The Birds Characters
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.
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.
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...
(The entire section is 1,213 words.)