not emphasize this element in the story. The humorous tone of the story is continued in its conclusion. In Mitty's last fantasy; he stands bravely before a firing squad, scorning death itself, until his wife's voice snaps him back again. The subtle (and funny) suggestion is that for Walter Mitty, facing a firing squad is preferable to dealing with Mrs. Mitty.

7.      What happened in the doctor fantasy? Who wakes Mitty up to reality? What was the cause and effect from this day dream?

In this daydream, Walter Mitty is a very famous doctor. (The daydream is triggered when he drives by a hospital.) He is helping a couple of other famous doctors who are doing some sort of surgery on a very important patient (a friend of President Roosevelt). Not only is Mitty asked to help, he is also called on to save the day by fixing a machine that is breaking down (it gives out anesthetic).

He is woken up from the daydream by the attendant at the parking lot. Mitty has been driving his car into the lot by the exit only lane.

8. Point of view: Through whose eyes do you obtain the view of Mrs. Mitty when it states that she wanted Mr. Mitty to be waiting at the hotel for her?

The story is written in the third person throughout, so we are observing her desires through the narrator. We are told:
She didn't like to get to the hotel first, she would want him to be there waiting for her as usual.
The wish she has to arrive after him and have him waiting indicates that she needs to be in control and that she likes her husband to be at her beck and call; in fact she expects it. She is frustrated when he is there before her, but is obviously not focused on her arrival:
"I've been looking all over this hotel for you," said Mrs. Mitty. "Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How did you expect me to find you?"
Thurber presents her questioning as interrogation to reflect the militaristic settings in which Mitty projects himself. Also, we are given an insight into her nagging, accusatory nature and the way she cruelly belittles her husband:
She looked at him. "I'm going to take your temperature when I get you home," she said.

9. What is the structure of the story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber?

This story vacillates between the everyday humdrum life of Water Mitty, the hen-pecked husband stereotype, and the extravagant adventures he lives in his daydreams. Mitty flits in and out of reality, his daydreams concocted by a stream of consciousness association triggered by the sputtering of his car's exhaust pipe, a pair of gloves, and finally a freshly lit cigarette. In such a way this docile "hubby" gets to be the captain of an icebreaker, a famous surgeon, a defendent in a murder trial and finally a fighter pilot taken captive distaining a firing squad. Mitty's imagination is his "second life," which nurtures his deflated ego and helps him escape the insufferable mediocrity of his existence.

If you do a graph of the plot line of this story, it would look very much like a cardiograph printout, with the steady horizontal line of Mitty's real life intermittently broken by the highs and lows of his "virtual" existence.

10. What is the irony in this story?

There’s a lot of irony in the story. Irony is traditionally defined in modern literature as "the technique of indicating an intention or attitude opposed to what is actually stated." Just about every fantasy Walter Mitty has is irony. His attitude in the fantasy is one of decisiveness while in real life he allows his wife to order him around. In the fantasies he intentionally makes himself the center of attention whether as the captain or on the witness stand, and yet in real life he wants to avoid attention, and when others do pay attention to him, like the person on the street who laughed about him saying "puppy biscuits", it's for ridicule. It's ironic that a man who wants to be so strong and commanding (and who in his fantasies *sees* himself as strong and commanding) is such a wimp.

It isn't especially ironic that poor Walter would escape momentarily from his dull life and nagging wife in daydreams. In fact, we might expect him to do something to relieve his misery. It is ironic; however, that mousy Mr. Mitty can weave such colorful and incredibly detailed romantic adventures. For a man who shows no signs of creativity in his real life, the richness of his imagination is remarkable. It is ironic (situational irony) that in order to engage his talents and enjoy his life, Mitty has to stop living it from time to time.

Another type of irony found in the story is dramatic irony. We understand much more about her husband's activities than does Mrs. Mitty. For example, in the beginning of the story, Mrs. Mitty demands to know why Walter is driving so fast. This is amusing because we know Commander Mitty is driving fast because he is powering a navy hydroplane through stormy winter seas trying to escape an impending hurricane!

11. What symbols are used by the author in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?

There seems to be two questions here. The key symbols I would see as the gloves and the sling.
Mitty is told he should be wearing his driving gloves and dutifully dons them at her acidic request. However, he removes them once she leaves the car- asserting his own masculinity and ability to choose. Sadly he 'hastily' pulls them back on after being reprimanded by a policeman for driving too slowly.

However, he 'slowly' removes them again when he becomes Dr Mitty, the eminent surgeon.
The gloves represent his power and the fluctuations in his control. Similarly his fantasies around the sling serve a comparable purpose.

Mitty's visions are neither flash forward nor flash back: they appear to be a parallel reality where Mitty has all of the qualities he does not possess in real life. In his imagination he is respected, decisive, admired and powerful. In reality he is henpecked, bumbling and incompetent.

