The narrator’s jealousy of Rebecca permeates the majority of the novel. Because of her youth and insecurity, the narrator is unable to understand why Maxim chooses to marry her. As she learns more and more about Rebecca, she begins to compare herself to Maxim’s first wife, who seemed to be far more beautiful, elegant, and sophisticated than she could ever hope to be. The narrator’s preoccupation with Rebecca develops to the point that she concludes that Maxim is still in love with her. With this revelation, the conflict between the narrator and the memory of Rebecca becomes a competition for Maxim’s love. Yet, with her desperate love for Maxim and jealousy of Rebecca, the narrator has no recourse until Maxim tells her the truth about Rebecca. Only then can the narrator overcome her jealousy and approach her marriage as the sole Mrs. de Winter. Jealousy also appears on Maxim’s side of the narrative, specifically in his relationship with Rebecca and her many lovers. Maxim confronts Rebecca in the boathouse and ultimately kills her because she manipulates his jealousy into a tool for her own destruction. In both cases, jealousy is a destructive force that has the ability to destroy both Maxim and the narrator if they let it.
Escaping the past
One of the main conflicts of Rebecca revolves around Maxim and the narrator’s efforts to escape the past. From his first entrance in the novel, Maxim is tormented by the memory of his marriage to Rebecca and his eventual murder of her. Even though the narrator never knew Rebecca, she is equally haunted by her presence at Manderley through her physical representative, Mrs. Danvers. The characters are only able to move forward with their marriage after each one has come to terms with the past in their individual ways. For the narrator, Maxim must reveal that he never loved Rebecca in order for her to assume her position as mistress of Manderley. Maxim, on the other hand, must own up to the consequences of his actions and stop running from the memory of what he has done. In the end, Maxim and the narrator triumph over the memory of Rebecca but only after Manderley, with all of its memories of her, is destroyed.
Good versus evil
Du Maurier plays with the dichotomy between good and evil in the way that she presents the main characters. From a general perspective, it is clear that the narrator and Maxim are on the “good” side, while Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers are on the “bad” side. Yet, Du Maurier adds complexity to each character so that all sense of good and evil becomes purely subjective. For example, Maxim is the primary male character and the narrator’s love interest and thus, is presented as the hero of the novel. At the same time, however, Maxim is a murderer who shot Rebecca in a fit of rage, an act that is hardly appropriate for a hero. Similarly, while Mrs. Danvers is presented as the antagonist of the novel who actively strives to undermine the narrator, she is also an individual who is overwhelmed with grief at the lost of her friend and mistress. By blending the concepts of good and evil, Du Maurier creates a set of characters that are truly human in their complexity and motivations.
Love vs. hate
Love and hate serve as crucial motivational tools for the primary characters in Rebecca. In most cases, characters exhibit both emotions—sometimes even a blend of the two—and use their love or hate to justify their actions in the novel. For the majority of the text, Maxim is motivated by his love for the narrator and Manderley, as well as his hatred for Rebecca and her memory. Mrs. Danvers and Jack Favell, as the seeming “villains” of the piece, are both prompted by their love for Rebecca and hatred for those who seem to have forgotten her. In Mrs. Danvers’ case, Rebecca is the object of an obsessive love that Mrs. Danvers uses to justify her hatred of the narrator and her attempt to undermine Maxim’s second marriage. Jack Favell, on the other hand, had hoped to marry Rebecca, and he uses his disappointed love to justify blackmailing Maxim. As the object of both love and hate, Rebecca is the only character who seems to be motivated purely by self-love in her behavior. As a result, she manipulated the emotions of those around her to her own advantage and maintained power over Manderley both in life and in death.
One of the major themes of the novel is the narrator’s search to establish her own identity. Du Maurier establishes this theme from the very beginning by maintaining the narrator’s anonymity, as only Maxim learns the narrator’s “lovely and unusual” name. When she marries Maxim, the narrator is automatically given a new identity as Mrs. de Winter, but she does not feel comfortable or suited to the role. The narrator’s uncertain identity worsens during her time at Manderley because the constant reminder of Rebecca, the “real” Mrs. de Winter. The narrator is quickly overwhelmed by the strength of Rebecca’s presence and even considers given up all claims to an identity as Maxim’s wife. The climax of the narrator’s identity crisis is at the Manderley costume ball when even her physical appearance is overshadowed by the memory of Rebecca in the same costume. In the end, the narrator must learn the truth about Rebecca’s nature before she can feel assured of Maxim’s love and her identity as Mrs. de Winter.
Du Maurier employs numerous Gothic elements in Rebecca and emphasizes its parallels to the standard Gothic work, Jane Eyre. However, she does not begin to incorporate major Gothic elements until the action of the plot moves to Manderley; this serves as a sign that Manderley is at the center of the mystery surrounding Rebecca’s death. Once the narrator is at Manderley, Du Maurier invokes classic aspects of the Gothic, including a haunted mansion with ancestral heritage, an atmosphere of suspense, a story about a mysterious death, ominous foreshadowing, and ghostly presence. Du Maurier also incorporates Maxim as a stereotypical Byronic hero who is tormented by his past and is associated with gloomy weather that corresponds with the direction of the narrative. She ends the novel as a continuation of the Gothic tone by allowing Maxim and the narrator to escape the memory of Rebecca only after the destruction of their home.
Manderley plays a significant underlying role in the action of the narrative. The estate is one of the most important things in Maxim’s life, so much so that he is willing to embark on a sham marriage with Rebecca on the condition that she increases Manderley’s renown. The estate also serves as the catalyst for Rebecca’s death: Maxim only shoots her after she threatens to have her illegitimate child with Jack Favell inherit Manderley after Maxim’s death. The narrator is equally entranced by the estate and even recalls buying a postcard painting of the house as a child. After Maxim proposes to her, one of the first thoughts that the narrator expresses is “I was going to live at Manderley.” As the narrator gradually discovers, however, Manderley is fundamentally linked to Rebecca. The estate is full of her presence, even down to the china cupid in the morning room. In order for Maxim and the narrator to break free of Rebecca’s influence, they ultimately must also break free from Manderley, despite the pain of the separation. When Manderley is burned to the ground, they are saved the pain of leaving the estate of their own accord but still must suffer the memory of the home to which they can never return.
Rebecca Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Rebecca is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.