The Birds


Daphne du Maurier

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The Birds Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Daphne du Maurier's The Birds. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier was born in London, England to actors Sir Gerald du Maurier and Muriel Beaumont. Her family encouraged her artistic ambitions from an early age, as her father introduced her to various theater actors and her great uncle, a journalist and editor, published her early writing in Bystander magazine. Du Maurier published her first novel, The Loving Spirit, in 1931. The book attracted the attention of British Airborne officer Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning, whom du Maurier married in 1932. The couple had three children and spent much of their life together in the town of Cornwall, the rugged, coastal setting for many of du Maurier’s works. Officially titled Lady Browning after her marriage, du Maurier continued to write under her maiden name. At age 31 du Maurier published her most famous work, the psychological thriller Rebecca. The novel was an immediate bestseller, going on to win the 1938 National Book Award and cementing du Maurier’s status as a master of gothic romance and horror. In 1940 Rebecca was adapted into an Oscar-winning film by Alfred Hitchcock, who also adapted du Maurier’s novel Jamaica Inn and “The Birds.” Her short story Don’t Look Now was brought to the screen by director Nicolas Roeg in what is considered a classic and influential work of British horror. In addition to her many novels and short stories, Du Maurier wrote three plays and several works of nonfiction, including a biography of her father. In 1969, she was named a Dame of the British Empire in recognition of her artistic contributions. She died in Cornwall at the age of 81.
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Historical Context of The Birds

Du Maurier wrote “The Birds” in the wake of World War II, a time of great upheaval for the British Empire. Though victorious, Britain was saddled with debt following the war and saw a sharp decline in its status on the world stage. The United States and the Soviet Union, meanwhile, emerged as the new leading world superpowers. The specter of Hiroshima and further nuclear proliferation hung heavy over Western democracies, where Cold War paranoia had already begun to take root. This is suggested in “The Birds” through du Maurier’s references to an “east wind” as well as the Triggs’ positing that Russia is somehow behind both the sudden cold snap and the bird attacks. “The Birds” also draws heavily from wartime imagery, suggesting both the personal horror of battle and broader disillusionment with authorities’ ability to maintain order in the face of violent chaos. The story is particularly evocative of the “Blitz,” a German mass aerial attack against Britain that took place from 1940 to 1941. Sirens warned citizens of impending bombings, which killed at least 40,000 people, injured 130,000 more, and destroyed 2 million homes. Seventy-six people were infamously killed in an attack on an air raid shelter in the town of Plymouth, where Nat Hocken, the protagonist of “The Birds,” remembers working on an ultimately useless shelter for his mother.

Other Books Related to The Birds

“The Birds” was written during the Angry Young Men Movement in British literature, a period characterized by resentment towards postwar society and perhaps most famously represented by William Golding’s 1954 novel of lost innocence Lord of the Flies. But with their touches of the supernatural, dark endings, and traces of the macabre, du Maurier’s tales draw most heavily from the gothic literary tradition, exemplified by Henry James’ psychological ghost story The Turn of the Screw and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Du Maurier also considered herself indebted to the work of Wilkie Collins, whose 1868 The Moonstone is often deemed the first English detective novel. She was also a self-professed fan of the Bronte sisters; du Maurier’s first novel The Loving Spirit in fact takes its title from Emily Bronte’s poem “Self-Interrogation,” and her frequent Cornwall setting evokes the wild moors of Wuthering Heights. Due to similar plot elements, both Rebecca and Jamaica Inn have been compared to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. As a master of suspense, mystery, and shifting perspective, du Maurier has more recently been called a foremother of modern thrillers such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, both of which feature multifaceted female characters and disturbing, deceptive domestic relationships.
Key Facts about The Birds
  • Full Title: The Birds
  • When Written: 1952
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1952
  • Literary Period: Postwar, Angry Young Men
  • Genre: Horror, thriller
  • Setting: A quiet, coastal town in England
  • Climax: Nat tosses his final cigarette into the fire as hawks begin to break down the door to his home
  • Antagonist: The birds
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for The Birds

Literary Legacy. Du Maurier was cousins with the Llewellyn-Davis boys—the inspiration for the Lost Boys in J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy.

House Inspiration. From 1943 to 1968 du Maurier lived at Menabilly, a historic Cornwall estate and the basis for Manderley house in Rebecca.