After its publication in 1952 in her short story collection The Apple Tree, ‘‘The Birds’’ became one of Daphne du Maurier's most celebrated works. The story presents an unrelenting portrait of terror and a compelling analogy of the atmosphere of fear generated in America and Europe during the Cold War years.
Covering only a few days in the life of a family living on the Cornish coast of England, ‘‘The Birds’’ examines what would happen if animals traditionally regarded as symbols of peace and freedom began to ruthlessly attack humans. The story opens in the middle of the night when farm worker Nat Hocken wakes to an insistent tapping at his window. Du Maurier quickly increases the tension and horror as Nat's family suffers several vicious attacks by hordes of swarming birds, seemingly bent on destruction.
Richard Kelly, in his article on du Maurier for Twayne 's English Authors Series Online notes, ‘‘by limiting the focus of her story upon Nat Hocken and his family, du Maurier manages to convey the effect of a believable claustrophobic nightmare.’’ This sense of claustrophobia is heightened by the story's references to the bombing raids England endured during World War II and the paranoid atmosphere created by the threat of nuclear holocaust during the middle of the twentieth century. Eleven years after it was written, the story was turned into a popular film version by Alfred Hitchcock.