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Rebecca | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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Is Rebecca a ghost story? Why or why not?

Rebecca is not a traditional ghost story because the ghost is figurative, existing only in the characters' memories and imaginations. For instance, Mrs. Danvers says to the narrator, "'Do you think she can see us, talking to one another now? ... Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?'" Later, Mrs. Danvers adds, "I feel her everywhere. You do too, don't you?" The narrator also feels Rebecca's presence so strongly that she is almost overwhelmed by it, but this is a function of her overactive imagination rather than the influence of a ghost. It's important to note that Rebecca's presence is also felt in her lasting influence on Manderley—from its furnishings and flowers to the way the household is run. However, once her body is found in the ship and the narrator learns that Maxim does not love Rebecca, she is laid to rest symbolically and no longer "haunts" the narrator.

How does du Maurier create suspense in Rebecca?

Du Maurier creates suspense throughout Rebecca using plotting, characterization, and setting. The first hint of suspense is felt in the first chapter's description of the narrator's dream of Manderley, which creates a foreboding mood. The reader wonders: What happened there? Why can she never go back? Du Maurier heightens the suspense by introducing the characters of the mysterious, brooding widower Maxim, the sinister Mrs. Danvers, and the unsavory Jack Favell. Plot events such as the narrator's costume debacle, Mrs. Danvers' subsequent effort to persuade the narrator to kill herself, and the discovery of Rebecca's body heighten the tension. With the investigation of Rebecca's death and its aftermath—Favell's vow of revenge and Mrs. Danvers's disappearance from Manderley—suspense continues to the last scene of the burning house.

In Rebecca, based on the events of Chapters 24–27, should Rebecca's death be considered a suicide?

While it is easy to speculate that Rebecca might have preferred being shot to a slow, painful death, and that she might have chosen to manipulate Maxim into shooting her, there is no evidence that she chose her murder as a form of suicide. The revelations that Rebecca knew she was dying of cancer and incapable of having children do provide possible motivation for her suicide. Still, she did not pull the gun's trigger, and readers have only Maxim's account of Rebecca's last conversation with him. As a murderer trying to escape punishment, he could well be an unreliable narrator of events.

What is Ben's significance in Rebecca?

Ben is intellectually disabled, and yet he is the first character in the novel to speak ill of the dead Rebecca. "Tall and dark she was ... She gave you the feeling of a snake," he tells the narrator. In his own way, he seems more truthful than the characters, such as Frank Crawley and Maxim, who cannot speak of Rebecca's real nature. Ben's character type is the "wise fool." This archetype recurs throughout literature, from Shakespeare's King Lear to Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Often portrayed as possessing special insight and living beyond the strictures of polite society, the wise fool is free to speak the truth.

What do Rebecca's infertility and cancer suggest?

Both Rebecca's infertility and her cancer are revealed by Doctor Baker in Chapter 26. He says the infertility "was quite apart, it had nothing to do with the disease." However, du Maurier treats the two facts about Rebecca's health as related. Rather than have a living child grow inside her, Rebecca experiences a killing cancer that eats her from the inside out. Rebecca's infertility seems to symbolize her selfishness and her inability to love and nurture. The cancer also seems to symbolize her poisonous nature. Jack Favell wonders if cancer is contagious, possibly because he is similarly selfish and spiteful.

Why does du Maurier open and close Rebecca with a dream?

Opening and closing Rebecca with a dream of Manderley lends the estate—and the novel—a dreamlike, mythic quality. Manderley appears at the beginning of the novel as an archetypal lost Eden to which the narrator and Maxim can never return. As the narrator says at the end of Chapter 1: "For Manderley was ours no longer. Manderley was no more." With its Happy Valley and shadowy boathouse, along with its many juxtapositions of beauty and mystery, Manderley retains a dreamlike quality throughout the book. By including a second dream of Manderley at the end of the novel, du Maurier brings the story full circle and provides a glimpse into the narrator's unhappy future. This time, the narrator dreams about looking in a mirror and seeing Rebecca. Maxim takes her hair, winds it into a "thick rope," and puts it around his neck. Rebecca will continue to haunt the couple in their life of exile.

What do azaleas represent in Rebecca?

Azaleas, like rhododendrons, are associated with Rebecca's earthy, sensual nature. Rebecca's handkerchief and clothes smell of azaleas, which the character introduced to Manderley. However, the white azaleas of Happy Valley suggest a less malignant, more vulnerable side of Rebecca than the blood-red rhododendrons do. In Chapter 10, du Maurier describes an azalea's scent that "rose ... sweet and strong." Symbolically, the scent of the azalea petal, like Rebecca's presence, is still strong, despite the fact that it, too, is "crushed."

Is there evidence of the historical context of the 1930s in Rebecca?

There is little evidence of this historical context in Rebecca. Manderley seems a kind of self-contained system, separate from the concerns of the outside world. There is no mention of British or world politics in the novel and little evidence of the economic and political forces at work in Europe. Maxim and his estate do not seem affected by economic depression or worries, and he and the narrator seem to have the resources to travel through Europe indefinitely. Instead, the narrative focuses on personal relationships and the psychological forces that drive them.

How do figurative language and symbolism add to the effect of the last two lines of Rebecca?

The last two lines of Rebecca are "It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea." The use of alliteration and rhyme increases the power of the sentences. The repetition of sounds of s and sh in shot, splash, ashes, salt, and sea mimic the sound of the wind, making the last two lines especially memorable. The use of internal rhyme, splash/ashes, helps the reader's ear to connect the ideas in the two sentences. The first includes one reminder of Rebecca's presence, the color of the sky, the same blood-red as the symbolic rhododendrons. The second evokes the sea, the symbol of Rebecca's feminine power, which in carrying the ashes of Manderley toward the doomed couple sends them into their life of exile.

What makes Rebecca, which has never gone out of print, so enduring?

Rebecca's enduring power can be ascribed to both its strengths as a gothic romance and the ways in which the author departs from the gothic genre. As a gothic story, Rebecca has the "typical" best-seller elements of fast-paced storytelling, a gothic setting, and memorable characters. Readers can enjoy the Cinderella-story arc of the narrator's life, from an innocent and unsure young woman to a clear-eyed adult. While Maxim is not a conventional hero, readers can root for him and be satisfied that justice is served in his exoneration. Rebecca is also a more modern story. The hero is not, in fact, a gothic hero but a murderer. The main character does not become heroic in the course of the novel. Instead, she supports the cover-up of her husband's crime and allows her personality to be subsumed by her role as his wife. This gives ambiguity to the novel's ending and raises modern questions about gender and marital roles and the nature of evil, ensuring its popularity with new generations of readers.

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