Why does the narrator remain nameless throughout the novel?
The narrator's anonymity represents her struggle to determine her own identity over the course of the book. Timid, insecure, and unsure of herself, the narrator is uncomfortable with both of her names: first, the "lovely and unusual" name given to her by her parents (which does not match her dull view of herself) and second, the title of "Mrs. de Winter" given to her by Maxim. The narrator is particularly overwhelmed by the symbolism of "Mrs. de Winter" because she feels that she cannot live up to the shadow that Rebecca left on the title: the expectation to be a perfect hostess and perfect wife. Only after the narrator learns the truth about Rebecca does she feel confident enough to assume to full meaning of her married name and exercise authority at Manderley. Even at the end of the novel, however, the narrator is still unnamed; at this point, she no longer needs a name in order to establish her identity.
How does the narrator's relationship with Maxim change after the revelation of Rebecca's death?
For the first part of their marriage, Maxim and the narrator have the unequal relationship of a parent and child. Maxim remains aloof from his wife, treating her with patronizing consideration and striving to maintain her innocence. The narrator feels Maxim's condescension and desperately wishes to be taken seriously and be able to support Maxim as an equal partner in the relationship. After the truth about Rebecca's death is revealed, the narrator loses her child-like innocence but also loses her insecurity and fears about Maxim's love for Rebecca. She is able to "grow up" for the first time and become a part of a mature relationship with her husband. Although Maxim regrets the loss of her innocence, he acknowledges that it allows her to surpass her status as a child in the relationship.
What justification does Maxim give for killing Rebecca?
Maxim's primary reason for killing Rebecca is her manipulative lie that she is pregnant with Jack Favell's child. Maxim is so horrified by the prospect of Rebecca's bastard child becoming the heir to Manderley that he shoots her through the heart. When he explains Rebecca's death to the narrator, Maxim also gives a more general background to justify the murder and explain his emotions leading up to the act; he describes Rebecca's immorality and the unspeakable things that she had told him about her life on the cliff in Monte Carlo. At the end of the novel, Maxim's act of killing Rebecca is further justified by the revelation that she was already dying of cancer and had simply manipulated him into ending her life quickly.
In what ways does Rebecca exemplify the Gothic literary tradition?
Gothic fiction, a combination of horror and romance, originated in 1764 with Horace Wadpole's The Castle of Otranto. Since its origins, the Gothic literary tradition has become associated with certain stereotypical elements, such as tormented heroes, secrets, the supernatural, death, innocent damsels, haunted estates, and more. Although Rebecca was written long after the heyday of Gothic literature, Du Maurier was inspired by the classic Gothic novel, Jane Eyre. As a result, the novel includes all of the primary elements of the genre, including Manderley as the haunted mansion, Maxim as the tormented hero, and the narrator as the innocent damsel, plus the ominous Mrs. Danvers, the secrets surrounding Rebecca's death, and a general sense of foreboding.
Is Maxim a likable character? Why or why not?
For the majority of the novel, Maxim de Winter is not a particularly likable character. Throughout his early interactions with the narrator, he is rude, moody, condescending, and generally detached from those around him. The narrator is entranced with his sophistication and brooding temperament, but it is difficult for the reader to fall in love with him as quickly as the narrator does. His behavior to the narrator when she finds the beach cottage, as well as after her entrance at the costume ball, is especially appalling. It is only after the truth of Rebecca's death is revealed that Maxim becomes a more sympathetic character. His previous moodiness and detachment from the narrator are explained, and he is suddenly capable of treating the narrator as an equal partner in the relationship, rather than a child.
What role does Mrs. Danvers play in the novel?
From the very start, it is clear that Mrs. Danvers is the antagonist of the narrative; her rude resentment of the narrator establishes their relationship as the conflict that must be resolved. However, Mrs. Danvers is also crucial as the physical representation of Rebecca's presence at Manderley. Mrs. Danvers maintains all of Rebecca's traditions and habits in the house -- even down to the use of the house telephone for approving menus -- and strives to keep Manderley the same as it was during Rebecca's life. In this role, Mrs. Danvers also articulates the narrator's fears about Rebecca, assuring her that she is and always will be inferior to Rebecca. It is only after the narrator discovers that Maxim never loved Rebecca that she is able to escape Mrs. Danvers (and Rebecca's) influence at Manderley.
