From what point of view is James Thurber's story "The Catbird Seat" told? 

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The point of view in "The Catbird Seat" is very definitely that of Mr. Martin, head of the filing department for a big corporation. James Thurber focuses intently on Martin's perceptions and mental processes. This narrative style is called "Third person, subjective" or "Third person, limited." The whole plot depends on what Martin is observing, thinking, feeling, suspecting, planning, and doing.

Martin seems like a very lonely and isolated man. He lives for his work and he loves his filing department. He is quick to realize that Mr. Fitweiler's new assistant, who has been creating havoc by reorganizing other departments, now has her eye on his. This makes him decide to kill her. We are in his point of view as he reviews his case against her and as he makes plans to commit her murder. Then we are in his point of view when he is at her apartment and changes his plans radically. Instead of killing her, he will make her believe he is a deranged dope fiend who plans to kill their boss Mr. Fitweiler. It is interesting to see how Thurber retains Martin's point of view when Mrs. Barrows goes into Mr. Fitweiler's office next morning to report Martin's outrageous behavior.

Mr. Martin got to the office at eight-thirty the next morning, as usual. At a quarter to nine, Ulgine Barrows, who had never before arrived at work before ten, swept into his office. "I'm reporting to Mr. Fitweiler now!" she shouted. "If he turns you over to the police, it's no more than you deserve!" Mr. Martin gave her a look of shocked surprise. "I beg your pardon?" he said....Forty-five minutes later, Mrs. Barrows left the president's office and went into her own, shutting the door. It wasn't until half an hour later that Mr. Fitweiler sent for Mr. Martin.

Although she spent forty-five minutes telling Mr. Fitweiler about Martin's visit last night, not a word of what either the president or his assistant said is recorded in the text. This is because Mr. Martin is not inside the office with them, and the author stays strictly in one point of view. We know pretty well what Ulgine Barrows must be saying, because we observed the whole scene at her apartment through Martin's point of view. 

As Mr. Martin anticipated, their boss thinks the woman has gone crazy. She is describing the most quiet, studious, polite man in the organization as a dope addict and a potential killer. When Martin is called into the boss's office, his customary respectful and humble manner convinces Fitweiler that Ulgine Barrows must be suffering from hallucinations as a result of a nervous breakdown. Then she bursts into the office and consummates her own overthrow by her accusations of Martin and her verbal abuse of their employer.

"You drank and smoked at my apartment," she bawled at Mr. Martin, "and you know it! You called Mr. Fitweiler an old windbag and said you were going to blow him up when you got coked to the gills on your heroin!"...."Can't you see how he has tricked us, you old fool? Can't you see his little game?"

All of this, of course, is seen and heard through Mr. Martin's point of view. No one else but the reader will ever know what went on in Martin's mind. Ulgine Barrows suspects she has been tricked, but she doesn't really understand how it all happened. During her outburst in Mr. Fitweiler's office she tells Martin:

"If you weren't such a drab, ordinary little man," she said, "I'd think you'd planned it all. Sticking your tongue out, saying you were sitting in the catbird seat, because you thought no one would believe me when I told it! My God, it's really too perfect!"

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The Catbird Seat

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