The close reading is based on James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. The literary genre of this piece can be categorized as a fantasy as the story is based on a fictional narration of Walter Mitty, who keeps elapsing from his real-world into fantasies of heroic quests. The plot of this story is based on a man who is driving with his wife to a routine weekend shopping. In the process of running these errands, Mitty gets into a series of daydreams where he finds himself undertaking various heroic duties, before relapsing back to his reality. For the purpose of this close reading, the first three paragraphs of the text were analyzed. The passage provides the first instance of a fantasy switch where Mitty is a military commander, ordering his crew to continue navigating despite the dangerous weather. This section contains several literary devices that gave the story the diction, tone, and the message it intended.
The plot and setting of the story created the necessary atmosphere for succinct and informative narration. At one point, the Commander is ordering his crew and displaying a rare show of bravery. Mitty then wakes up from the daydream and is now driving at high speed to the grocery stores. Therefore, the passage has two different plots and settings. One plot of the story is within his fantasy world, while the other plot is on his reality. Subsequently, the setting shifts from a military plane to a family car. However, as the story proceeds, it becomes evident that the first plot and setting was a daydream, hence a story within a story. The wife says, “It’s one of your days” to mean that Mitty experiences a number of such reality lapses (Thurber 1). By understanding the shift from fantasy to reality, the reader gets to appreciate the atmosphere of this story.
The tone in this passage shifts from an authoritative and assertive one to an unassertive and ambitionless one. In his fantasy world, Mitty is authoritatively commanding his imaginary crew and intimidating those who show any form of weakness. “I’m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg… Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” (Thurber 1). Despite the worry by other crew members that the weather is too bad for a flight, the Commander is assertive and insists they have to proceed. However, this tone changes swiftly when Mitty gets out of the trance. After hearing the voice of his wife telling him to slow down the car, all he could say was, “Hmm?” as he drove silently (Thurber 1). Here, the character is now docile and unassertive. The swift in the narrative tone creates a clear contrast between the real and fantasy world of Mitty.
The manner and structure of the narration in this passage takes a third-person position with a vivid description of concepts and events. This piece is a non-linear narrative structure which uses a stream of consciousness. There is no chronological sequence of events as the setting shifts instantly from a military plane to a car. However, the author uses clear and vivid illustrations. “Walter Mitty drove on toward Waterbury in silence, the roaring of the SN202 through the worst storm in twenty years of Navy flying fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind” (Thurber 1). Here, the author describes how part of Mitty’s consciousness is still within his fantasy world, even after being awakened by his wife. Therefore, while the structure of the narration is non-linear, its manner brings forth a clear picture of the storyline.
The author uses figures of speech and figurative languages to improve the comprehensibility of the text. The author uses simile when he says, “the Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking” (Thurber 1). The use of simile emphasized the strength of the Commander’s voice and the level of his authority and courage and displayed to the crew members. The author also uses personification. “Rev her up to 8,500” (Thurber 1). In this statement, the Commander is referring to the plane but using the pronoun “her,” which ordinarily implies to a female human being. By giving the plane a human attribute, the author makes the description even more vivid and sympathetic. There is also an instance of alliteration in the phrase “in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane” (Thurber 1). The sound “h” is repeated at the beginning of two successive words to create emphasis in describing the movement of the plane. These thee figurative languages helped in improving the understandability of the passage.
The author also uses several devices to improve humor within the passage. The author used onomatopoeia in describing the sound of the cylinders. “The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa” (Thurber 1). This device made the description more vivid and exciting. There were also instances of hyperbole in this passage. “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell” (Thurber 1). In expressing their laudatory attitude towards the Commander’s courage, they use hell, which is the most feared place among religious people, to show how brave he is. The author has also employed litotes when referring to Mitty’s trances. “You’re tensed up again” (Thurber 1). The wife uses this understatement to refer to the frequent daydreams that put her husband in trances and transfer him into new realities. These devices have helped in creating humor and making the passage more interesting.
The central theme in this passage is heroism and masculinity. While Mitty is an ordinary man, living in everyday life, he has fantasies of being a hero. In his daydream of being a naval commander, Mitty demonstrates his masculinity and heroism by reassuring his crew that they will make it, regardless of the bad storm. “We’re going through!” (Thurber 1). The Commander then takes control of the situation as the crew members praise him and show faith in his ability to get them through. However, such characteristics are only in his fantasy world. In reality, he is far from a hero, as his wife refers to these episodes as “tensed up.” One would not expect a hero to be tensed up from driving a family car. Therefore, this passage demonstrates a theme which only exists in the character’s subconscious mind.
After a close reading of this passage, I realized that how a piece of literature is written heavily determines its meaning and effect. By understanding the plot and setting of the story, one gets to realize the double-consciousness of the narrator. Subsequently, it shows a non-parallel narration structure which shifts from fantasy to reality. The author has also used figurative languages and other literary devices that have improved the readability, comprehensibility, and the vividness of the passage.
Thurber, James. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” HCC Learning Web. https://learning.hccs.edu/faculty/selena.anderson/engl2307/readings/the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-by-james-thurber/view. Accessed 2 June 2020