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.”
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, James Thurber, Published by Gale, 1997.