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Literary Analysis

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, movie and short story, are great examples of
psychoanalytic criticism and reader-response criticism. To review, psychoanalytic criticism
attempts to establish the unconscious motives of characters in literary texts Reader-response
criticism emphasizes the importance of the readers role in determining the meaning of a
literary work. (Howe, p. 192-193)
If we look at this story from a psychoanalytic approach, we could gather a few different
motives of the character. First off, while not necessarily a motive, we can discern that Walter
Mitty might possibly have some sort of psychological disorder. He creates scenarios in his head
in relation to what is going on in real life; some could argue that he has a multiple personality
disorder, and he plays out each of those personalities using his imagination. There is proof of a
disorder in the short story; as Walter is running errands around town he seems a bit slower than
everyone around him an unattached. This, of course, could be explained by his imagination
running wild, but whos to say that in itself is not cause by some sort of chemical imbalance?
Another motive would be that Mitty is simply creative and bored of the real world. He
longs for adventure and things greater than himself. To achieve this, he uses his imagination to
picture real-life happenings in a different way. In the short story, while he is driving down the
road with his wife, he imagines being on a Navy hydroplane in a terrible storm, which leads him
to begin speeding down the road.
The third motive, taking from both criticisms, could be that when he zones out, as his
sister says in the movie, this is really his way of gaining self-confidence. In the movie, Mitty

goes to work at Life Magazine, there is a co-worker who he really likes. Hes too anxious to go
up and talk to her, so he imagines that he a brave mountain climber with an intriguing accent. As
this mountain climber he goes up and has a wonderful conversation with this woman. He is also
made fun of by other co-workers who see him zoning-out. So he envisions and event where he
attacks one of them, and they launch out the office building window.
I believe there to be several different settings in both the short story and the movie. There
is of course, the main setting, the real-life setting that Walter Mitty is occupying. There are also
the several different imagined settings. In the short story, Mitty is driving around town, dropping
off his wife, and running errands. In his mind he is in a Navy hydroplane, in a doctors office
about to perform surgery, and in a courtroom being charged for a crime. In the movie, the reality
is that he is at home, at work, traveling. He imagines being a mountain climber, a life-saver of
individuals from a building about to explode, an astronaut, and many more. The possible settings
in the life of Walter Mitty are endless.
I believe one of the defining themes goes back to when I was talking about the two
criticisms; I mentioned confidence being an unconscious motive of Mittys behaviors. One of the
most important themes of this story, if we look at the movie perspective, is self-confidence.
Having the courage to achieve whatever it is you want most, being able to accomplish something
greater than yourself, not always lurking in the shadows, wondering what could be. In the
beginning of the movie, Walter lacks so much confidence that he wont even speak with a coworker. Throughout the movie he travels to find the missing negative. He imagines he is going
on amazing adventures, and pretty soon he is no longer imagining it; he is actually going on
amazing adventures! By the end of the movie Walter is a completely changed man. He has
gained more than enough self-confidence and a changed attitude.

The short story and the movie are quite different. If we were to look at the short story, I
would say the theme relates more to the fact that Walter is simply creative and bored. The theme
here could be something like, life is what you make it. If you think of everything as being dull
and boring, then thats what it will be. But if you have an outlook or imagination like Walter
Mitty, things may not seem so bland.
Dialogue is a very important element to the story of Walter Mitty, and really any story.
Dialogue is what helps a plot move forward. If we didnt have it, books and other writings would
be a lot less intriguing.
In conclusion, looking at the short story and movie versions of The Secret Life of Walter
Mitty from a psychoanalytical and reader-response perspective, we can discern that Walter Mitty
is most likely bored with the real world, or he is looking to gain some level of self-confidence.

Literary Analysis
Evaluation
Name: Ashley

Poor

Literary analysis effectively


utilizes a theory of literary
criticism to discuss the
story/film
Literary analysis effectively
analyzes the use of literary
elements.
Literary analysis has an
effective thesis

Fair

Good

Very
Good

Literary analysis effectively


integrates and cites (MLA)
quotations from the story/film.
Literary analysis is well
organized, uses an appropriate
academic tone, and is free
from surface errors.

Excelle
nt

88/100 B+
Very good work on your literary analysis! You did an excellent job utilizing
psychoanalytic theory to examine motives of the main character and then connect
those motives to the possible themes. (You mentioned reader response theory in the
beginning, but didnt follow through on that one very much. Id suggest leaving the
focus on the psychoanalytic theory, and dont worry about reader response.) Your
thesis statement is on the right track, but could be more specific. Your essay is
essentially about character motives as they connect to themesmake that idea
your thesis. You also have a good start on discussing the role of dialogId suggest
going much further with this idea. Extend your discussion of the importance of
dialog by connecting it to character motives and/or themes of the text and by
incorporating specific examples from the story and the movie. Overall, very good
work.