Literature Study GuidesRebeccaChapters 3 4 Summary

Rebecca | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca | Chapters 3-4 | Summary



Chapter 3

As Chapter 3 opens, the narrator is musing about what her life might have been like if her employer, Mrs. Van Hopper, were not so interested in associating with the rich and famous. Aware that Mr. de Winter has recently been widowed and might prefer privacy, the narrator is mortified when Mrs. Van Hopper ambushes de Winter in the hotel lounge.

Despite her reluctance, the narrator is drawn into the conversation and surprised when de Winter orders coffee for the three of them. As they visit, the narrator reflects that de Winter seems to belong "to a walled city of the fifteenth century" and that "his face was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way." These observations make Mrs. Van Hopper's contrasting vulgarity and insensitivity almost unbearable to the narrator, and a sympathy of shared discomfort springs up between her and Maxim de Winter. Eventually, Maxim loses his temper and excuses himself but later sends an apologetic note to the narrator. Maxim's loss of temper foreshadows later events in the novel. The narrator does not respond to his outburst because she can't see him clearly; she is too aware of their class differences and her awkwardness around him.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 finds Mrs. Van Hopper ill. Already uncomfortable dining alone at lunch, the narrator spills water onto the tablecloth, at which moment de Winter gallantly invites her to join him at his table. When she refuses, he insists, and they have a long conversation during which she tells him about herself, the death of her parents, and how she came to be working for Mrs. Van Hopper. Maxim de Winter points out, "We've got a bond in common, you and I. We are both alone in the world," and an "easy camaraderie" springs up between them. He subsequently offers to drive her to a house she would like to sketch, as she is an amateur artist, and they enjoy a drive around Monte Carlo together.

However, when Maxim drives her to an overlook next to a cliff, a shadow falls over their mood. The narrator feels afraid of the nearby cliff and notices that Maxim is "so lost in the labyrinth of his own unquiet thoughts" that he seems not to notice her presence. They return to the hotel and the narrator finds a book of poetry in the car, which Maxim encourages her to take and read. When she does so, she discovers an inscription that reads "Max—from Rebecca. 17 May," and she notices "the name Rebecca stood out black and strong." Unnerved, she quickly closes the book, Mrs. Van Hopper's words about Rebecca echoing through her mind: "She was drowned you know, in a bay near Manderley."


The narrator's description of Maxim de Winter in Chapter 3 solidifies his characterization as a gothic hero—handsome, brooding, and troubled by dark secrets. The frightening, memory-haunted moment at the edge of the cliff builds suspense and expresses the theme of Past versus Present. Maxim de Winter enjoys his time in the present with the narrator, but not enough to stay in the moment with her. Somehow, the cliffs trigger memories.

This conflict of past and present comes into focus when the narrator finds Rebecca's dedication in the book Maxim lends her. The dedication reminds the narrator that Maxim was once, and perhaps still is, in love with Rebecca, whose presence is powerful even in an inscription. This begins the development of another major theme: Jealousy. Although Rebecca is dead, her presence almost overwhelms the narrator, who feels inferior in comparison.

Like Jane Eyre, the novel to which it is often compared, Rebecca is a coming-of-age story in which the narrator's personality is formed in part by her struggles. The question of whether or not the narrator will succeed in distinguishing herself from Rebecca, who mirrors her but also threatens to destroy her, lends the novel much of its suspense. Described as having a "youthful unpowdered face" and "trailing in the wake of Mrs. Van Hopper like a shy, uneasy colt," the narrator is insecure, her identity unformed. Her lack of an identity is underscored by the fact that she remains nameless throughout the novel, while the name of her rival provides the title. The theme of identity in the novel is often linked with the narrator's sense of inferiority and insecurity due to class status. She has no family; she is a paid companion, one step above a servant. Her quest for identity begins with her attachment to an older, wealthy man who will provide her only name: "Mrs. de Winter." Even with that name she is the second. The identity theme in the novel is one of its Modernist marks. This awkward and insecure narrator is no Jane Eyre, whose moral center and sense of what is right impel her actions and character growth.

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