(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Du Maurier clearly shows a stronger interest in psychological issues than social concerns in ‘‘The Birds.’’ Three major themes garner as much of du Maurier’s attention as the relatively simple plot. All these themes relate to the ways in which people deal with highly stressful situations.

The first of these themes is the hubris of mankind. When placed in an incomprehensible situation, du Maurier’s characters continue to use their experience to exert some measure of control over the situation around them. People, simply have too much pride, du Maurier suggests, to concede defeat or to admit that events such as the mass slaughter of people by birds are beyond their ken. Nat, for example, explains the birds’ behavior away with references to natural habits. When the first, solitary bird attacks Nat he can explain it naturally: ‘‘frightened, he supposed, and bewildered, the bird, seeking shelter, had stabbed at him in the darkness. Once more he settled himself to sleep.’’ Nat can sleep soundly after settling his mind with an explanation that seems reasonable. Birds act erratically when frightened, so the erratic behavior of this bird must be the result of fear.

Even when such rational explanations become absurd, du Maurier’s characters continue to make them. Apparently, people can delude themselves a great deal when faced with untenable circumstances. As mentioned above, some characters turn to the evil machinations of the Soviet Union as a social explanation for the supernatural phenomenon. Clearly, though, such explanations are indicative of nothing more or less than the absurd...

(The entire section is 664 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

At its heart, ‘‘The Birds’’ is a story of survival. The plot and the thematic foci begin and end with Nat Hocken's struggle to survive the bird attacks. Du Maurier frames the story with these attacks, opening with a sole bird pecking at Nat's bedroom window and ending with a swarm bombarding the Hocken's home, seemingly desperate to get to the family huddling inside. Thus, Nat's main activity during the duration of the story is to protect himself and his family against this dangerous onslaught.

The cool-headed Nat works carefully and methodically to insure his family's survival. After the first attack, he boards up the windows, noting that they are the birds' easiest point of entry. He then reinforces the doors and blocks the chimney. Even during the frightening attacks, Nat continually focuses on survival, determining what he must do when the assault subsides. During each break, he summons his courage and ventures out into the open with little protection in order to repair the breaks in the barricades he has constructed or to gather food and fuel in preparation for the next attack.

Nat's determination to protect his children supersedes his own instinct for self-preservation. At the beginning of the story, his daughter's scream causes him to rush into his children's room to find that a swarm of gulls have broken in. His only concern is for the safety of his offspring, and...

(The entire section is 548 words.)