Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361
Du Maurier tells ‘‘The Birds’’ in the third person. Nevertheless, the events related are filtered through the consciousness of one character, Nat. This solitary man lives on the English coast with his small family in a humble farming cottage. His resourcefulness and cautious habits preserve his and his family’s lives long enough to make a compelling story. He also contributes to du Maurier’s thematic interest in the psychological responses of people in extraordinary circumstances.
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Having coexisted with nature for his entire life, Nat feels as if he understands the patterns of life quite well. When he first sees birds massing in unusual ways, he has a plethora of natural explanations. He thus demonstrates a very human trait; he relies on his personal experience to rationalize and contain unfamiliar experience. This reaction is especially understandable given the precariousness of his situation. When faced with danger, Nat tries to deflate that danger by making it more familiar and understandable.
In addition to demonstrating the human tendency to explain away all disagreeable appearances, Nat shows a large capacity for crowd control. He understands how the stress affects his wife and children, so Nat takes pains to deflect their anxiety through productive channels. In a sense, Nat is the surrogate author, standing back from the crisis and evaluating it objectively. He remains calm and collected throughout, commenting on the folly of his neighbors and the rising fear of his wife and children.
The Trigg family works as a foil to Nat’s family. They are near neighbors with the same background as Nat and his kin. The Triggs, however, betray a failure to accept the extremity of a crisis beyond their experience. They have lived their entire lives dominating the birds, so when the tables are turned, they do not accept the fact. When the birds begin swarming overhead, Mr. Trigg responds by grabbing his shotgun and heading out for a shooting party. He does not think to take cover as Nat does. The Triggs, then, represent the hubris or excessive pride of humanity. They are either unwilling or unable to imagine a world in which they do not dominate every other species.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 852
Jill is used to heighten the story's tension, but her character is more fully developed than that of her brother. She is quite scared of the birds throughout most of the story, especially when she sees her brother and her father's injuries. She also picks up on her parents' apprehension, which compounds her fears. However, she also exhibits a childlike resilience when, the day after the first attack, she plays with youthful unconcern, ‘‘dancing’’ ahead of her father and ‘‘chasing the leaves’’ on the way to the bus. She and her brother find enjoyment during the bumpy ride home from the Trigg farm.
Johnny, like his sister, is used to heighten the story's tension and to illustrate one of its main themes. His initial injury fills his parents with dread and compels them to do whatever they can to protect their children. He, like Jill, displays a child's resiliency.
Mrs. Hocken appears as a stereotypical ‘‘weak woman’’ and is not very fleshed out; perhaps this is why du Maurier never gives her a name. While she does comfort her children and often tries to shield them from fearful thoughts, she appears almost as afraid as they and displays a childlike sense of insecurity and terror. She refuses to stay in the house with the children when Nat decides to go for supplies, and she never displays the confidence in their survival that her husband has.
Nat Hocken's wartime disability provides him with a pension. As a result, he only needs to work part time at the Trigg's farm to support his wife and two children. Trigg gives him the lighter jobs at the farm, which he carries out efficiently. Nat gains the reputation for being a solitary man. In between his chores on the farm, he often stops to gaze out at the sea that surrounds the farmland on either side and watch the movement of the birds.
His nature allows him to be keenly observant of his surroundings. He is the first in the area to take the threat of the birds seriously, since he has always carefully monitored their behavior. He quickly takes stock of the situation, sensing that the nighttime attack will not be the last and determines the materials and supplies he and his family will need to survive. Nat is also a realist. He immediately understands the dangerous situation he and his family are in and the difficulties the authorities will face in trying to get rid of the birds.
Nat keeps a cool head under pressure, focusing solely on how to protect his family both physically and emotionally. When the birds break into the children's bedroom, he immediately pushes the children out before he begins his battle with the birds. When he sees the gulls swarming inland, his first thought is his daughter's safety, and so he runs to the bus stop to fetch her. At home, he continually tries to comfort and reassure his family that no harm will come to them as he sets up barricades around the house. Even at the end of the story, with little hope of rescue, cut off from neighbors and the outside world, Nat does not succumb to his fears. He continues to try everything he can to survive.
His empathy emerges as he comforts his family and protects them from further distress. He does not tell them that the birds have broken into the bedroom, and he cheers his children when they hear birds dropping dead outside the door. In an effort to distract them, he tries to make a game of the experience for Jill and Johnny, explaining that they will be camping out in the kitchen for the night. When he notes that no smoke is coming out of his neighbors’ chimneys, he berates himself for not bringing all the children home with him so that he could protect them.
Jim takes care of the cows on the Trigg's farm. He does not like Nat because of his reputation for reading books and acting ‘‘superior.’’ Thus, he shows no desire to converse with him when Nat comes to warn his neighbors about the birds. Jim does not believe Nat's story since ‘‘it took time for anything to penetrate Jim's head.’’ He is killed when the birds attack the Trigg's farm.
Mr. Trigg owns the farm on which Nat works. When Nat tries to convince him about the impending danger, he and his wife treat ‘‘the whole business as he would an elaborate joke.’’ Trigg represents the average citizen who would not take this type of threat seriously, due to their complacency, their confidence in the authorities to protect them, and in their own resilience. He assures Nat that he will shoot the birds out of the sky and invites him to come over the next morning to enjoy ‘‘a gull breakfast.’’ As a result, Trigg does not take any steps to protect himself or his wife, and the birds kill them both.
Like her husband, Mrs. Trigg does not believe Nat's story.