The Catbird Seat

by James Thurber

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In the short story "The Catbird Seat" by James Thurber, what is the climax of the plot?

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The story “The Catbird Seat” appears to have multiple climaxes. Martin is the “head of the filing department” in the company called F & S. Ugline is a new employee who works as a special advisor to the company’s president, Mr. Fitweiler. Martin is fed up with Ugline’s high-handedness at work. He detests her “quacking voice and braying laugh.” He is particularly offended by her plans to “destroy the efficiency and system” of the company by continuously undermining long-standing employees of the firm. When he discovers that Ugline wants to interfere with his department, he prepares a plan that is meant to annihilate Ugline’s influence within the company. The first climax of the story thus happens when Martin effects his plan. He visits Ugline’s house unexpectedly, a little after nine in the night, with the intention of killing her. However, he changes plans and instead tells Ugline the most outrageous things, while smoking a Camel and drinking a highball (it is important to note that it is a well-known fact that Martin neither drinks nor smokes). He literally insults the company’s president knowing full well that Ugline would not condone such behavior. The whole scene is almost comical, for the well-behaved Martin suddenly changes into a very obnoxious person. He even pulls out his tongue at her. Predictably, Ugline is furious at Martin.

The second climax takes place the following day, when Ugline reports Martin’s behavior to the company’s president, completely unaware that she has been set up. Nobody believes a word of what she says. In fact, Mr. Fitweiler concludes that Ugline must have had a mental breakdown of sorts and requests her to seek medical attention. The story ends with a hysterical Ugline, shouting expletives at Martin and other employees. She is literally forced out of the offices of F & S.

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I would say that the climax to the plot does not come until after Mr. Fitweiler has called Mr. Martin into his office and questioned him about what he did the night before. Mr. Fitweiler appears quite satisfied with Mr. Martin's story that he spent a very quiet evening, as usual, and went to bed early.

Before Mr. Martin can leave the office, Ulgine Barrows bursts in and screams, "Is the little rat denying it?" She must have realized that the story she had previously told her boss may have sounded preposterous and that she has no proof to back up a word of it. After repeating what she had previously told Mr. Fitweiler, she asks him:

"Can't you see how he has tricked us, you old fool? Can't you see his little game?"

By calling Mr. Fitweiler an old fool, she has cut her own throat. She has not only been extremely disrespectful, but she has shown her true opinion of her employer. This is the climax. Mr. Martin has achieved his goal of making her look crazy and has won the victory in the conflict that is...

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the essence of the plot.

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I would say that it is when Martin arrives at Mrs. Barrows home and comes up with his new plan (rather than the murder he'd intended) to rid himself and his company of the annoying woman. (He's angry because she has destroyed what Martin considers to be a highly efficient system of organization at their company.)

Martin then tells the incredulous Mrs. Barrows that he is going to "blow up" the company president but only when he is good and high on heroin. He knows he is "sitting in the catbird seat" because no one will ever believe her accusations. He has been too much of a "model employee" for that.

It is a perfect plan. Mr. Fitzwater believes Mrs. Barrows has suffered a nervous breakdown and dismisses her from employment.

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