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Rebecca | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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How do the first two chapters of Rebecca show the connection between the narrator's past and her present?

Chapter 1 begins with the narrator's dream of Manderley, telling readers that the house is a "sepulcher, our fear and suffering ... buried in the ruins." Readers understand that this part of her life is now in the past, as her present is in a "bare little hotel bedroom." In Chapter 2, the narrator describes her present life with her husband, Maxim, as they travel through Europe, moving from hotel to hotel. Although the couple seems to be happy together at times—the narrator says she knows at certain moments that they "are together, we march in unison"—they are also bored by their life of ritual and haunted by memories of Manderley. In this chapter, the author finally goes back to a time before the fire to tell the narrator's story in chronological order, having set the stage for a story with a brooding mansion straight from a gothic novel at its center.

How does Mrs. Van Hopper in Rebecca both serve as a foil to the narrator and advance the plot?

A character who is a foil to a main character highlights the other character's qualities through contrast. The gossipy, pushy, and obnoxious Mrs. Van Hopper makes the narrator appear even more discreet, sensitive, and polite. At the same time, without Mrs. Van Hopper and her gauche eagerness to force herself upon Monte Carlo society, the shy narrator might never have met Maxim de Winter. The narrator observes this fact herself at the beginning of Chapter 3: "I wonder what my life would be today, if Mrs. Van Hopper had not been a snob."

In Rebecca, how does the portrayal of Mrs. Danvers develop the theme of the complexity of evil?

Mrs. Danvers, the sinister housekeeper of Manderley, is described throughout the first two-thirds of the novel as a largely two-dimensional and evil presence, loyal to and obsessed with her former mistress Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers undermines the narrator by continually reminding her of her inferiority to Rebecca. Initiating the climax of the novel, she convinces the narrator to mimic Rebecca in choosing her dress for the costume ball and even urges her to kill herself. However, in Chapter 18, Mrs. Danvers reveals a more human side: her profound grief for Rebecca's death. Says the narrator of Mrs. Danvers, "I saw her eyes were red and swollen with crying, even as mine were." When readers learn that Rebecca has been murdered, Mrs. Danvers's grief is elevated to tragedy. The character is capable of both love and hate, illustrating the complex nature of evil.

How is Frank Crawley in Rebecca similar to Mrs. Danvers, and how do these similarities deepen his characterization?

Frank Crawley, the overseer of Manderley, is a foil for Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper. Like other pairs of characters in Rebecca, Frank Crawley and Mrs. Danvers are mirror images of one another—similar but reversed. He is loyal to Maxim; she is loyal to Rebecca. He befriends the narrator; she antagonizes the narrator. He suspects that Maxim killed Rebecca; Mrs. Danvers does not. Like Mrs. Danvers, Crawley becomes a more complex character in his reaction to the discovery of Rebecca's body. Portrayed initially as entirely good, he is eventually compromised by his complicity in keeping his knowledge of Rebecca's murder a secret.

In Chapter 8 of Rebecca, how does the morning room symbolize Rebecca's power over the narrator?

The beautiful, elegant room not only looks out on the "blood-red and luscious" rhododendrons but is decorated with more of the flowers, a symbol of Rebecca and her earthy sensuality. The carefully labeled pigeonholes in the desk suggest organization and efficiency, parts of Rebecca's personality that serve in sharp contrast to the narrator's. In this room, the narrator suffers another of her humiliations when she tells Mrs. Danvers over the house telephone that "Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year." Even the letter the narrator begins to write to Mrs. Van Hopper reminds her that her handwriting is like that of an "indifferent pupil"—yet another contrast to the accomplished Rebecca.

In Chapter 9 of Rebecca, what details reveal Beatrice's first impressions of the narrator, and why are they significant?

Beatrice is pleasantly surprised by the narrator's appearance. Beatrice says that she expected her to be "plastered with paint, the sort of girl you expected to meet in those sort of places." "Those sort of places" refers to Monte Carlo, a vacation and gambling spot notorious for ostentatious displays of wealth. Beatrice, as a member of the upper class, would undoubtedly view the narrator as a fortune hunter who married Maxim for his money. Although Beatrice lacks tact, the narrator understands that her new sister-in-law does not, at least, disapprove of her, the way Mrs. Danvers does.

How does the character of Ben surprise the narrator in Chapter 10 of Rebecca?

The narrator's first impression of Ben is that he has the "small slit eyes of an idiot"; later she refers to his "poor idiot's smile." He is clearly simple-minded. However, as readers begin to see in this chapter, he is wise enough to have understood Rebecca's behavior. During the narrator's brief conversation with him in Chapter 10, Ben says, "I never said nothing, did I?" He is referring to the fact that he did not tell anyone what he saw happen in the boathouse when Rebecca was alive. His remark implies that he saw something unsavory, and that Rebecca threatened him about saying what he had seen. While other characters, such as Beatrice, have been tiptoeing around their dislike of Rebecca, Ben's fear of her is obvious.

In Chapter 11 of Rebecca, Frank says, "kindliness, and sincerity ... are worth far more .... than ... wit and beauty." How do his words have a double meaning?

The narrator assumes that Frank is trying to make her feel better about her sharp contrasts to Rebecca by praising her good qualities. His words help her to feel that she has one friend at Manderley. However, Frank's remark also makes clear to the reader that he knows more about Rebecca than he is willing to say to the narrator. His words foreshadow the revelation that Rebecca was unkind, dishonest, and immodest. They also suggest that, unlike the narrator, Rebecca did not make Maxim's marriage a happy one.

In Chapter 13 of Rebecca, why does Jack Favell frighten the narrator, and what does this fear foreshadow?

Jack Favell is clearly close to the narrator's enemy, Mrs. Danvers, whom he calls "Danny." The two of them behave furtively, and Favell asks the narrator to keep his visit a secret from Maxim. All of this suggests that Favell is conspiring with Mrs. Danvers against the narrator and Maxim. The narrator feels frightened of him even before readers learn that he was Rebecca's lover, despite the fact that they were cousins. Her fear foreshadows the trouble that Favell will cause—for good reason—in trying to implicate Maxim in Rebecca's death.

How do the scenes set in Rebecca's bedroom in Chapters 14 and 18 of Rebecca develop the narrator's quest for identity?

The two chapters together push the narrator to the lowest point in her quest for identity. In Chapter 14, Mrs. Danvers finds the narrator in Rebecca's room and takes the opportunity to give her a tour of the room, which is exactly as Rebecca left it. Rebecca's presence there is so strong that it almost overwhelms the narrator, making her feel weak and physically ill. Mrs. Danvers presses her advantage by telling the narrator that she senses Rebecca's ghostly presence at Manderley. In the narrator's struggle to develop her own identity, this is a low point at which she feels completely overmatched by Rebecca's powerful spirit—and by the living manifestation of that spirit, Mrs. Danvers. In Chapter 18, Mrs. Danvers presses her advantage, urging the narrator to commit suicide. The fog outside mirrors the narrator's trancelike state as she nearly follows Mrs. Danvers's suggestion. If the heroine is to live, she must awake from this state of self-abnegation—and she does, on hearing the sounds of rockets.

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