The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber we have the theme of escape, fantasy, control and happiness. Taken from his My World — And Welcome to It collection, the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Thurber may be exploring the theme of escape and fantasy. Walter while driving into town with his wife is imagining himself as a captain of a hydroplane. On a mission that only he can resolve. This is concurrent with all the fantasies that Walter has. He is the hero in all of them. Saving people’s lives and being praised for it. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Walter likes his ego soothed. Something that his wife does not due and hence Walt escaping into different fantasies. Where he feels rewarded. It is also possible that Walter lives with an unhappy marriage or a least a marriage that is not up to his fantasies. Which may be Thurber’s way of mirroring society and the marriages between generations of people who live unhappy marriages. It is easier to escape in life than to have to deal with the mundane qualities of life.
It is also noticeable that while Walter escapes he remains in control of his life and the situation he finds himself in. This is the opposite to the reality of his life in whereby his wife tries to control him. Though it is not explicitly stated Walter’s wife could be the trigger for escapes into a world of fantasy. If anything not only might Walter’s marriage be unhappy in comparison to his fantasies but he may also be henpecked. He does after all buy the overshoes on his wife’s instructions. Though he himself sees no need for them. The fact that Walter escapes or fantasizes four times throughout the story might also suggest that Walter likes to escape as often as he can. Regardless of the environment he finds himself. Some critics might suggest that Walter is a dissatisfied man and this is something which is difficult to dispute. In all of Walter’s fantasies he is under-qualified to perform his duties but still he prevails. Each fantasy has a happy ending with Walter being the hero. Perhaps Walter’s life is so boring that he feels the need to escape. However in his fantasies Walter can be someone of importance. Which would further suggest that Walter is unhappy in his life.
Just as Walter is in control of his fantasies. His wife is in control of Walter’s life. She is a normal woman who knows the importance of living a life on the straight and narrow and being prepared (overshoes). Unfortunately Walter does not think like this and considers this train of thought to be boring. As would many other people but it is important for a person to have their feet firmly rooted on the ground. Dreaming is fine but one must still connect with the outside world. Something that Walter avoids doing. Happier in his fantasies and when he is the hero. Though again it must be remembered that Walter lives in a fantasy world; a world that is not real. There may come a time when Walter’s fantasies become dangerous and people might become injured or worse lose their life. All Walter’s fantasies are in his head but it could happen that he might act upon them should the circumstances arise.
In reality Walter is harmless though he has the potential to be dangerous. Everybody at times lives a fantasy in order to feel better about themselves. It just happens that every waking hour that Walter has appears to be focused on his desire to escape. Which may leave some to consider that Walter is acting irresponsibly though all Walter is doing is escaping from an environment that he does not like. A very human reaction to his circumstances. As mentioned everybody has a desire to escape though not necessarily with the same frequency of Walter. Walter finds happiness in his own world in where he is a man of importance unlike the reality he faces. In whereby he is henpecked by his wife and who remains oblivious to Walter’s fantasies. Which may suit Walter down to the ground. He is able to dream of another world where there is no henpecking and he is a leader whose decisions other people listen to. Something that is far from the life that Walter lives. Who wouldn’t want to be a leader of men (or women) even if it is in the form of a fantasy? Walter is quiet content to continue his life as he sees fit grabbing every opportunity he can to fantasize that he is a man of great importance and that people are relying on his opinion and actions.