What are the strategies that James Thurber used in the short story, "The Catbird Seat"?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Erwin Martin has decided to kill his nemesis and fellow employee, Ulgine Barrows, in James Thurber's short story, "The Catbird Seat." The two characters are polar opposites: Barrows is loud, conniving, manipulative and megalomaniacal; she also smokes and drinks. Martin is quiet and unassuming, whose strongest drink is milk. He shows up at Ms Barrows' apartment ready to fulfill his goal, but he has not decided how to do so. He has no weapon nor a plan. But, when she offers him a drink and a cigarette, a plan suddenly emerges. He smokes, drinks, threatens to bomb and kill his boss, and promises to do it while "coked to the gills." Barrows throws him out and then tells their boss the story the next day. It is just what Martin has planned.

Thurber's strategy of reversing the gender roles--Barrows is the more masculine of the two, while Martin is the more submissive--eventually works in Martin's favor. Thurber's other strategy concerns the traditional behavior of the individual. When Barrows tells Mr. Fitweiler, her boss, the outrageous story, the boss refuses to accept it. Since Martin has been with the company for 22 years and has settled into a specific routine with definitive and unchanging mannerisms, Fitweiler cannot believe the scandalous accusations presented by Ms Barrows, a relatively new employee. He feels that Martin is incapable of such actions--exactly the plan that Martin concocts on the spur of the moment.