Rebecca | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca | Chapters 15-17 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

The next day the narrator goes with Beatrice to visit Maxim's and Beatrice's grandmother, who is elderly and somewhat disoriented. During the visit, the grandmother becomes upset and wants to know why the narrator is there instead of Rebecca. "Bee, who is this child?" she says of the narrator. "Why did not Maxim bring Rebecca? I'm so fond of Rebecca." The narrator manages to shrug it off, reassuring Beatrice, "I tell you I don't mind." When the narrator returns home, Maxim is there and she overhears him scolding Mrs. Danvers for allowing Jack Favell to visit. The narrator sees Mrs. Danvers as she leaves the library, her face "gray with anger, distorted, horrible."

Chapter 16

One Sunday soon afterwards, Manderley is filled with visitors and Lady Crowan brings up the subject of the "fancy dress ball," Manderley's famous annual costume party. When Lady Crowan pushes the issue, Maxim agrees to hold the costume ball, and Frank offers to work with Mrs. Danvers to help organize it. The narrator is excited about the ball but cannot think of a costume to wear. Mrs. Danvers suggests she wear a costume similar to one pictured in a portrait of Caroline de Winter, Maxim's ancestor, in the hall. The narrator agrees and orders the costume, thinking that she will surprise Maxim with it on the night of the ball.

Unfortunately, when the narrator, pleased and excited with her costume and appearance, descends the staircase on the night of the ball, the costume shocks and horrifies Maxim, who tells her to change immediately. Devastated, the narrator flees to her bedroom in tears.

Chapter 17

As the narrator cries in her room, Beatrice comes to comfort her. She explains that the costume is the same one that Rebecca wore to the last ball before her death, and that Maxim thinks the narrator has copied Rebecca on purpose.

The narrator forces herself to change clothes and play the hostess, explaining that her costume did not arrive in time. The entire evening is an agony, and when it is over she waits in vain for Maxim to come to bed.

Analysis

The events leading up to the ball further develop the theme of Identity. Instead of asserting her own identity by choosing a costume for herself, the narrator relies on Mrs. Danvers to choose one for her. This is a near-fatal mistake as she is foiled, once again, by Rebecca's sinister handmaiden-beyond-the-grave, Mrs. Danvers.

The narrator recalls, "I shall never forget the expression on [Mrs. Danvers's] face, loathsome, triumphant. The face of an exulting devil." Again, readers see that evil can have many faces. Mrs. Danvers's brand is a passive-aggressive revenge. She weakens the narrator's confidence with constant comparisons to and recollections of Rebecca. In addition, Mrs. Danvers plots to have the narrator make a social gaffe at the ball. While it is acceptable for others to compare the narrator to Rebecca, it is socially unacceptable for a wife to mimic her dead predecessor. Rather than confront Mrs. Danvers's, she flees, cries, and allows Maxim to dictate the distance between them, including in their marriage bed.

In fact, the incident is so traumatic that it seems to completely obliterate the narrator's sense of self. On the night of the ball, she thinks of the dancers, "it was not I who watched them at all, not someone with feelings, made of flesh and blood, but a dummy-stick of a person." The narrator's trauma is of a social and individual nature. Socially, she has not been fully accepted as the new Mrs. de Winter, and by wearing a replica of Rebecca's costume, she risks a faux pas. Individually, she has adopted Rebecca's clothing without realizing her own strength. The result of this trauma is her feeling of emptiness.

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