12. What is the exposition in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

Exposition is simply the mode of writing to provide information. It is the text of the story that explains the plot. In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," the story opens with a description of a military flight in a storm. The episode is revealed to be a daydream that Walter enjoys while driving his wife to town. The reader quickly figures out that Walter is fantasizing about leading a more exciting life because of the narrative device of interspersing descriptions of the fantasies with the mundane reality of Walter's life.

13. Examine the external conflict from the story concerning Mr. Walter Mitty and Mrs. Mitty.
The external conflict between Walter Mitty and Mrs. Mitty comes from the fact that she is domineering and controlling, and he is too timid to say anything. He daydreams to escape being yelled at by Mrs. Mitty, and Mrs. Mitty yells at him because he is often too distracted to pay attention to real life. Because Mitty is incapable of being the hero in real life, he plays the hero in his fantasies. In the end, we see that there can be no real conclusion to the conflict. Mitty continues to retreat to his imagination, and Mrs. Mitty continues to scold him for doing so.

14. In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" what is the main conflict? Why?
The main conflict is found in Mitty's relationship with his wife. She hovers, nags, controls, and directs every aspect of his daily life; he resents it. We can interpret this as the main conflict for several reasons.

First of all, this is the only continuing conflict in the story and the only one that is rooted in reality. It is introduced quickly into the story, and it is the conflict to which the story returns at the end. Mitty's conflict with his wife provides the frame of the story, with his various, unrelated fantasies making up the rest.

Even his daydreams, however, support the idea that his conflict with Mrs. Mitty is the major problem. Mitty fantasizes in order to escape his life--and his wife--but even in his fantasies; parts of his real life intrude. He can't get away completely. Mitty's final fantasy in the story is both humorous and ironic.

When he is back in his wife's company, she sends him outside to wait for her. As he does what he is told, standing in the rain waiting, he daydreams again, this time about standing in front of a firing squad. This particular fantasy makes Mitty's conflict with his wife very clear; facing a firing squad is preferable to dealing with Mrs. Mitty.

15. Explain the conscious and subconscious mental wanderings of the main character in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

There could be many answers to this question so this is only my personal 'take' on the story. I see it as an early reaction to the pressures of modern living, with all its rush, pressure and stress. Walter Mitty copes with stressful reality by developing a series of fantasy worlds that allow him to retreat from it, albeit for only short periods. It's probably something that we all do, not in quite the same way perhaps, but our daydreams and waking fantasies may well be psychological mechanisms to help us get through 'real' world.

16. What type of story is "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, explain.

James Thurber's most famous story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," is a fantasy escape story. The main character, Walter Mitty, escapes from his normal life in which he is hen-pecked and stressed out by his inadequacies to fantasy situations in which everyone loves him, expresses their faith in him, and where he is the hero. This is Walter's way of surviving and buoying his character and spirit in order to get through life with his very critical and nagging wife.
Although this story is entertaining and funny, it is also a cautionary tale. In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," the author is giving the reader a chance to see a life wasted on daydreaming. In fact, Walter Mitty daydreams so much, that he is emotionally absent from his present-moment living.
"He is constantly being upbraided by policemen, parking lot attendants, and his wife for his erratic, distracted behavior."
Perhaps, if Walter Mitty stopped daydreaming, he could actually become a doctor, navy pilot or sharpshooter. The author is suggesting that Mitty is lazy and disconnected from real life.
Although this is a funny story, especially when you factor in the nagging wife, Walter Mitty is a sorry fellow who has let life pass him by. His condition, constant daydreaming, qualifies him for psychiatric analysis.
"Thurber suggests that this ordinary man who hates the reality of middle-class life and his own shortcomings prefer to live in his imagination." Walter Mitty is headed for a breakdown, and, will end up in a mental hospital at some point in his disappointed life.

17. What are the characteristics of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’?

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the story of a man who is always daydreaming about being someone else. Any time in his ordinary life, and at any moment, he can be transported by one of his waking dreams, forgetting about what he is doing in his real life, such as driving his car, or shopping for items his wife told him to buy.
Walter Mitty is constantly pulled into a fantasy life where he is a successful and sought after hero. He dreams he is a fighter pilot, a successful and skilled surgeon or about to be shot by a firing squad, all very exciting.
The problem with Walter Mitty is that he spends way too much time in his imagination and not enough time in his real life. In real life Walter Mitty is very inept, incapable of taking care of his own life.


Word Meanings:

A. & P.            : Name of a chain of grocery stores.
Archies: Artillery shells
Aupres de Ma Blonde: A song popular among the soldiers in World War I
Cannonading: Continuous firing of cannons
Carburundum: A trademark abrasive chemical – not something Mitty would actually need
Cur: An ill- bred dog (Also dog)
Obstreosis of the ductal tract: Meaningless medical jargon invented by Mitty.
Streptothricosis: A sore on the skin; medical jargon misused by Mitty.