What is Ben's significance in the novel?
Ben is the only character in the novel to refer to Rebecca in a negative way from the very beginning. Until Maxim reveals the truth about Rebecca near the end of the book, the narrator operates under the delusion that Rebecca was beloved by everyone. As such, she overlooks Ben's cryptic assertions about Rebecca, assuming that they are merely the confused ramblings of a mentally disabled man. In this way, Ben assumes the position of the wise fool, a literary archetype that dates back to Ancient Rome but was popularized in Shakespearean plays such as King Lear. As with the Fool in King Lear who uses his "mental eye" to see the true natures of the King's daughters, Ben is able to see the evil in Rebecca long before the narrator does.
How does the narrator compare to Rebecca?
For the majority of the novel, the narrator gives the impression of being very innocent, timid, unsophisticated, and insecure. Rebecca, on the other hand, is described by all as being overwhelmingly beautiful, elegant, graceful, vivacious, and clever. The narrator herself prefers Rebecca's glamour and sophistication to her own shyness and finds it difficult to believe that Maxim could ever love such an inferior character. Even to the readers, Rebecca seems to be a more appropriate heroine than the insecure girl with lanky hair is. However, as Frank Crawley points out, the narrator also possesses characteristics that Rebecca could never attain: modesty, sincerity, and kindness. After the narrator comes into her own at the end of the book, Rebecca no longer seems to be superior. The narrator is now a self-assured confident woman, far more worthy of being a heroine than the flashy and sexualized Rebecca.
What role does Manderley play in the novel?
Although Manderley does not have an overt role in the novel, Maxim's love for the estate is the underlying catalyst of all of the major conflicts in the novel. After Maxim marries Rebecca and learns the truth of her nature, he agrees to remain married to her because she promises to transform Manderley into a magnificent estate. Even after her affairs have become more overt, Maxim continues to uphold their farce of a marriage because Rebecca has fulfilled her end of the bargain and Manderley has become the most famous house in the area. Even Maxim's decision to murder Rebecca is determined by his love for Manderley: he only pulls the trigger after Rebecca tells him that her bastard child with Jack Favell will inherit the estate. If Maxim had been less preoccupied with Manderley, he could have annulled the marriage immediately and avoided the following years of anguish. Instead, he chose his house over logic and morality and ultimately paid the price of seeing his beloved Manderley burn to the ground.
What is the significance of fire in the novel?
Fire appears twice in the novel: first, when the narrator destroys the inscribed flyleaf from Maxim's book of poetry, and second, when Manderley itself is destroyed in flames. In both cases, fire represents purification, a complete destruction of the past. With the inscription in the book of poetry, the narrator was already preoccupied with the thought of Rebecca and felt tormented by her presence. She first cut out the flyleaf and then ripped it into small pieces but only felt at peace after burning the pieces. Rebecca's presence at Manderley was far more pronounced than in the book of poetry, and the fire at the estate similarly destroyed her influence over the narrator and Maxim. Although both characters greatly mourn the loss of Manderley, the fire is the only way for them to leave the past behind them.
In Rebecca, Mrs De Winter’s actions show the reader how power can create fear. Mrs De Winter accidentally knocks over a vase in the morning room, causing it to break. She then quickly hides the pieces, like a child. Through this characterisation technique, the reader can see that although Mrs De Winter is the mistress of the house, she is scared of one of the servants, whom is supposedly below her. Du Maurier manipulates the reader to relate to the anxiety Mrs De Winter is feeling. It is apparent that Mrs De Winter feels inferior to Mrs Danvers and she, like the reader, is fearful of her reaction. Du Maurier wants the reader to realise that power can make people afraid and can cause secrecy.
