Du Maurier clearly shows a stronger interest in psychological issues than social concerns in ‘‘The Birds.’’ Three major themes garner as much of du Maurier’s attention as the relatively simple plot. All these themes relate to the ways in which people deal with highly stressful situations.
The first of these themes is the hubris of mankind. When placed in an incomprehensible situation, du Maurier’s characters continue to use their experience to exert some measure of control over the situation around them. People, simply have too much pride, du Maurier suggests, to concede defeat or to admit that events such as the mass slaughter of people by birds are beyond their ken. Nat, for example, explains the birds’ behavior away with references to natural habits. When the first, solitary bird attacks Nat he can explain it naturally: ‘‘frightened, he supposed, and bewildered, the bird, seeking shelter, had stabbed at him in the darkness. Once more he settled himself to sleep.’’ Nat can sleep soundly after settling his mind with an explanation that seems reasonable. Birds act erratically when frightened, so the erratic behavior of this bird must be the result of fear.
Even when such rational explanations become absurd, du Maurier’s characters continue to make them. Apparently, people can delude themselves a great deal when faced with untenable circumstances. As mentioned above, some characters turn to the evil machinations of the Soviet Union as a social explanation for the supernatural phenomenon. Clearly, though, such explanations are indicative of nothing more or less than the absurd...
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