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Daphne du Maurier's 1952 short story "The Birds" (part of a volume of short stories titled The Apple Tree ; "The Birds" was actually written in 1951, but was first published as part of this collection of short stories) was almost certainly inspired in no small part from...

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Daphne du Maurier's 1952 short story "The Birds" (part of a volume of short stories titled The Apple Tree; "The Birds" was actually written in 1951, but was first published as part of this collection of short stories) was almost certainly inspired in no small part from du Maurier's recent experience watching her country being bombed mercilessly by Nazi Germany. While du Maurier was motivated to write this story after watching seagulls acting strangely threatening, "The Birds" could be said to have reflected the author's experiences as a British citizen watching years of aerial assaults by German bombers and rockets over her country's cities and towns. Finally, it is probably no accident that the story's main protagonist, Nat Hocken, is described in the story's opening passages as having "a wartime disability."

Beyond the images of the birds' assault on Cornwall, where du Maurier resided, and London, which bore the brunt of the German assaults, acting as a metaphor for the bombings sustained by England during the war, a theme of "The Birds" is also the onset of the Cold War. The defeat of Nazi Germany was almost immediately replaced by the perceived threat from the Soviet Union, which emerged from World War II economically devastated but a newly-emerged superpower. Note, for instance, the following comment by the farmer for whom Nat works:

“The kid has run inside,” said the farmer. “Your wife was watching for her. Well, what do you make of it? They’re saying in town the Russians have done it. The Russians have poisoned the birds.” 

There is little doubt that the notion of a threat from the outside is a theme that runs through du Maurier's story. In the current political climate, however, a new theme could be ascribed to "The Birds," albeit not one anticipated by the author: climate change. Nat is convinced that the cause of the peculiar and aggressive behavior of the birds is the sudden change in weather. It is unseasonably cold in England in du Maurier's story, and Nat and the farmer for whom he works have noticed the suddenness with which the weather has changed and that the birds' behavior could be caused by this development (“It’s the weather,” repeated Nat. “I tell you, it’s the weather”). This may be a stretch, but it is not difficult to imagine some college professor or high school teacher making the argument that climate change is the cause of the birds' aggressive behavior.

The question of climate change aside, there is little question that the recent experience of World War II and the newly emerging threat from the Soviet Union constitute themes that run through "The Birds." 

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There are a number of themes in Du Maurier's story, "The Birds." Fear is, perhaps, the most obvious and is shown most clearly through the character of Nat's wife, Mrs Hocken, who looks "terrified" and "bewildered" after the birds attack her home.  Moreover, she appears "ashen" when she is dressing her husband's wounds after he is attacked on his way back to the house.

Family is another important theme in the story. It is the need to protect his family, for instance, which keeps Nat Hocken calm and controlled as the birds attack his house. In addition, by closing her story with the image of the Hockens sitting around the silent wireless, Du Maurer suggests that the family unit is the pinnacle of humanity and that in times of crisis, the family is all that we really have to rely on.

For more themes, please see the reference link provided. 

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