The actions of Mrs Danvers, present to the reader, how a person’s power can remain even after death. Mrs Danvers has kept Rebecca’s room just as it was before her death. The reader cannot comprehend why Mrs Danvers is living in the past, instead of moving forward. The way in which Mrs Danvers worships and maintains Rebecca’s room, shows the reader how powerful Rebecca was. The reader can see that Rebecca’s power has continued after her death and she still remains in control of Manderly. This explains why Mrs Danvers holds so much power at Manderly. It is as if she has taken over where Rebecca left off. Through this use of characterisation, Du Maurier has presented to the reader, how some people, with extreme power, can still rule over others after death and this can cause problems with life.
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Favell’s dialogue in Rebecca encourages the reader to see how money creates power. Throughout the text, Maxim is portrayed as being a rich and idolised figure. Once Favell tells Maxim he has evidence against him. He suggests that for “two or three thousand” he would keep quiet. This dialogue is conveying to the reader a direct link between power, money and corruption. Although Maxim refuses the offer, he still gets away with murder, because no one suspects him, as he is a respected figure at Manderly. Du Maurier is suggesting to the reader, that people with money have automatic power and they can use this power to their advantage.
In Rebecca, Du Maurier uses the dialogue of Maxim, to show the reader how a relationship can be jeopardised when one person holds most of the power. Maxim calls Mrs De Winter a “little idiot” when he finds out Mrs De Winter has hidden the pieces of the broken vase. The tone in which this dialogue is said, implies that Maxim believes he is more mature than Mrs De Winter. The reader is horrified that Maxim would be so arrogant, as to call his wife such an offensive name. Instead of sympathising with Mrs De Winter, he has carelessly brushed her problems aside by criticising her. The reader can see Maxim is a busy man, who believes that his life is more important than his spouse’s. Du Maurier has carefully chosen the words and tone to display to the reader, how in most relationships, if one person dominates over the other, the relationship is compromised.
Du Maurier uses actions to show the reader how first impressions can decide who holds the power in a relationship. When Mrs De Winter first arrives at Manderly, she is greeted by Mrs Danvers and as she is nervous, she drops her gloves. This action makes Mrs De Winter appear clumsy and unsophisticated. The reader can feel Mrs De Winter’s embarrassment and sympathises with her awkward position. The reader can see that through this first interaction, Mrs Danvers instantly knows she can overpower Mrs De Winter and does so throughout most of the text. Through this use of characterisation, the reader has learnt, how first impressions can show how dominant or submissive someone is. The reader is encouraged to realise, that the first interaction with someone can often set up the power balance in a relationship.
The reader is encouraged to see how power can be used to manipulate others through the actions of Mrs Danvers. Through previous characterisation the reader knows that Mrs Danvers has a strong hold over Manderly. Mrs Danvers uses this power to convince Mrs De Winter to wear Rebecca’s dress to the fancy dress ball. The reader can see that Mrs De Winter trusts Mrs Danvers, so she feels compelled to wear Rebecca’s dress. Du Maurier is encouraging the reader to realise, that Mrs Danvers can use her power to influence Mrs De Winter. The reader feels hatred for Mrs Danvers, as she has intentionally abused her power to humiliate Mrs De Winter. Du Maurier wants the reader to realise, that power can be used to take advantage of people.
Through characterisation techniques, Du Maurier has presented to the reader, her theme of power in Rebecca. Dialogue and actions of Mrs Danvers have shown the reader, how power remains and how power can be used to make others feel uncomfortable. The characterisation of Mrs De Winter, Favell and Maxim has been used to encourage the reader to realise how power creates fear and secrecy, how money can create corruption and power and how the power balance in a relationship can be decided by the first meeting. The way in which Du Maurier has portrayed her theme of power, as an obstacle in people’s lives, still makes Rebecca relevant to individuals today. The positions the characters find themselves in, in Rebecca, can easily be related to similar situations in the readers’ lives. This excellent use of characterisation could be one of the reasons why Du Maurier’s novels are so popular.
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