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Rebecca | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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In Chapter 15 of Rebecca, how is Gran similar to and different from the character Ben?

Like Ben, Maxim's grandmother—Gran—seems to be have some intellectual limitations that, on the surface, call into question the validity of her words. Both Gran and Ben are people whose thoughts and feelings are probably not always taken seriously by those around them. For readers, however, both Ben and Gran speak a special kind of truth, unvarnished and unfiltered. It is in their attitudes toward Rebecca that the characters differ. Ben clearly holds a negative view of Rebecca, describing her as mean and evil, the snake who has threatened him unfairly. The grandmother, on the other hand, loves and idealizes Rebecca. These two characters reflect and project the duality of the Rebecca character. Is she evil, as seen by Maxim, the narrator, and Frank? Or is her "evil" simply the rejection of upper-class mores, which she pays for with her life? Readers must consider the reliability of the various characters and come to their own conclusions.

What is the significance of the suggestion—made by Maxim in Chapter 16 of Rebecca—that the narrator go to the ball dressed as Alice in Wonderland?

Alice of Alice in Wonderland is a young girl, not a grown woman. As he does often, Maxim seems to regard and dismiss the narrator as a child. He frequently disparages her maturity, which helps to feed the narrator's insecurities and jealousy. The childlike narrator is constantly falling short in her own obsessive comparisons with the dead Rebecca, and the suggestion that the narrator dress up as a child raises the possibility that Maxim is making similar unflattering comparisons. It also hints at a more sinister possibility: that Maxim prefers her to be childlike. He mourns the loss of her innocence after she begins to gain confidence in her role as Mrs. de Winter. The reference to Alice also serves to develop the theme of identity. In Wonderland, Alice experiences great confusion about who she is and is constantly misidentified by other characters in the story.

In Chapter 15 of Rebecca, what do readers learn when the narrator hears Maxim scold Mrs. Danvers?

The incident in which the narrator overhears Maxim scolding Mrs. Danvers in the library over the visit of Jack Favell establishes several key points for readers. It helps confirm that the narrator's unease around Jack Favell is justified. It also clearly shows that Mrs. Danvers—who is described leaving the dressing-down by Maxim with a look of pure evil on her face—is a malevolent force working against both the narrator and Maxim. Jack Favell is also identified as a persona non grata at Manderley. At the same time, the incident underscores the distance between the narrator and Maxim, as she is unwilling to ask Maxim for an explanation of the conversation. Instead, the narrator seems most concerned about how Mrs. Danvers is likely to react to the conflict. In her insecurity, she sets herself apart from the others involved in the scene.

In Chapter 17 of Rebecca, how does the narrator's return to the ball contribute to the theme of Identity?

The narrator is devastated by Maxim's reaction to her initial entrance to the ball. Yet, as she looks out the window at the party preparations going on at Manderley, she imagines what the servants will say about her if she does not take her place as hostess of the fancy dress ball. Because she cannot bear the thought of their gossip and criticism, she is persuaded to go down to the ball. Throughout the novel, the narrator has been strangely sensitive to the opinions and imagined slights of others, especially the servants. Her suspicions about the people who are now beneath her socially highlights her confusion over her social status. She cannot develop her identity until she can act with authority at Manderley, which happens only after she hears Maxim's confession that he has murdered Rebecca.

In Chapter 18 of Rebecca, the narrator thinks, "There was nothing quite so shaming, so degrading, as a marriage that had failed." What is the significance of this statement?

This statement reveals the narrator's unhealthy obsession with the judgments and opinions of others in matters of social class. In a sharp contrast to Rebecca, the narrator's thoughts and feelings are dictated more by other people's reactions than by her own beliefs. She lacks a fundamental sense of her own identity because of her uncertain social status. The statement also sets up her oddly exultant reaction to Maxim's revelationthat he never loved Rebecca and was, in fact, her murderer. The narrator believes that her husband's guilt is less important than the fact that her marriage is intact.

Why is it significant in Rebecca that the narrator decides to speak to Mrs. Danvers in Chapter 18?

The decision to speak to Mrs. Danvers represents the approaching climax of the novel's central conflict, the narrator's need to form her identity. The narrator has realized, after fighting a futile "battle" with the dead Rebecca for the love of Maxim, she can never defeat a dead person. She can, however, come to grips with Mrs. Danvers, who is "a living breathing woman ... made of flesh and blood." It is a rare moment of accurate insight for the narrator, who can perceive that the living threat to her happiness is Mrs. Danvers. What the narrator underestimates is her ongoing weakness and lack of strong identity. She will find Mrs. Danvers to be a more than worthy adversary.

In Chapter 19 of Rebecca, what does Maxim's confession suggest about his feelings for the narrator?

Maxim's confession demonstrates his trust in the narrator. Maxim has told the narrator about his guilt in the murder of Rebecca when it is not necessary for him to do so; he reveals incriminating information for the purpose of gaining the narrator's support. It also shows his belief that she does not have the strength of character to try to leave him, even though he has already murdered one wife. He is entirely correct; not only does she express no horror over his confession, but she reacts with joy. The confession is the turning point that allows her to begin acting with authority as his wife.

How can Chapter 18 of Rebecca be considered the climax of the novel's plot?

The plot of Rebecca follows the early courtship and marriage of the narrator and Maxim, which the reader knows ends with some crippling unhappiness. In the early chapters, the action rises with the narrator's growing unease in her role as Maxim's wife and successor to the dead Rebecca. Through her own imagination and insecurities, and through the antagonistic actions of Mrs. Danvers and others, the narrator gradually loses confidence in her worthiness as Maxim's spouse. In Chapter 18, that self-doubt is aggravated—again with the assistance of Mrs. Danvers—to such an extreme degree that it threatens to end the narrator's life. This moment, which is interrupted by a dramatic booming of guns, ends the rising action. From this point on, the action of the novel begins its descent, as the narrator and Maxim resolve the central conflict between the narrator and Rebecca and begin to grapple with the consequences of her death.

Sigmund Freud wrote about the Electra Complex, in which a child fantasizes about killing the mother and marrying the father. Is Rebecca a story about the Electra Complex?

Rebecca can partly be seen as a story about the Electra Complex. The narrator is clearly much younger than Maxim, who is old enough to be her father. She is an orphan seeking a home, a name, and social status, and she gains these things by marrying Maxim. However, there is no real mother figure in the novel except for Mrs. Van Hopper, who is a very poor model and has no real relationship with Maxim. The dead Rebecca, as Maxim's first wife, is the narrator's rival, but the narrator identifies with her just as much as she tries to vanquish her presence at Manderley.

In Chapter 19 of Rebecca, why does Maxim say, "We're not meant for happiness, you and I"?

Maxim's statement comes just before he tells the narrator about his murder of Rebecca and the reality of their marriage of convenience. Maxim recognizes that the discovery of the body could lead to the discovery of his crime and eliminate any hope that he and the narrator can live in happiness. Time will prove that Maxim is partly correct. Although he is formally cleared of guilt in the crime, a cloud of suspicion still hangs over him. Events from the past will forever haunt the couple's present, as they spend the rest of their lives moving often and avoiding attention.

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