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Rebecca | Symbols

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Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons represent Rebecca—larger than life, overwhelming, and promiscuous. "The rhododendrons stood fifty feet high," writes du Maurier, "twisted and entwined with bracken, and they had entered into alien marriage with a host of nameless shrubs." As the novel progresses, the meaning of this symbolism becomes apparent as readers learn of Rebecca's sexual exploits with "a host of nameless" men.

These crimson flowers also grow outside the windows of the morning room that the first Mrs. de Winter favored and are also arranged throughout the room, symbolizing Rebecca's overwhelming presence at Manderley. Described as "slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic," the flowers' description suggests violence, blood, and sensuality. They also symbolize Rebecca's rebellion against the formality of the house, the household, and her marital vows. She adhered more to nature than to social conventions.

Manderley

Manderley represents buried secrets from the past. The great house is widely known for its beauty, but it hides dark secrets: Rebecca's infidelities and her murder by Maxim. At times, Manderley seems to embody Rebecca, as her influence there is still felt in every detail, from furnishings to menus.

Narrator's Namelessness

The narrator's lack of a first name symbolizes her search for identity, one of the novel's main themes. She is known only as the second Mrs. de Winter, a name that defines her by her relationship to her husband. While the novel is often compared to Jane Eyre, Rebecca is named for an antagonist, not a protagonist. The question of whether or not the narrator will succeed in distinguishing herself from the first Mrs. de Winter, who mirrors her but also threatens to destroy her, lends the novel much of its suspense.

The Sea

The sea represents Rebecca's female sexual power. The reader learns that the sea can be heard from the sexually liberated Rebecca's bedroom window, while the mousy narrator's bedroom is far from the sea. Readers also learn that Rebecca had romantic liaisons in the boathouse in the cove nearby and that she took men out in her small sailing ship. The author describes her as having been very comfortable sailing alone, just as she was comfortable exploring her sexuality independently of her husband. All of these associations suggest a link between Rebecca's powerful sexuality and the sea. Symbolically, it is the sea that carries her dead body back to Manderley to expose the circumstances of her death. The "salt wind from the sea" also carries the ashes of the burning house to the narrator and Maxim in the last line of the novel, suggesting Rebecca's victory over them.

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