The Birds
by Daphne du Maurier
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre(s)Horror, thriller, novelette
Published inThe Apple Tree
PublisherPenguin Books
Media typePrint
Publication date1952

"The Birds" is a horror story by the British writer Daphne du Maurier, first published in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree. It is the story of a farmhand, his family, his community, and all of England, under attack by flocks of birds in kamikaze fashion. The story is set in du Maurier's home county of Cornwall shortly after the end of the Second World War. By the end of the story it becomes clear that all of Britain is under aerial assault.

The story was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds, released in 1963, the same year that The Apple Tree was reprinted as The Birds and Other Stories. In 2009, the Irish playwright Conor McPherson adapted the story for the stage at Dublin's Gate Theatre.

Plot

In a small Cornish seaside town, wounded war veteran Nat Hocken works part-time for a farmer, Mr Trigg. One day in early December he notices a large number of birds behaving strangely along the coast, behaviour he attributes to a recent cold snap. That night, Nat hears a tapping on his bedroom window and a bird pecks his hand, causing it to bleed. As the night progresses more birds congregate, including some that flock into his children's bedroom, but they leave at dawn.

The next day, Nat tells his fellow workers about the night's events, but is not believed. As he walks to the beach to dispose of some dead birds, he notices that what appear to be whitecaps on the sea is actually a large mass of seagulls apparently waiting for the tide to rise. On the radio, the BBC reports that birds have been massing all over Britain and that people have been attacked. Nat boards up the windows and chimneys of his cottage as a precaution.

Rushing on foot to pick up his daughter from the school bus stop, Nat spots Mr Trigg, and persuades him to give her a lift home in his car. Mr Trigg professes to be unfazed by the announcements and says that he plans to shoot the birds for fun. Nat declines an offer to join him, and walks home. Just as he arrives, the gulls descend and attack. Nat manages to reach his door with only minor injuries.

Massive flocks of birds gather, attacking anyone out in the open. A national emergency is declared, and people are told not to leave their homes. The radio news announcer states that that due to the "unprecedented nature of the emergency", the BBC will going silent for the night and will resume broadcasting the next morning. Nat brings the family into the kitchen for safety. During dinner they hear what sounds like aeroplanes overhead, followed by the sound of planes crashing. The attacks from the birds eventually die down, and Nat guesses that the birds will only attack at high tide.

The next morning, radio broadcasts do not resume. As the tide recedes, Nat and his family walk to Mr Trigg's farm to seek supplies. They pass piles of dead birds, with those still alive peering at them from afar. At the farm, they find that Mr Trigg, his wife, and their workman have been killed, and the postman's body lies by the road. The family gather supplies and return home, but soon the birds attack once again. Nat smokes his last cigarette, then throws the empty pack into the fire and watches it burn.

Interpretation

One interpretation of the story suggests that it reflects the British experience during the Second World War, evoking anxieties about government's failing to protect their citizens and intrusions into domestic spaces by aggressive interlopers.[1]

Background

Du Maurier's inspiration for the story was the sight of a farmer being attacked by a flock of gulls as he ploughed a field.[2]

Radio and TV dramatisations

The story has been dramatised for radio and TV on several occasions, including:

References

  1. ^ Cengage Learning, Gale (2016). A Study Guide for Daphne du Maurier's 'The Birds'. Gale Division of Cengage Learning Incorporated. pp. 1–3. ISBN 9781410341372.
  2. ^ Maunder, Andrew (1 January 2007). The Facts on File Companion to the British Short Story. Infobase Publishing. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-8160-7496-9.
  3. ^ "Afternoon Theatre strand".
  4. ^ Daphne du Maurier – The Birds from the BBC website
  5. ^ The Birds from the BBC Radio 4 website

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