What kind of man would Walter Mitty be without his fantasies? What would happen to him in the end? What does “inscrutable to the last” mean?…Questions like these are left in James Thurber’s short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, due to that somewhat ambiguous ending: …“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.
What does James Thurber want to imply? How could Walter Mitty prove himself to be “undefeated”? Is this an irony the author used to show that he is a “hero in his dreams but a coward in his real life”? Or is this a sign that he is ready to “wake up”? －We have to say both are possible. The ending is just here for us to conjecture. It’s very obvious that there’s something wrong in Mitty’s daily life.His wife rules him, other women laugh at him…He could do nothing but build up his self-esteem in his private world.Yet it is very strange that almost all Mitty’s fantasies are connected with “death”. We can see each fantasy draw Mitty closer and closer to a certain decision: 1.To ignore death. 2.To fight against death. 3. To face death. In the first daydream,he is a commander to sail through the hurricane(though he knows he will die!); then in the second one, he fights against death as Dr Mitty…Finally at the end,he faces death as himself. Of course he is not going to commit suicide, but does it refers to anything? What is going to die?
Then let’s see the last quote of Walter Mitty---“To hell with the handkerchief”. What’s the function of a handkerchief? It is used to lessen a criminal’s pain and fear in his death penalty. Can we say that the handkerchief is a symbol of Mitty’s dream world? Since his Pure Land can cover his eyes just like the handkerchief does? If so, it’ll be easy to understand what “death” means.It is the reality! No matter how beautiful his dreams are, Walter Mitty still has to face the “firing squad”, the real world. His utopia is going to die. That’s why almost all his fantasies are interrupted, of course, except the last one. “Does it ever occur to you that I’m sometimes thinking?”(Para 15)This little rebellion seems rather amusing, but it might be a sign of Walter Mitty’s new birth. Everyone has the instinct to resist, though in a subtle way. “We are going through!(Para 1)”---Actually, there’s only a thin small handkerchief lying in the middle of our way.