What is the conflict in James Thurber's "The Catbird Seat?"

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The primary conflict in James Thurber's short story, "The Catbird Seat," arises between the two very opposite characters of Erwin Martin and Ulgine Barrows. Martin feels that his job--and his general routine--has become jeopardized by the continuing presence of Barrows, whose standing with the boss of the company has given her great influence. Though Martin worries that he may soon be fired from the company, despite his long tenure, it is Barrows' quirky personality that equally irritates. The two characters are polar opposites: Martin is quiet and unassuming--a milquetoast character in nearly every respect. Barrows is loud, annoying and overly colorful--traits that irritate Martin to no end. She so disrupts his life that he decides she must be eliminated. Though he at first decides upon murder as a way out, he eventually comes up with a better plan.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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The conflict in Thurber's "The Catbird Seat" is Mr. Martin's opposition to his co-worker, Ulgine Barrows. Mr. Martin, a staid and steadfast longtime employee of F & S, is disgusted by Mrs. Barrows's annoying behavior (in which she spouts questions such as "Are you sitting in the catbird seat?") and her insistence on reorganizing the company's different departments. Mrs. Barrows is relatively new, but she has the confidence of the boss, Mr. Fitweiler, and the boss seems to listen to everything she says. Mr. Martin knows that his department, filing, is next, and he decides to resolve the conflict by killing Mrs. Barrows. Instead, he loses his inhibitions while drinking at her apartment, and he convinces her that he is going to kill the boss while high on heroin. The next day, the boss hears Mrs. Barrows's story and, thinking she is insane for spreading these rumors about the solid Mr. Martin, fires her, thereby strangely resolving Mr. Martin's conflict. 




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