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A Comparison of Du Maurier's Story with Hitchcock's Film Version

(Short Stories for Students)

In 1963, Universal Pictures released Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds to public and critical acclaim. Evan Hunter's screenplay loosely adapted Daphne du Maurier's short story, transplanting the location from the Cornish coast of England to the seaside town of Bodega Bay and changing a major thematic direction. In du Maurier's tale, the bird attacks and the characters' responses to them emerge as a political statement on the paranoid atmosphere that existed in Europe and America during the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s. Hitchcock's version discarded this topical theme and opted instead for a portrait of the main character's psychosexual power struggle, heightened and redirected by the bird attacks. Both story and film, however, offer gripping portraits of humans struggling helplessly against the darker forces of nature.

In her review of Kiss Me Again, Stranger for the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, Sylvia Berkman complains that du Maurier's story is ‘‘marred by unresolved duality of intent.’’ She insists that the author's ‘‘turning of this material also into a political fable, with the overt references to control from Russia and aid from America … dissipates the full impact of a stark and terrifying tale.’’ Berkman, however, fails to note that by placing the story into a Cold War context, du Maurier increases the story's sense of isolation and doom. The bird attacks as an analogy for nuclear destruction compound the characters' fears of complete and inevitable destruction.

Du Maurier begins her political framework when, after the first bird attack, Nat visits the Triggs' farm to see if anyone there had had a similar experience. The Triggs and their hired hand Jim note that they have not been attacked and consider Nat's story to be either an exaggeration or a nightmare. Their inability to recognize impending danger from the skies reminds Nat of the air raids England suffered through during World War II which he had also endured. Many ignored the air raid sirens, failing to take appropriate precautions and seek shelter, and so were subsequently killed by German bombs. Du Maurier plants another reference to the bombing campaign when Nat later notes, as his family huddles in the kitchen during another attack, that the experience is just like being in an air raid shelter. The threat becomes intensified by the narrator's suggestion that during their attacks, several of the birds become suicide bombers, calling to mind the Japanese kamikaze fighters during World War II.

The memory of his past experiences during World War II coupled with the political realities of the present magnify Nat's terror as a new threat comes from the sky. Cold War fears of communist invasion emerge in the story when, after several people have been attacked, many insist that the Russians have poisoned the birds, prompting their bloodthirsty behavior. The BBC's declaration of a national emergency before all communication is cut off increases the sense of inevitable destruction. Richard Kelly, in his article on du Maurier for Twayne's English Authors Series Online, concludes that the Hocken family ‘‘becomes a microcosm of an apparent worldwide disaster, and the conclusion of the story clearly suggests that the birds will destroy all the people on earth.’’

Deciding that du Maurier's short story could not be expanded into a feature length film, Alfred Hitchcock added a new plot line, that of the romantic relationship between the film's two main characters, rich socialite Melanie Daniels (played by Tippi Hedren) and lawyer Mitch Brenner (played by Rod Taylor). The action begins when Melanie drives to Mitch's home in Bodega Bay and she becomes embroiled in a battle of wills and wits not only with Mitch, but also with his mother, with whom he lives, and his ex-girlfriend. These antagonistic relationships are dramatically altered by the bird attacks, which are quite similar in design and intensity to those in the short story.

At the beginning of the...

(The entire section is 9,103 words.)