“The Catbird Seat” by James Thurber Character Analysis Lesson Plan

Mr. Martin bought the pack of red pens on Monday night in the most crowded teacher supply store on Broadway. It was principal observation time and seven or eight men were buying lesson plan books. The clerk didn’t even glance at Mr. Martin, who put the pack in his overcoat pocket and went out. If any of the staff at F & S high school had seen him buy the pens, they would have been astonished, for it was generally known that Mr. Martin did not grade papers, and never had. No one saw him. On the way home he stole a “Catbird Seat” analysis lesson plan from Mrs. Barrows.

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Catbird Seat Character Analysis Lesson Plan

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“The Catbird Seat” Summary

Mr. Martin is a man of habit. He’s a company man. He’s dependable. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t drink. This, along with him being a pushover, makes him a great employee…as long as you don’t mess with his world.

As it turns out, someone did mess with Mr. Martin’s world, Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. That’s why, as the story opens, Mr. Martin has planned on “rubbing her out.” He has made himself judge, jury, and executioner. Mrs. Barrows is guilty of trying to destroy Mr. Martin’s world.

When she was hired as special advisor to the firm’s president, she made some dangerous recommendations, recommendations that led to the dismissal of several employees and a shake-up of the company organization. Martin feigns obedience, but when his department looks to be the next target of Mrs. Barrows, he has no choice but to get rid of her.

He arrives at Mrs. Barrows’ apartment with the intent of killing her. He smokes a cigarette, takes a drink—much to the shock of Ulgine, who has heard stories of Martin’s habits. As she prepares him a drink, Martin looks for a weapon with which to kill her. He finds nothing.

Then he realizes the impossibility of the situation and comes up with a better idea. He takes a puff of the cigarette and a drink of alcohol before telling Barrows that he plans on sending the boss a bomb to blow him up. Barrows, appalled, orders Martin to leave.

Martin acts as though nothing has happened the following morning at work. When Barrows informs the president what happened the night before, he assumes she’s gone crazy, calls Martin in, and apologizes for the incident.

Walter Mitty Lesson Plans

Check out this lesson plan for Thurber’s most famous short story.

“Catbird Seat” Analysis

  • Irony. Nothing Martin does at Barrows’ home is anything Martin ever does anywhere else, which is why nobody believes her.
  • Character Analysis. Is Martin living a double life or is this just an isolated incident?
  • Plot. The story follows a basic plot line that students should be able to analyze.
  • Narrative Writing. I wonder what happens after Barrows leaves.
  • Conflict. Martin defeats his opponent and wins his battle vs. the new society.

ELA Standards for “Catbird Seat” Analysis Lesson Plan

If you haven’t downloaded the lesson plan, do so now. Here are the most common standards covered by the lesson. You can tweak it to cover myriad standards.

  • RL.9-10.1 – Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. 
  • RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
  • Common Core Writing Standard 1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • Common Core Writing Standard 2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • W.9-10.9  Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

“Catbird Seat” Teaching Resources

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