Rebecca | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How do the main characters in Rebecca view marriage?

Marriage is depicted as primarily a social contract—an alliance between two people for social and economic reasons. Maxim and Rebecca's marriage is like a business deal: she will make Manderley a showplace; in return, Maxim will provide her with the freedom to do as she wishes. The early married life of the narrator and Maxim is hardly better, with Maxim seeming fairly uninterested in his young wife as an individual. If marriage is a social contract, it is one that cannot be broken. The narrator, Maxim, and even Rebecca are all willing to do all they can to maintain the appearance of a successful marriage. As long as Rebecca is discreet and maintains appearances, Maxim tolerates her infidelity. While all the characters seem to see marriage as a social contract, Rebecca, Jack Favell, and Mrs. Danvers also see marriage as confining and trivial. Since these characters are associated with evil in the novel, du Maurier seems to be suggesting that this attitude toward marriage is immoral.

What message about death is conveyed in Rebecca?

Throughout Rebecca, death is associated with evil and the supernatural. From the opening chapter there is a sense that Manderley is haunted: "The house was a sepulcher." Although there is no evidence of an actual ghost, Rebecca's ghostly presence pervades the house and thwarts the narrator at every turn. Rebecca's ally, Mrs. Danvers, is repeatedly described as having a "skull-like" face and is always seen dressed in black mourning clothes. Thus, the two characters most closely associated with evil are also associated with death. In addition, the novel's plot includes a death by murder, yet another association of death and evil. Finally, toward the end of the novel, Rebecca's corpse rises from its watery grave as if to avenge the evil done to it.

How do gender roles for women figure in the story of Rebecca?

In Rebecca, both men and women are restricted by traditional gender roles. The novel depicts women as either wives or servants, although du Maurier does not allow her female main characters the experience of motherhood. Rebecca was in fact unable to have children. The narrator seems to have a passionless marriage and tells Maxim she'll be his "companion, a sort of boy." It is possible that the women are childless because the author wanted to keep the novel focused on the balance of power between Maxim and each of his two wives. The two women are stripped of any possibility of doing productive work other than serving as companions, housekeepers, hostesses, and decorative objects.

Is Rebecca more of a romance or a coming-of-age novel?

Despite the fact that its narrator is preoccupied with her relationships to both Maxim and his former wife, Rebecca is more rightly described as a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, than a romance novel. The first-person point of view provides the reader with direct access to the narrator's thoughts and places the development of the narrator's identity at the center of the novel. The narrator's struggles with her own insecurity transform her from a shy, self-conscious girl into a mature woman who knows that "Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind."

In Rebecca, how does the term hero apply to Maxim?

Maxim lacks the traditional characteristics of a hero; this is one way in which the novel departs from the gothic tradition. For instance, he does not appear selfless and brave. In fact, he appears to be more of an anti-hero. He compromises his integrity by treating his first marriage like a business deal rather than a sacrament. He behaves criminally by shooting his wife and then hiding the crime; further, he is ungentlemanly in his behavior toward the narrator by making her complicit in his crime. The only moment in the novel in which Maxim can be seen as heroic is in Chapter 19, when he responds to the alarm signaling a disaster at sea and inadvertently saves the narrator from suicide.

Is Rebecca a critique of the British class system?

Class does figure in the story of Rebecca. The narrator undergoes a classic rags-to-riches transformation. She starts off as a lowly paid companion and suddenly finds herself married to a rich gentleman and the mistress of a large estate. She feels uncomfortable in her role running the household at Manderley, is uncertain of her authority with the servants, and is sensitive to what she imagines to be their judgments of her. However, her feelings of inferiority seem to be the result of her isolation and her jealousy of Rebecca. The title character, who was comfortable in her upper class role, was murdered when she departed from it. Rather than a critique of the class system itself, the author seems to critique the role of women within it.

Why is it significant that the narrator of Rebecca is an orphan?

The narrator's orphanhood figures in her search for a father figure, a role that Maxim fills too well. After their marriage, tired of being treated like a child by her husband, the narrator thinks, "I did not want to be a child. I wanted to be his wife." The fact that the narrator is an orphan is also significant because it means that she depends on others for her place in the world. In the beginning of the novel she is dependent on Mrs. Hopper; later, she is dependent on Maxim. Her orphan mentality or "aloneness" creates tension in the novel because the narrator has no other home after she arrives at Manderley. Isolated physically and emotionally, she is vulnerable to the jealousy of Rebecca that blinds her to the truth about her rival.

The narrator of Rebecca is continually imagining what other people think about her. What effect does this have on the novel?

Throughout the novel, the narrator's almost continual inner monologue reveals what she thinks of other people and what she believes they think of her. This is particularly true of her thoughts of servants. So close to being a servant herself when she meets Maxim, she is never sure of her authority around them. In Monte Carlo, she thinks, "the waiter, with ... uncanny swiftness ... had long sensed my position as inferior." At Manderley, she feels guilty for the sound of her heels on the flagstones and thinks the servant Frith "must have thought [her] foolish." In her imagination, the narrator also constantly compares herself to Rebecca. These comparisons are invariably negative and reveal her low self-esteem. The effect of her imagined thoughts is to make the narrator unreliable. Her perceptions are distorted by her low opinion of herself, and so the reader understands that what she recounts may not be entirely accurate.

What is the significance of the postcard of Manderley that Rebecca's narrator buys as a child?

The postcard is significant because it is like a letter from the future. It suggests that fate is involved in the narrator's marriage to Maxim and subsequent move to Manderley, as if the mansion had always been destined to be part of her life. The postcard is also significant because it represents Manderley as an idealized place, a kind of Eden, perfect and distant. In reality, the Manderley that the narrator comes to live in is haunted with bad memories, and its master is deeply unhappy.

What is the significance of the broken Cupid figurine in Rebecca?

The narrator's wedding present from Beatrice, a set of art books, breaks Rebecca's wedding present, the Cupid figurine. In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire. The destruction of Rebecca's figurine seems to suggest that the narrator's marriage to Maxim breaks his desire for Rebecca. The destruction of the figurine could also be seen as foreshadowing a fact that comes to light later in the novel—that the romantic relationship between Rebecca and Maxim was already broken. In fact, Maxim's opinion of the Cupid makes that clear when he says, "Oh, damn that infernal cupid." The figurine is also important because of the narrator's childlike response to the breakage. She hides the pieces rather than admitting to her guilt. The incident is a setback in her quest for identity.

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