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The short story by James Thurber, “The Catbird Seat”, describes a man, Mr.
Erwin Martin, who is very precise and logical in everything he does including his job and
how he reacts when his order is disrupted by a loud, meddlesome woman, Mrs. Ulgine
Barrows, who has much persuasion with the company president, Mr. Fitweiler. Mr.
Martin?s order is disrupted by this chaos in the company and he can not have it so he
decides he must kill Mrs. Barrows to get things back the way they were. The theme of
the story is the battle for favorable position or to sit “in the catbird seat” and if one stays
calm and keeps themselves in order they can eventually win over the chaos in their life.
In the story Mr. Martin is the character who epitomizes order. He was very organized and kept a strict schedule. He arrived at work every day at eight thirty and walked home at five thirty, he ate dinner at Schraft?s every night at eight, then took a walk and usually was in bed around eleven. He was described as “neat, quiet, attentive” and coworkers described him as “infallible” and “the most efficient worker.” His job at F & S was as head of the filing department. His very job deals with keeping things organized. He also was said to have never drank anything stronger than ginger ale and never smoked in his life. This also represents perfection. He views Mrs. Barrows not as a person but as a “mistake” made by his boss, Mr. Fitweiler. He decides he must “rub out” the mistake by killing Mrs. Barrows. He is so exact in his ways that he spends a week coming up with a plan and goes over it every night. Another thing he does every night is he goes over his “case” against!
Mrs. Barrows. He acts as the attorney, judge, and jury making his case against Mrs. Barrows. This also shows of a very organized mind. He objects and sustains himself, raps a gavel in his mind, charges Mrs. Barrows with “willful, blatant, and persistent attempts to destroy the efficiency and system of F & S” and recommends the death penalty (318). He, of course, is also the executioner. He comes up with an organized plan in which he thinks of almost every possibility. He buys cigarettes to smoke at her apartment which will be his “red herring” since no one would suspect him if he left one there because everyone knows he doesn?t smoke. He was a very clever man who even got one of his assistants to believe he liked Mrs. Barrows. Mr. Martin represents order in the story and is almost too perfect.
Just as Mr. Martin represents order in the story, Mrs. Barrows represents chaos. She was loud and obnoxious. She was described using animal words such as “brayed,” “quacked,” and “like a circus horse.” Also, she never walked into a room, she “bounced,” “romped,” or “catapulted.” She didn?t have to work hard to get her position as the adviser to Mr. Fitweiler, she just got the job after saving him from getting hurt by a large man at a party. She was the cause of many firings at F & S and also caused some to quit. She was known for saying ridiculous things all of the time such as “tearing up the pea patch” and “sitting in the catbird seat. She never came into work before ten and was known to brag about the place where she lived. She was planning a “reorganization” of Mr. Martin?s department and that was where the chaos had to end for Mr. Martin.
The title, “The Catbird Seat,” basically means sitting pretty. Specifically, who is “sitting pretty”. When the story begins it?s Mrs. Burrows who is “sitting pretty” or better, in a favorable position. She can recommend any change in the company to Mr. Fitweiler and it will most likely be done. She didn?t earn her position and in Mr. Martin?s opinion doesn?t know what she?s doing so he needs to get rid of her. He sets his plan in motion and when he realizes he can?t go through with it, he almost instantly comes with an even better plan and tells Mrs. Barrows he is going to kill Mr. Fitweiler and he does drugs knowing that she will freak out and tell everyone but they know Mr. Martin better than that and won?t believe her. Before he leaves her apartment Mr. Martin tells her, “I?m sitting in the catbird seat,” and then humorously sticks his tongue out at her. It is the humor in the way the story was written that makes it not seem so bad that this man had planned to commi!
t murder. Mr. Martin then saves himself and the company the next day when he denies what he had done at her apartment to his boss and she is believed to be having a nervous breakdown so she is removed from her position. Mr. Martin by keeping order then, is “sitting in the catbird seat.”
To finish, the story shows a struggle between Mr. Martin and Mrs. Barrows or order and chaos. It is saying that one who takes time to think things through like Mr. Martin and makes decisions based on all the available facts they will come out ahead if they keep calm when faced with adversity or chaos.
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