The Supernatural and the Functions of the Gothic in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’

Although the supernatural is usually an essential component of the gothic, there is significant variety in the way gothic texts employ supernatural elements. While some gothic narratives treat the supernatural as an unquestionable part of their fictional worlds, others evoke scepticism concerning the reality status of the uncanny events introduced. In such texts, the scepticism experienced by the characters and/or the readers is either resolved at some point in the narrative or played out until the very end, in which case the gothic text attains the status of ‘the fantastic’ as formulated by Tzvetan Todorov. Informed by the argument that such varying treatments of the supernatural create significantly different effects, this paper explores the role of the supernatural in two well-known gothic short stories by Daphne du Maurier: ‘The Birds’ (1952) and ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1971), which have enjoyed popularity especially as film adaptations by Alfred Hitchcock and Nicolas Roeg respectively. The paper aims to demonstrate that there is an essential difference between the way the two narratives approach the preternatural, the former involving an unquestioning acceptance and the latter a persistent scepticism concerning the existence of the unusual events. It also aims to demonstrate how this difference allows these two gothic texts to function in entirely different ways. While the unquestioning tone of ‘The Birds’ evokes a sense of doom or apocalypse, the endless scepticism in ‘Don’t Look Now’ creates a much different effect, emphasizing struggle in the face of the unknown and raising questions concerning the nature of reality. It is hoped that this comparative analysis will shed further light on the relationship between the gothic and the supernatural, emphasizing the widely varying functions gothic texts may attain through the way they approach the supernatural.
Citation Formats
N. Korkut Naykı, The Supernatural and the Functions of the Gothic in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’. 2012, p. 133.