The story’s unsettling power depends on two levels of threat: the first, of course, is the brute physical terror of the birds’ attack. But it is the second level that takes us into the eerie. As the story develops, we see residual wartime certainties and authority structures disintegrate. What the birds threaten is the very structures of explanation that had previously made sense of the world. Initially, the preferred account of the birds’ behaviour is the weather. As the attacks intensify, other narratives emerge: the farmer for whom Hocken works says that the idea is circulating in town that the Russians poisoned the birds. (This turn to the readymade explanations of Cold War paranoia makes a certain sense, when we remember that the birds have set aside their differences in order to develop a kind of species consciousness, analogous to class consciousness.) BBC radio broadcasts assume a crucial role in the story. Initially, the broadcasts are the trusted voice of authority: when the BBC announces that the birds are amassing everywhere, the anomalous situation achieves a kind of official validation. At this point, the BBC is synonymous with an authority structure that it is assumed will “do something” to repel the birds’ attack. But, as the broadcasts become increasingly infrequent, it becomes clear that there is no more a strategy to deal with the birds than there is an adequate explanation of their behaviour. By the end, the BBC is no longer broadcasting at all, and its silence means that we are definitively in the space of the eerie. There will be no explanation, for the characters or for the readers. Nor will there be any reprieve: at the end of the story, the birds’ siege shows no signs of concluding.
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