The following morning, Beatrice takes the narrator to visit Gran, Maxim’s ailing grandmother. The narrator is optimistic about the visit because it promises to break up the monotony of the day and ensures that she will not have another disturbing encounter with Mrs. Danvers. Beatrice comments on the narrator’s unhealthy appearance and asks her if she is pregnant. The narrator is embarrassed by the conversation but assures her that she is not yet expecting.
During their drive, the narrator takes the opportunity to ask Beatrice about Jack Favell. Beatrice is surprised to hear about his visit to Manderley and explains that he was Rebecca’s cousin and used to visit the estate regularly. Beatrice seems unwilling to continue the conversation, and the narrator decides to drop the subject.
The visit with Gran goes well until the old woman becomes disoriented and begins asking for Rebecca. Beatrice explains to her that Rebecca is dead and the narrator is now Maxim’s wife, but Gran is inconsolable and keeps asking for Rebecca. Both Beatrice and the narrator are embarrassed by the situation and leave immediately. Beatrice apologizes profusely, but the narrator pretends that she is not upset; after all, Gran is very old and has never seen her and Maxim together. She urges Beatrice not to tell anyone, especially Maxim.
After Beatrice drops the narrator off, the narrator thinks about Gran as a young woman and then as an old woman, walking alongside Rebecca. Maxim arrives home early, and the narrator overhears him reprimanding Mrs. Danvers for allowing Jack Favell to enter the house. The narrator hides when Mrs. Danvers leaves the room but catches a glimpse of her face, distorted with anger. The narrator hopes that Maxim will talk to her about it—she feels that they are growing further apart—but he does not.
One Sunday, Manderley is flooded with visitors from town, and one of them, Lady Crowan, urges Maxim to revive Manderley’s famous costume ball. Maxim hesitantly agrees to host the costume ball again, and Frank Crawley promises to work with Mrs. Danvers on the preparation. The narrator is excited by the idea of hosting an important event at Manderley and decides to keep her costume a surprise from Maxim and Frank until the night of the ball.
The narrator struggles to come up with a suitable costume. Mrs. Danvers suggests that she models it after one of the 18th-century paintings in the gallery, specifically the portrait of Caroline de Winter, and even suggests a dressmaker in London who will make the costume for her. The narrator is confused by Mrs. Danvers’ sudden friendliness but, concluding that their relationship must be finally improving, she orders the costume from London.
On the day of the costume ball, the narrator is thrilled with her appearance and decides to make a grand entrance down the staircase to surprise Maxim. When he sees her, Maxim turns white and orders her to go back to her room and change. The narrator is devastated by his reaction and does not understand what she did wrong until Beatrice explains that she is wearing the exact same costume that Rebecca wore to the last costume ball. Maxim believes that she purposefully wore the costume as a cruel joke.
By the time the narrator changes into a different dress and collects herself, all of the guests have arrived. The narrator manages to play the role of the hostess, explaining that there was a mix-up with her dress order and her costume did not arrive on time. She somehow manages to make it through the evening, all the while despairing that Maxim refuses to speak or even look at her. When all of the guests have finally left, the narrator goes to bed and waits for Maxim, but he never comes.
The costume ball marks a critical moment in the narrator’s continued failure to establish her own identity at Manderley. The event promises the opportunity for the narrator to serve as the true hostess of Manderley, and, at the same time, establish her own unique identity as a member of the community. The narrator also views the costume ball has a chance to prove her maturity and sophistication to Maxim. By this point in the novel, Maxim’s interactions with the narrator have become increasingly paternalistic, and the narrator hopes that her behavior as hostess will place her on equal footing with Maxim.
The costume ball is clearly an opportunity for the narrator to emerge from Rebecca’s shadow at Manderley. At first, it seems as if the narrator will be successful at exerting her identity: she recognizes the importance of her costume and refuses to take suggestions from Frank or Maxim. Ultimately, however, the narrator takes Mrs. Danvers’ advice to model her costume after the portrait of Caroline de Winter. This act of trust seems ill advised given the narrator’s past interactions with Mrs. Danvers. The narrator has no reason to trust her but almost gratefully cedes responsibility for her costume in the same way that she takes a passive role in the household duties at Manderley.
In one respect, the narrator’s decision to wear Mrs. Danvers’ choice of costume demonstrates her continued sense of inferiority. Despite Mrs. Danvers’ hostile behavior toward her, the narrator still respects Mrs. Danvers’ opinion and desperately desires her approval. It is almost as if the narrator believes that Mrs. Danvers is the key to her success: once she has Mrs. Danvers’ approval, she will have finally “arrived” at Manderley and can consider herself its true mistress.
The narrator’s inability to select her own costume also suggests a failure to establish a fixed identity in her own mind. Throughout her time at Manderley, the she has not demonstrated any strength of character or personality. Instead, the narrator consistently follows Mrs. Danvers’ suggestions or Rebecca’s set pattern of behavior for every household task. It is because the narrator lacks a strong character of her own that she is increasingly overwhelming by Rebecca’s forceful presence at Manderley. By wearing the same costume as Rebecca, the narrator reveals the truth of her missing identity: she has no option but to follow Rebecca’s example.
Du Maurier describes Mrs. Danvers’ manipulation of the narrator as a personal triumph for the housekeeper: “It was Mrs. Danvers. I shall never forget the expression on her face, loathsome, triumphant. The face of an exulting devil.” Mrs. Danvers clearly intends to humiliate the narrator and further her psychological weakening. However, Mrs. Danvers also intends the costume to be a message for Maxim that will remind him of the elegant and sophisticated Rebecca (and the fact that the narrator can never hope to replace her).