Analysis Of The Protagonist’s Personality In The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

The “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a short story written by James Thurber, whom describes the lifestyle of the protagonist, Walter Mitty, and his series of dreams, in which he fantasizes himself as a successful man. Thurber illustrates Mitty’s tiresome day which consists of traveling to town with his wife to complete basic errands. Along the way, he indulges in various fantasies to get him through his tedious lifestyle. Thurber utilizes various literary devices within the story such as symbolism, onomatopoeia, imagery, simile, metaphor, irony, and paradox to effectively portray the personality of Walter Mitty, along with his character development. Symbolism is used consistently throughout the story. Overall, Mitty’s daydreams symbolize his escape from reality as they describe the life that he was unable to fulfill. 

The story emerges with Mitty visioning himself as a Navy Commander tackling “the pounding of cylinders” of Navy aircraft with his force. In another vision, the main protagonist visualizes himself as a respected doctor while “slipping on a white gown” and preparing to perform surgery on a notable individual. Moreover, Mitty conceptualizes of being a bomber pilot who anticipates a battle. The three fantasies that Mitty visualized represent the perfection of being a successful male figure. They also interlink with each other as a successful male figure exemplifies strength, dominance, and power. Onomatopoeia is present in imitating the sounds of pounding cylinders, the gunfire of bombing airplanes, in addition to the noise of the operating medical machine as Mitty hears the noise, “pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa”. In Walter Mitty’s external life, the sound is predicted to imply the noise of his car engine. It can be seen that even the simplest noises and/or objects can trigger Mitty’s fantasies, overemphasizing the noise/object’s role. 

To add on, the story is rich with imagery, as every dream of Mitty’s utilizes all senses. The most prevalent sense which vividly draw a mental picture would be sound. For instance, “the pounding of cannons increase the rat-tat-tatting of machine guns” evoke the stress Mitty undergoes as a military captain. The sound effects that Mitty encounters during his adventures are thought to enlighten his dull day in real life. Similes and metaphors enhance the strong correlation between Mitty and his dreams. As Mrs.Mitty, “seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman … in a crowd”, Mitty refers to his spouse as an unknown person. The use of comparison in the simile evoke how deeply Mitty ponders into his fantasies. It ultimately reflects his incapability to separate fantasy from reality, in addition to being mesmerized by dreams to escape from real-life situations. The last sentence, “Walter Mitty the Undefeated” indicates it is a form of metaphor. It reflects the superiority of the protagonist, hoping that Mitty will eventually exhibit the characteristics of a triumphant male. However, contrast and irony can also be drawn from the last sentence as well. Mitty portrays a strong character in his dreams, which contrast to his true nature of being reserved. Mitty is quite ridiculed by society which clearly contradict with the statement, “Walter Mitty the undefeated”. Thus, in the story, Thurber provides a distinct variety of literary terms which is used to define the connection between Walter Mitty and his hallucinations.

The author illustrates the nature of Walter Mitty through an omniscient perspective. The narrator of the story clearly express the feelings of both the protagonist and the antagonist. Walter Mitty, the main protagonist is seen to reflect a submissive character in society as he is unable to satisfy his own needs without the assistance of others. Mrs. Mitty, whom is perceived to be the antagonist, is seen to show dominance over a submissive spouse, in a way that Walter strives to be independent in his imaginary thoughts. As Mitty is a member of the Naval force, a licensed surgeon, and a flying ace in his fantasies, he is obligated to making his own judgements. Without the criticisms of Mrs.Mitty and her consistent contribution to the lack of self-esteem within her spouse, the protagonist would not have been able to overcome his problems in his dream-state Other minor characters such as the policeman, the garageman, the parking attendant, and the attorney, all symbolize the dominance of society over a minor figure. As the policeman “snapped at Mitty as the light changed”, and the parking attendant ordered “ Mitty to get out of the car”, superiority compel’s Mitty from making his own judgment, developing the feeble character in him. The tone of the story derives from comic and ironic characteristics. As Mitty is depicted to be a grown male character, his unentertaining lifestyle, pathetic actions, and foolishness adds to his character in a way that contributes to the sense of humour. A vivid representation of paradox is also incorporated throughout the story as Mitty’s life is a paradox itself. As Walter Mitty is perceived as a dissatisfied character in the external world, he desires to be an accomplished, valuable member of society. He is shown to exhibit the opposing characteristics he plays in his fantasies. For instance, a hard-working, ordering, organized, and intelligent surgeon, over a man who is unable to park his car in the garage. 

The overall theme of failure over success and the significance of escapism is concluded in the story. Essentially, Mitty is an ordinary male who reflects no emotion towards his normal life. Failure versus success is present throughout the story as Mitty lives his life in misery, but daydreams to replace his life with satisfying fantasies. Escapism is associated with the concept of failure opposed to success as numerous individuals, much like Mitty, utilize various forms of art to escape from the pressure of reality. In Thurber’s short story, Walter avoids exasperation, in addition to violent expression, by replacing it with imaginative, positive scenarios providing self-relief. Moreover, a strong interpretation of the power of masculinity is also drawn from the story. Mitty, being an old, forgetful character, admires to be a ‘perfect’ masculine figure portraying heroic, and courageous characteristics. Whether it be the Naval officer, the captain, the surgeon, or the bomber pilot, it all connects to the traditional role of a strong, dominating, male leader in society. Walter is shown to strive for this type of personality on the premise that he is a clumsy individual always in need of assistance and care. 

In short, James Thurber describes the lifestyle of Mitty as inadequate, and in order to achieve personal satisfaction, Mity undergoes several fantasies. Thurber utilizes figurative devices to divulge the true character of Mitty, and the correlation it has with his fantasies. In addition, the significant role of the power dynamic in masculinity, the value of escapism, alongside the contrast of failure over triumph contribute to the moral of the story. 

16 August 2021
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