Literature Study GuidesRebeccaChapters 19 20 Summary

Rebecca | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca | Chapters 19-20 | Summary



Chapter 19

Standing by the window, the narrator hears Maxim's voice outside, shouting for Frith. A ship has run aground offshore, and the coast guard is sending divers to evaluate the damage. Mrs. Danvers leaves to make arrangements for helping the men rescued from the ship, and the narrator goes down to the cove to see what is happening. The narrator watches the attempts to free the ship, and by the time she returns to Manderley, Maxim has already gone again.

Captain Searle arrives and tells the narrator that the divers have discovered the wreck of a small sailboat and that there is a body in the cabin. After Maxim hears the news, he tells the narrator that they have lost their chance at happiness. He explains that the body found in the boat is Rebecca's and that he killed her.

Chapter 20

Maxim tells the narrator that his marriage to Rebecca was a sham. He says that during their honeymoon, she made a deal with him, agreeing to be the perfect hostess of Manderley if he promised to let her do what she wanted, which included having affairs with other men. He describes how Rebecca was "vicious, damnable, rotten through and through." Five days after the marriage she "told [him] things [he would] never repeat to a living soul." Maxim explains that he could not bear to be humiliated by a divorce. After Rebecca told Maxim that she was pregnant with Jack Favell's child, he shot her, unable to bear this ultimate humiliation. He then dragged her body into the cabin of her boat and sank it in the cove. When the body of a woman washed ashore in the area, Maxim identified it as Rebecca, even though he knew that it wasn't her.

After hearing Maxim's explanation, the narrator is overwhelmed with relief. Despite the fact that she has just learned that her husband is a murderer, she is happy because she realizes that Maxim never loved Rebecca. He has loved her all along. She reassures him that everything will work out, and then the telephone rings.


The revelations in these chapters show the complexity of its four great themes. The theme of jealousy reaches a climactic level as readers learn Maxim killed Rebecca in a fit of anger without knowing, as readers later learn, that she was not pregnant and was in fact dying of cancer. Jealousy prods Maxim to cover his crime and persist with living. And the narrator, in an example of situational irony, learns that her own jealousy—so great it has nearly annihilated her—has been misplaced, for Maxim didn't love Rebecca. Jealousy is like a poison that blinds the characters to the true natures of others.

With the dissolution of her jealousy, the narrator is now free to begin claiming her place as the second Mrs. de Winter, making it her dominant and arguably only identity. This theme, too, acquires layers. While many women would leave a husband who has identified himself as a wife murderer, the narrator feels better in this situation. The narrator can feel more secure in her identity as Mrs. de Winter because by aligning herself with Maxim's lies and crime, she upholds her marriage. As she muses in Chapter 18, there is nothing "quite so shaming, so degrading, as a marriage that had failed." Du Maurier's choice to tell the story from the narrator's limited point of view is a modern touch. Sharing in the narrator's thoughts, readers are forced to view the plot through her emotions and responses, which demonstrate faulty reasoning to the point of complicity with a murderer.

Evil also takes on a new face here. There is certainly evil in Maxim and enough in the narrator to make her want to help cover up his crime. Readers can look at the "evil" Danvers and Jack in a more sympathetic light, knowing their darling was murdered. Rebecca's character, too, gains complexity. Her character was certainly flawed; she was unfaithful, malicious, and manipulative. However, she was also a beautiful, strong, and highly sexual woman in a tightly controlled upper-class social circle. This might be her real evil in Maxim's eyes, and it begets more evil as Maxim murders her for it.

The sea, a symbol of female sexual power, brings out the truth about the crime. While Maxim tried to conceal his crime by identifying a drowning victim as Rebecca, the ship that arrives comes to deliver Rebecca's real, murdered body. The theme of Past versus Present now takes on a deeper meaning. No matter how hard Maxim tries to bury the past, it resurfaces, like Rebecca's body. Rebecca haunts the Manderley shores for good reason: she has been murdered. The past constantly overshadows the present because Rebecca's life and death have trapped those at Manderley in an eternal "hell," as Mrs. Danvers puts it.

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