On the surface, it would seem that the short story is pretty straightforward. Walter Mitty, a man constantly badgered and hen pecked upon that he purposely escapes into a fantasy world in his mind just to escape his wife. But let’s look deeper past the surface and there we will find a darker reason for these “daydreams” to happen in his everyday life. Walter’s daydreams are a symptom of his mental illness, dementia, not his desire to leave his dull, boring life behind. Walter’s progression of violence in his dreams portray how his cognitive stability is devolving.
In the beginning his daydream starts off much more benign. He’s a pilot, a commander to be precise. But while he is engaging with his fight to get his hydroplane off the Naval Ship, he is also driving in traffic. Meanwhile his wife is asking him to slow down because he is driving too fast. Leading directly into “Hmm? ‘ said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd. ” (Thurber). This deals directly with how his mental state is not what it should be and is symptomatic of dementia.
Webster’s Dictionary defines it as a “Deterioration of intellectual faculties, such as memory, concentration, and judgment, resulting from an organic disease or a disorder of the brain. ” His actions and reactions to these situations show how tenuous his grasp on reality really is. Directly after Mrs. Mitty says, “It’s one of your days. I wish you’d let Dr. Renshaw look you over” (Thurber). This gives even more credence that Walter is sick and has a physician he sees to monitor his health. Walter also can’t seem to stay engaged in real life activities like he should if he was in good health.
The perfect example is that after dropping off his wife he once again loses touch with reality while driving, now alone. It continues into a fantasy where a man’s life is in danger and he must save him. In this portion Walter is showing a three on the GDS (Global Deterioration Scale) which is used to assess primary degenerative dementia, developed by Dr. Barry Riesberg. A three is considered mild cognitive decline (Reisberg) and the person can still maintain a semblance of a normal lifestyle, with some decreased memory and/or concentration deficit.
The GDS has levels, one being the mildest going to seven being severe dementia. Another example is while he’s walking on the street he thinks he is on the witness stand with an injured arm on trial for murder. Every time he loses himself in a separate world someone else is the one to bring him back out of them. We have also seen that each incident has become increasingly violent as well, which can tie into how his sickness is becoming more debilitating. The fact remains that Walter keeps losing himself in these altered realities. But what reveals even more how he is sick is that he takes on the personalities as himself.
In the grocery store, “The greatest pistol shot in the world thought for a moment. It says ‘Puppies Bark for It’ on the box,” (Thurber). The juxtaposition of the statement alone brings a surrealist feel standing for itself. The principal point being he is not the greatest pistol shot in the world, he had just been in that state of mind and brought it back to the real world. This shows how his health is declining because before he was always someone else and never bringing back the persona with him. Also “’To hell with the handkerchief,’ said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away.
Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last” (Thurber). He took his alternate reality and placed himself as the character. Walter was then mimicking what went on there and carrying out those actions in real life. With these particular actions Walter then falls on level six severe cognitive decline (Riesberg).
That includes the symptoms he has already been portraying and “… include: (a) delusional behavior, e. g. , patients may accuse their spouse of being an imposter, may talk to imaginary figures… b) obsessive symptoms… (c) anxiety symptoms, agitation, and even previously nonexistent violent behavior… (d) cognitive abulla, i. e. loss of willpower because an individual cannot carry a thought long enough to determine a purposeful course of action” (Riesberg). The incidents have also gone from his injured arm and eventually to death, his own. A particularly strong image of death as well, he stands erect against something (the firing squad) that he has no control over. The similarity between his mental deterioration due to his illness and his final incident can also show that in the end he knows he is not well but he can’t change it.
Through the short story Walter was losing his ability to remember names and words that were common to him, including his wife’s name. Occurring during his first incident he was shouting “Full strength in No. 3 turret! ” (Thurber). When in reality that means a gun on a platform whereas he was meaning full power to the engines. Keep in mind this was after WWI and the beginning of WWII, all likelihood points to him knowing the definition of the word. “Walter Mitty took the gun and examined it expertly. ‘This is my Webley-Vickers 50. 80′” (Thurber). This is not a real make and model of a gun.
Which follows along with the previous point during that time he would know some type of fire arm, his mind just could not grasp it. The way in which Walter’s illness took place was deceptive and could be construed differently if one did not look at the underlying problems he faced daily. He started off in this short story sick and unfortunately got worse until the end. How the story ended gave both the story and character great closure. Even though the sickness was taking things away from him in the end he was able to recognize what was happening and come to terms.