Birdsong

by

Sebastian Faulks

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Birds Symbol Icon

Birds are repeatedly referenced within Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. They often represent optimism and hope for the future, and also offer a reminder of the indifference of nature to the violence and inhumanity of war. In the darkest days of battle, birds can be heard singing over the trenches, and as the men engage in endless killing, the birdsongs represent life carrying on in the face of mankind’s destruction. Protagonist Stephen Wraysford has a deep fear of birds and is plagued most of his life by a reoccurring dream in which a roomful of birds threaten to peck his face. As an orphan, and later a heartbroken man embittered by war, Stephen resents and fears the life and optimism that birds symbolize. It isn’t until Stephen stops hating and begins to love that his fear of birds begins to subside. Years later, Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter, gives birth to a son she names John—a manifestation of Stephen’s promise to fellow dying solider Jack, whose own son named John had recently died, to have children on his behalf; as she does so, a crow flies across the sky. Crows, often a symbolic of bad luck and death, here represent a sort of guarded optimism within the story. The war is proof of the wickedness of men, and without proper knowledge of the past, society has the potential to repeat the very same horrors.  

Birds Quotes in Birdsong

The Birdsong quotes below all refer to the symbol of Birds. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and the Future Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Birdsong published in 1993.
Part Seven: England 1979 Quotes

He threw the chestnuts up into the air in his great happiness. In the tree above him they disturbed a roosting crow, which erupted from the braches with an explosive bang of its wings, then rose toward the sky, its harsh, ambiguous call coming back in long, grating waves toward the earth, to be heard by those still living.

Related Characters: Elizabeth Benson, Robert
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 483
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Birdsong LitChart as a printable PDF.
Birdsong PDF

Birds Symbol Timeline in Birdsong

The timeline below shows where the symbol Birds appears in Birdsong. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One: France 1910
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
As the friends talk, birds can be heard singing from the garden. René mentions that he has a fondness for... (full context)
History and the Future Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...to his room, where he sits and listens to the sounds of the night. An owl calls in the distance, and Stephen begins to write in his journal. He has kept... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Stephen soon falls asleep to the sounds of birds outside and dreams the reoccurring dream that has plagued him for most of his life.... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...happiness,” Stephen and Isabelle remain silently side-by-side on the bed, listening to the sounds of birds in the garden outside. Stephen tells Isabelle that he doesn’t have the strength to watch... (full context)
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...but they “pretend.” As Isabelle and Stephen talk, neither feels guilty about their affair, and doves sing in the garden below. (full context)
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...her a piece of cake in case she hasn’t been eating well, and a large pigeon descends on them, looking for a stray piece of cake. (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
“Jesus Christ!” Stephen yells in response to the bird. Isabelle can’t understand. “It’s only a pigeon,” she says. She swats the bird away and... (full context)
Part Two: France 1916
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...he reflects on the last few days. At one point, the gunfire quiets and a blackbird is heard singing. In the house, Stephen soon falls asleep. (full context)
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...steps out of the trench and an eerie silence falls, cut by the song of skylarks. (full context)
Part Four: France 1917
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...and don’t shake hands. Weir says that the men have received a new shipment of canaries—they have been worried about gas underground—and he asks Stephen if he has any whiskey. Weir... (full context)
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...get injured men until an officer tells them where to go. Weir grabs a new canary, and they head underground. (full context)
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
In the small collapse, the bird is lost. Weir begins to panic; letting a canary go free in a tunnel is... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Neither man can kill the bird, so Stephen is forced to carry it. He ties it in his handkerchief and must... (full context)
Part Five: England 1978-79
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
As Elizabeth approaches Brennan, he is seated in a wheelchair “like a bird on its perch.” He glasses are kept together by tape. Elizabeth introduces herself, and sitting... (full context)
Part Six: France 1918
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...men climb out of the tunnel together into the German trench to the sounds of birds. In English, Stephen asks Levi if it is over. Levi answers in English: “It is... (full context)
Part Seven: England 1979
History and the Future Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...another chance.” Robert throws the chestnut into the air in his “great happiness,” and a crow is disturbed in a nearby tree. The bird flies out of the tree, “its harsh,... (full context)