James Thurber, in his short story called “The Secret Life of Walter Mittey”, describes the life of a middle aged man who is so bored and disappointed with his own life, that he immerses himself in daydream after daydream of heroic and cinematic proportions. Stuck in this ‘twighlightzone’ of never ending daydreams, Walter Mittey escapes the doldrums of his own life. His adventures include a navy commander, a world-renowned physician, a World War II flying ace and a defendant in a murder trial all while during a shopping trip to town with his overbearing and selfish wife. In all of his daydreams, Walter faces incredible odds for failure, but somehow manages to defy the odds and become the hero. The only problem is that Walter seems doomed to live his life in his outrageous and unachievable daydreams. What separates us (or at least most of us) from Walter Mittey is that the dreams that we have are often dreams of who we want to be, what we want to accomplish, and where we want to be that can be obtained in the real world.
Like most people, Walter Mittey has dreams of the type of person he wants to be, but has no means and no goals to get there. Without some goals in life as to what a person wants to be, they are certain to spin their wheels in endless circles. Take for example if a person wanted to be in politics. You certainly would not just announce your plans to run for the presidency on a whim. The decision to make a run for office would come after many years of planning, education and involvement in the community. A proven track record in the business or political world would be a must. Walter Mittey does not have any idea of how he can escape the life he is living because he has no plan or goals on what exactly he wants to be. He places himself in the shoes of the people of those he wishes he could be, such as the prominent well known physician who is so famous and recognized that his patients aren’t ordinary citizens, but “millionaire bankers!” Such fantastic daydreams give a hint that Walter views his life as a failure. Perhaps in his attempt to compensate for the regret he feels for his own boring and unfufilling life, his dreams make him feel useful, intelligent and successful.
It is evident from reading about Walter’s trip to town that he is a man that has enjoyed very few, if any, accomplishments in his life. While most people in their lives can look back and savor a time when the spotlight was shined on them, Walter seems to be lacking in past achievements as revealed by the people he dreams of being. When he is the navy commander, the crew refers to him as, “The Old Man’ll get us through”, and, “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell!” Is it perhaps that Walter has never taken charge of a situation that he daydreams? Or perhaps he is a coward that can not, or does not know how to stand up to his wife and tell her that he despises wearing overshoes. While daydreaming can be healthy for the soul and give us an escape from the everyday, Walter’s continuous delusions of grandeur could be seen has hindering his ability and his desire to produce any sort of accomplishments for both himself and with his relationship with his wife.
Walter’s wife is as much as an accomplice to Walter’s prolific daydreaming as Walter is to himself. His wife is very clear as to what shoes Walter should wear, how fast Walter should drive, how Walter is feeling and barks out instruction to Walter as if he is a child.
While most people would not continue with a relationship so one sided as the one between Walter and his wife, Walter continues to drudge along, happily living out his existence in his never-ending daydreams. Although at one point Walter does explain to his wife, “Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?” His wife dismisses this and tells him that she is going to take his temperature when she gets him home. No matter what Walter might say, his wife really does not care because she has his agenda all worked out for him! This one sided relationship would certainly end in divorce for most people, however, with Walter’s passive mannerism, it’s doubtful he will ever escape the clutches of his wife.
The intensity and realism of Walter’s dreams would certainly have any doctor prescribing psychotherapy! Fading in between reality and dreams, Walter could be on his way to losing the ability of distinguishing what is real and what is dream. Walter is hopelessly unhappy with how feels for himself and for his life in general. At the center of this is a wife who seems to have lost confidence in her husband and therefore treats Walter more like a child than a husband. If only Walter’s wife would make him feel like he was important and makes a difference, if only Walter would stand up and communicate to his wife! Walter is yearning to be alive and to live life to it’s fullest. It seems that Walter and his wife have suffered a premature death of their relationship and in their outlook on life. When Walter’s wife states “You’re not a young man any longer”, this certainly makes Walter want to escape his current situation all the more. I think it was fitting for James Thurber to write about Walter’s last daydream of being before a firing squad, symbolizing Walter’s own death with real life. The “Secret Life of Walter Mittey” shows us what happens when you lose sight of the dreams you have and the hope of achieving those dreams – you forget what it is like to really live and to be part of the great adventure called life. As the author Grandma Moses once wrote, “And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”