The Birds Summary

Daphne du Maurier

The Birds

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The Birds Summary

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The Birds is a 1952 novelette by Daphne du Maurier first published in her short story collection, The Apple Tree. It was adapted into the famous Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.

The story opens in a small English town in December, where a sudden cold front has shifted the weather suddenly from autumn to winter. We are introduced to Nat Hocken, who receives a pension for his wartime disability, which he uses to support his family in addition to part-time work at a neighbor’s farm. Described as a solitary man, he spends most of his time watching birds fly during breaks on the farm. This particular day he notices that they seem more restless than usual and mentions it to the farmer, Mr. Trigg, who brushes it off as a reaction to the change in weather and harsh winter to come.

That night, Nat hears a tapping on his window and, curious, opens it. A bird attacks his hand and leaves. He attributes this attack to the bird’s fear and confusion and falls back asleep, before awaking to another tap. He again opens the window in order to shoo the bird away, but half a dozen birds fly in and attack his face before flying off. He hears screams from his children’s room, where the birds have infiltrated as well. He shields his children and attacks the birds in order to protect them, killing many in the process. As the dawn emerges, the living birds flee. Still, he attributes their odd behavior to the weather.

The next day he walks his daughter to the school bus and asks the Triggs if they noticed anything odd, which they deny. He is shaken, but thinks it all a fluke, until he notices hordes of birds out on the sea, thousands of them circling in agitation. He heads home and his wife greets him at the door to tell him that violent bird attacks have now been reported throughout the country. The media blames their behavior on hunger. In response, Nat boards up the windows and fills the chimney against further bird attacks. He leaves to escort his daughter home from the bus stop and notices that the birds have moved in from the sea to circle the sky. Mr. Trigg passes by in his car and Nat asks him to take Jill home. He agrees and invites Nat to shoot the birds with him. He refuses to board his windows and states that any panic is overblown. As he nears home, the birds start to attack and he narrowly avoids a diving bird as he escapes into his house.

Once home, Nat moves the mattress down to the kitchen and prepares to hunker down with the children for the night. He reinforces the windows and awaits the evening news. A state of national emergency is declared. The family hears the sounds of planes and feel somewhat reassured until Nat hears the planes crashing. Still, he tries to keep the mood light for his children. The attacks subside and Nat figures out that they are tied to the tides, and that he has some time before the next attack. He ventures outside to find heaps of dead birds everywhere, which he stuffs into cracks in the boards to keep further attacks at bay.

Nat is shaken awake by his wife, who says there is a horrible smell wafting into the kitchen. In horror, Nat realizes that the birds are attempting to enter through the chimney. He reignites the smoldering flame to further halt the birds’ entry. He goes upstairs and can hear through the door that the birds have broken into the children’s room, and so barricades the door.

At last, seven o’clock comes, and they gather around the wireless for news, but none comes. Nat leaves the house to gather food and supplies to survive the onslaught of the next tide. He takes his family with him as his wife refuses to be left alone with the children.

They arrive at the Triggs’ farm to seek food and finds them dead, having been pecked to death by the birds. He gathers his family and takes the Triggs’ car, loading it up with supplies from the farm. When they return he sets about re-boarding the windows, and laments the lack of air support. He sees the gulls swarming and returns inside, where his wife says that there’s no wireless signal anywhere. The birds begin to attack the house once again, as Nat thinks of his continued plan to survive and reinforce the house.

As the story ends, they turn on the silent wireless and Nat smokes the last cigarette in the pack before throwing the empty pack in the fire and watching it burn.

The story is generally considered to be a metaphor for the aerial bombings in London during the second World War; the relentless attacks from the sky on an innocent and helpless civilian population. It’s also a meditation on man’s helplessness in the face of natural disaster, and the futility of trying to fight an act of God. While Nat is more prepared than most, he is still helpless against nature’s onslaught, and is painted as a bit naïve in his planning for surviving into the future. A deft display of building tension and hopelessness, The Birds is considered du Maurier’s masterpiece.