Closely Examine the Character of Melanie in Hitchcock’s the Birds
The Birds is a psychological thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
It centres around Melanie, a young city girl, who journeys into danger into a small coastal town called Bodega Bay to play a practical joke on a potential lover, Mitch. A series of unfortunate Bird attacks follow her and wreck havoc on the town and its inhabitants.
As the film progresses, Melanie tries, on several occasions, to go against the social norm of women of the 1950’s; every time she does she gets punished and gradually destroyed until she becomes the dominant ideology.At the start of the film, Melanie seems strong and independent. From the offset she is seen as an individualist. In the first scene she is first seen walking down a street in a fitted jacket and pencil skirt, this was seen as too provocative and was not the usual dress code for a 1950’s woman; the norm would be a dress with either a swing skirt or a poodle skirt. Along with the fitted clothes, Melanie has perfectly groomed hair and perfectly painted fingernails; these are signs of her emotional state and will change throughout the film.
Also in this scene the audience can hear a wolf whistle from a man directed at Melanie, she turns and smiles, telling the audience that she enjoys male attention and is comfortable and confident in the city environment. In the next scene, Melanie is in a bird shop. This is when Mitch is first seen; when Melanie first sees Mitch she immediately becomes flirtatious and thinks that she is in control of what is happening, when really Mitch is in control as he knows exactly who Melanie is while she does not know who he is.After Mitch plays a practical joke on Melanie in the bird shop, Melanie sets out to speak to him again, and when she finds out that he is not staying in his home in the city but in a small town up the coast, Bodega Bay, she sets out on her own little practical joke. This journey will take her out of her comfort zone, the city, and put her in unknown surroundings and ultimately danger. During the drive, Melanie looks very smug but is unaware that she is journeying into danger.The actions of the two love birds in their cage and the speed of the car are deliberately made to look fake as to lull the audience in to a false sense of security and to mask the danger to come, this ties into the genre of deceit that is seen throughout the film.
When Melanie reaches Bodega Bay, it is quite obvious that she is out of place; all the town’s citizens are casually dressed which contrasts with Melanie’s immaculate hair and nails and her fitted clothes. Melanie is treated as novelty by the citizens that she encounters.After she plays her practical joke on Mitch at his house, she races him back to Bodega Bay but he beats her and stands waiting for her. The mood is very light hearted as both characters are smiling but the mood changes to become very serious as Melanie is struck by a seagull on the head. This is the first bird attack and the first time, of many, that Mitch is there to rescue her from danger. After the attack Melanie is composed once again but her gloves are blood stained and she does not wear them again, symbolising that her first layer of protection is gone.This first attack is the start of Melanie’s confident and independent exterior being pecked away by the birds.
After the attack Melanie goes back to Mitch’s and meets his mother, a very demanding and controlling woman. In these few scenes where they are together Melanie is seen with high angle camera shots, showing that she is weak and powerless in their home, whilst Lydia is seen with low angle camera shots, demonstrating her power and dominance over the family and Melanie.In their next encounter their roles in the household switch: Lydia becoming frail and helpless whereas Melanie is now dominant and in control. The next significant change in Melanie’s character and emotional state is during the bird attack on the petrol station. Melanie shows an act of independence and defiance by taking shelter in a Telephone Box, away from the security of Mitch and other men, but when she tries to get out again she is attacked by the birds, eventually the glass panels of the Telephone box shatter, representing her fragility.High angle shows, once again, that Melanie is weak and powerless. The paint on her fingernails is still intact but her hair is not as groomed as it started out, signifying that her emotional state and independence has been damaged again and she has been punished for her act of defiance.
For the second time, Mitch has to come and rescue Melanie from the birds, showing that she is becoming more and more dependable on the security of men, especially Mitch. During the penultimate attack by the birds Melanie’s state of mind changes nce again: she has regained her strength and has taken over the role of mother of the family. This is shown by low angle camera shots and in her actions. When Mitch’s sister, Cathy, gets sick, it is Melanie, not the mother, that takes her to the kitchen. However, these moments of defiance are short lived, for after the birds appear to have left the house, Melanie hears bird sounds coming from the attic and climbs the stairs, on her own, to see what it is.She hesitates at the door of the attic, there is a close up of her hand and her nails are still intact, and when she does open the door, she does so only to find a flock of birds which attack her mercilessly. This, her last act of independence, ends in disaster and her destruction as an independent woman.
For the final time Mitch comes to rescue Melanie from the birds. Melanie’s destruction is symbolised by her looking dishevelled and wrapped up in bandages. Mitch then carries Melanie to the car, demonstrating Melanie’s total dependence on Mitch.Melanie’s destruction is finally symbolised by an extreme close up of her nails, which are completely broken and chipped. The ways in which Melanie changes over the course of The Birds, her frame of mind could be compared to a yo-yo. At the start she was completely independent and self sufficient, but during different parts of the film she either lost some of her independence or gained some. By the end of the film, Melanie ends up being the polar-opposite of what she started out to be.
At the end she was totally dependent on Mitch and had lost all independence. Making her the dominant ideology of a woman of the 1950’s.