, Research Paper
A prevalent habit of human kind is to pretend to be someone we are not to mask our true selves. This is sometimes possible through false identities. In the case of Walter Mitty in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, he makes it possible to live the life he longs to live. This is achieved through numerous dream sequences in which he takes on new personalities and mannerisms. The qualities that are apparent in most, if not all, of his day dreams are demanding, repetitive, skilled and confident. Walter Mitty s speech, as well as his actions, demonstrate the distinctly opposite personalities he has in his real life and his dream life.
One feature Walter Mitty is lacking in real life that is predominant in his dream sequences is being demanding. He takes charge of a situation and does not hesitate to exhibit his authority. In his first daydream he says, I m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg, We re going through! (88) He lets the lieutenant know who is in charge and verbally expresses it. This is quite different from his real life where he follows the commands of his wife so intently. This comment to the lieutenant is the kind of thing he d like to say to his wife if he had the courage in real life that he only possesses in his invented life. Another example of this demanding quality is found in Walter s second dream, when he is an accomplished doctor in a tense operating room scene. The anaesthetizer begins to malfunction and the nurse is distressed. Mitty takes control of the circumstances and begins to make his commands. Quiet, man! Give me a fountain pen! That will hold for ten minutes, Get on with the operation. (89) In just a short time frame, Mitty tells the interne what to do, makes a demand for an object, expertly fixes a defective machine and dictates the doctors to get on with the operation. This rash, spontaneous behaviour is nothing like his true manner. This is apparent after Mrs. Mitty tells Walter to put on his gloves. He complies with her request and puts on his gloves. Trying to rebel and take command over himself, he hastily [pulls] on his gloves (88) again and dutifully reverts back to being told what to do. Mitty has proved himself to be both demanding and dutiful in one story.
Walter s lack of control seems to be mostly due to his wife s mass amount of power in their relationship. Her method of domination appears to be repeating an order or request until it is understood and completed. Walter is obviously opposed to this as we witness his objection to her orders when he takes off his gloves. We can also witness Walter attempting to gain the same kind of control in his first dream using the same technique as his wife. Switch on No. 8 auxiliary! Switch on No. 8 Auxiliary! Full Strength in No. 3 Turret! Full Strength in No. 3 Turret! (88) He repeats almost all of his commands, which mimics the way his wife echoes the majority of her requests and statements. It seems as though he s trying to have the same power over the characters in his dream as Mrs. Mitty has over him. An example of this is immediately after Walter s first dream sequence, when he is driving the car. Mrs. Mitty says You were up to fifty-five, you know I don t like to go more than forty. You were up to fifty-five. She does not need to say his speed more than once, but she repeats it for good measure. It is a control mechanism, and like most people, Walter learns by example and fabricates his own, similar mechanism in his dreams.
Skill seems to be natural for Walter s dream personality. In all of his situations, he seems very aware of his surroundings and what needs to be accomplished. This is most obvious in his second dream when he takes on the role of a doctor. After hearing that There is no one in the East who knows how to fix [the anaesthetizer], (89) Walter [fingers] delicately a row of glistening dials. (89) He realizes right away that a faulty piston needs to be replaced with a fountain pen. His knowledge becomes a useful tool in fixing the machine, and later again when he s asked to take over the operation on the millionaire banker. The unusually extensive wisdom that Walter holds in his dreams is an attempt to make up for his lack of even common sense in real life. Mitty is quite absent-minded, which emphasizes his seemingly senseless demeanor. An example of Walter s wandering mind occurs when he forgets to leave his key with the parking lot attendant. We know that Mitty is constantly drifting away to his fantasy world, so he is not able to stay aware at any moment. He is also jealous of other people s skills and compensates for it during his hallucinations. We observe Walter s jealousy just after his second dream sequence when he is attempting a simple task, to park his car. The parking-lot attendant suggests that he let him do the parking and [vaults] into the car, [backs] it up with insolent skill, and [puts] it where it [belongs]. (90) Walter thinks to himself, They re so damn cocky. This makes us aware of his jealousy and another opposition between his two personalities.
Confidence is an unmistakable character trait in Walter s secret life. It is most prominent in his fourth daydream. Again, he takes on the role of a Captain, but in a desperate situation this time. An ammunition dump needs to be made in a plane that needs to be maneuvered by two men. The sergeant speaking with Captain Mitty, states that it cannot be done my Mitty alone. But quite a few, well-handled, spots of brandy raise Walter s confidence to a soaring point and he straps on his Webley-Vickers automatic gun. Right before leaving, the sergeant says to Walter, It s forty kilometres through hell, sir. Softly, Walter replies, After all, what isn t? (92) This suggests that all life is hell, and it seems to imply that his own life is a hell that just needs to be faced. This foreshadows his final stand up to his wife when he, for once, shows a little confidence and says, I was thinking, Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking? (92) It is as though through all his training and practicing in his secret life, he grew a little bit of confidence near the end of the story, before it faded away again. Still, a lack of confidence is suggested in Walter s true identity. He unwillingly follows orders like a trained puppy and doesn t stand up for himself until the very end of the story.
Opposite is the best word to describe Walter Mitty s personalities. There are no obvious similarities between his real life self and his dream self. Absent-minded, adherent, and accepting are appropriate words to describe Mitty s true identity. His dialogue and actions in his dreams, however, prove him to be a man who is demanding, repetitive, skilled and confident, without even a slightest resemblance to his real-life character. Walter Mitty manages to accomplish what so many of us can only dream of to live another, more desirable life. He does this without performing the task that mankind seems to be so afraid of change. Mitty attains a more desirable lifestyle with his own kind of mask a mask of imagination.