What is the theme of "The Birds"?

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Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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...

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vnessawong21 | Student

This is quite a difficult question because "The Birds" was written as a short horror story to give the reader a kick and does not necessarily have a specific lesson in mind. However, if the reader reads carefully several important themes and lessons can be learned. A major one is unity. The birds are able to overwhelm humanity because of how unified they are. Their numbers and their coordination against the disorganized separated humans quickly annihilates humanity.

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