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Literature / The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a short story by James Thurber, first published in 1939. It recounts a day in the life of a man who daydreams about heroic adventures as he goes about his mundane existence.

The story has inspired two films, one in 1947 starring Danny Kaye and one in 2013 starring Ben Stiller. Neither bears much resemblance to the original story; in particular, both cinematic Mittys eventually stop daydreaming and start having real-life adventures.

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The short story provides examples of:

  • Disability Alibi: Subverted in one of Mitty's daydreams, about being a grandiose and heroic person, he finds himself as the defendant in a murder trial. His defense lawyer argues that Mitty could not have shot the victim because his right arm was injured. Mitty cuts him short by boasting that he "could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet with [his] left hand."
  • Dream Sue: Walter Mitty constantly dreams of himself being the best of anything, whether a brilliant fighter plane pilot, or a skilled surgeon, or a noble martyr.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: The story ends with Walter Mitty leaning against a wall and imagining himself facing a firing squad, saying, "To hell with the handkerchief."
  • Henpecked Husband: Walter Mitty.
  • Heroic Ambidexterity: Invoked. In one of Mitty's daydreams about being a grandiose and heroic person, he finds himself as the defendant in a murder trial. His defender argues that Mitty could not have shot the victim because his right arm was injured. Mitty cuts him short by boasting that he "could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet with [his] left hand."
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  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: The story is essentially a long series of these.
  • Mad Dreamer: Walter Mitty.
  • Mental Story: The focus of the story is the daydreams more than the humdrum reality.
  • Mr. Imagination: Walter Mitty.
  • One Last Smoke: At the end, Mitty is leaning against a wall smoking a cigarette, then enters a dream sequence where a firing squad is ready to execute him.
  • Power Fantasy: Walter Mitty.
  • Techno Babble: Played with when Mitty daydreams about being a famous surgeon, throwing around made-up medical jargon like "obstreosis of the ductal tract" (no such thing), "streptothricosis" (a skin disease of horses), and "coreopsis" (a genus of small yellow flowers).

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Adaptations with their own trope pages include:

Other adaptations provide examples of:

  • Animated Adaptation: Filmation's The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty, which had a frame story about a live-action cat daydreaming the animated episodic adventures — at least until Filmation got in trouble with the Thurber estate (having not bothered to get permission first), and subsequent airings of the series had a new title and no frame story.

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