The Catbird Seat Style and Technique

James Thurber

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...

(The entire section is 401 words.)