The Catbird Seat Analysis

Style and Technique (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The comic irony that is so important an element in Thurber’s stories is effected in “The Catbird Seat” by the technique of limited omniscience. From the beginning to the end of the story, Thurber reveals the thoughts only of his Mr. Martin. However, the impression that Mr. Martin makes on others is clearly revealed through objective comments, such as the fact that the cigarette clerk did not look at him, and by comments recalled by Mr. Martin, such as those of Mr. Fitweiler and of the late Sam Schlosser. With the judgment of the outside world thus established, Thurber can produce his comic effect by letting the reader in on the secret. Only the reader shares Mr. Martin’s carefully dissembled anger; only the reader follows the formulation of his plot; and only the reader anticipates and then experiences the final scene, in which no one will believe Mrs. Barrows, even though she is telling the truth.

Because the character of Mr. Martin is so important, both in the plot line and in the total comic effect, Thurber establishes his spinsterish fussiness, his bureaucratic orderliness, by the use of numerous details. He plans to eliminate Mrs. Barrows as if she were an error. He tries and convicts her in a mental courtroom, while he is drinking his milk. He shines his glasses and sharpens pencils while he waits to murder her.

The other characters are seen through Mr. Martin’s eyes. Mrs. Barrows “romped . . . like a circus horse,” “was...

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The Catbird Seat Historical Context

Humor in the Modern Period
Although Thurber has often been compared with the nineteenth-century humorist Mark Twain, this has...

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The Catbird Seat Literary Style

Irony
The term ‘‘irony’’ refers to a difference between appearance and reality, between what might be expected and what...

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The Catbird Seat Literary Techniques

Known as a humorist, Thurber often uses irony to make a serious point in his fiction. The term "irony" refers to a difference between...

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The Catbird Seat Ideas for Group Discussions

1. Interview someone who works in a business office. How has the office environment changed since Mr. Martin worked for F&S? How has it...

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The Catbird Seat Social Concerns

First published in the November 14, 1942, issue of the New Yorker, "The Catbird Seat" also appeared in Thurber's 1945 collection,...

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The Catbird Seat Compare and Contrast

December 8, 1941: After a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declares war on Japan and enters World War II....

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The Catbird Seat Topics for Further Study

If ‘‘The Catbird Seat’’ were set today instead of in 1942, who might play the Red Barber role? Name a few famous entertainment or...

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The Catbird Seat Literary Precedents

As noted above, Thurber's work is often compared to that of Mark Twain. While there are not many stylistic similarities between the work of...

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The Catbird Seat Related Titles

Thurber explores the relationship between men and women in several other works of fiction. One of his best known works related to this theme...

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The Catbird Seat Adaptations

Read by Wolfram Kandinsky, "The Catbird Seat" was recorded on audiocassette in 1984. It is available as part of an unabridged reading of...

(The entire section is 62 words.)

The Catbird Seat Media Adaptations

Read by Wolfram Kandinsky, ‘‘The Catbird Seat’’ was recorded on audiocassette in 1984. It is available as part of an unabridged...

(The entire section is 62 words.)

The Catbird Seat What Do I Read Next?

‘‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’’ (1939) is Thurber’s best-known short story. Mitty is a mild-mannered man who shuts out his...

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The Catbird Seat Bibliography (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Fensch, Thomas, ed. Conversations with James Thurber. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989.

Grauer, Neil A. Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

Holmes, Charles S. The Clocks of Columbus: The Literary Career of James Thurber. New York: Atheneum, 1972.

Kinney, Harrison. James Thurber: His Life and Times. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.

Kinney, Harrison, and Rosemary A. Thurber, eds. The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom, and Surprising Life of James Thurber. New York: Simon &...

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The Catbird Seat Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Benét, William Rose, ‘‘Carnival with Spectres,’’ in the Saturday Review of Literature, February 3, 1945,...

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