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Character Analysis of The Catbird Seat by James Thurber

Updated on October 12, 2015

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James Thurber. the author of the short story "The Catbird Seat."
James Thurber. the author of the short story "The Catbird Seat." | Source

A note on underlined sentences

Underlined portions denotes the thesis statement, as well as the topic sentence in the following paragraphs.

Character Analysis of The Catbird Seat

“The Catbird Seat” by James Thurber is a story of how a dull man in charge of F & S’s filing department decides to get rid of a woman who is changing the entire way the company is ran. He believes she is “[swinging] at the foundation stones with a pickax.” The entire office believes he is nothing more than a dull little man. However, Mr. Erwin Martin knows that everyone believes this, and uses it to his advantage. Mr. Martin displays the characteristic of being a cunning person. Mr. Martin shows extreme cunning through the portrayal of his image to other people, through his meticulous planning of his plot to “rub out” Mrs. Barrows, as well as through the execution and cover-up of this plot.

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Mr. Martin - A Man of Habit

Mr. Martin portrays himself to others as being a dull person, even though on the inside he plans to kill a woman. He adores order, and does not change much. Mr. Martin arrives at the office usually at eight-thirty in the morning; he leaves work and walks home at five-thirty. Then he drinks a glass of milk; at eight in the evenings he goes eat at Schrafft’s, by a quarter to nine he is done and reading the financial section of the paper. After dinner, he takes a walk then goes home. This was daily routine. He is meticulous. This is what has helped him keep a job in the filing department for twenty-two years. In addition, he is F & S’s “most efficient worker, [he] neither drinks nor smokes.” He even stays so polite to Mrs. Barrows, a woman that he despises, that a co-worker thought that Mr. Martin “like[s] that woman.” Everyone knows these things about him. Mr. Martin is careful to use his known habits to his advantage while plotting.

The Cunning of Mr. Martin

Mr. Martin shows his cunning as he plans the rubbing out of Mrs. Barrows. He once again shows how meticulous he is by plotting every night for a week. He forms a plan that follows his daily schedule. Nothing in the plan, except for buying the cigarettes, forces him to go out of his normal way. Mr. Martin finds himself in such a position though that no one would ever suspect him. One might say that he is “sitting in the catbird seat” by how pretty he was sitting.

Listen to The Catbird Seat by James Thurber Part 1

The Rubbing Out of Mrs. Barrows

Mr. Martin continues to show the reader his cunningness with the execution of his plan. Mr. Martin follows his plan exactly until it came time to kill Mrs. Barrows. Once he was within her house, he realizes how poorly he has planned, and that his plan is rather naive. He quickly changes his intentions as an idea forms in his head. He fulfills what Mr. Fitweiler once said, “Man is fallible but Martin isn’t.” Mr. Martin does not fail. He does everything that everyone in the office knew he does not do to make Mrs. Barrows seem insane. If he cannot rub her out by killing her, then he will simply rub her out of his own life. The next day he did not change his schedule from normal at all, or act as if he knew what Mrs. Barrows was talking about as she accused him. Nor did he gloat as Mrs. Barrows is essentially carried away. Because of his cunning, no one suspects him.

Mr. Martin is a prime example of the fact that people are not always, what they appear to be. His cunningness allows him to appear to be “a drab, ordinary little man.” Yet the reader knows that he is a scheming little creature who dislikes change and anyone who brings it with them. He purposefully plays off his image and his known schedule to rid F & S, as well as himself, of Mrs. Ulgine Barrows.

The Catbird Seat - Part 2

The Catbird Seat - Part 3

Paper Outline

I. Central Idea: In James Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat,” Mr. Martin displays the characteristic of being cunning person.

Thesis: Mr. Martin shows extreme cunning through his portrayal of image to other people, his meticulous planning of his plot to “rub out” Mrs. Barrows, as well as through the execution and cover-up of this plot.

II. Topic Sentence 1: Mr. Martin portrays himself to others as being a dull person, even though on the inside he plans to kill a woman.

III. Topic Sentence 2: Mr. Martin shows his cunning in the planning of his rubbing out of Mrs. Barrows.

IV. Topic Sentence 3: Mr. Martin continues to show the reader his cunningness with the execution of his plan.

V. Conclusion: People are not always what they appear to be.

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    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      hi hrymel...

      The Catbird Seat is perhaps one of my favorite short stories! You have presented an excellent analyses of Mr. Martin and have reminded me of how much I enjoy Thurber.

      Thanks,

      Thomas

      PS...Congrats on your 10th Hub!

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