Rebecca Themes and Analysis

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier is an brilliant work of literature that several significant themes and intelligent symbols.

Daphne du Maurier is a master storyteller, and within this literary masterpiece, she takes her readers on a journey that spans several themes, including love and marriage, death and memory, justice, deceit, and even sexuality. Using the simplest of symbols as placeholders for feelings, actions, and personalities, the author enables the novel to come alive in the minds of the reader. Her writing style is poetic prose and with a unique touch of nostalgia in the narration, Rebecca has been transformed into a timeless masterpiece.

Rebecca Themes and Analysis


Rebecca Themes

Love and Marriage

Love and marriage form the very basis of this novel. Marriage is where the story begins as the heroine and Maxim fall in love and shortly after, get married. The young couple views marriage as both a social and economic responsibility and tries to uphold it as such. However, with immense baggage on both sides, the marriage is off to a rocky start, and the love that the young couple has for each other is constantly tested.

Other forms of love also make an appearance in this novel. For instance, the love that Mrs. Danvers feels for Rebecca is dangerous, to say the least, and it pervades the entire novel with such an intensity that ultimately culminates in the fire at Manderley. We also witness the twisted affection that Rebecca and her cousin, Jack Favell feel for each other – an affection that ultimately leads to Rebecca’s death.

Death and Memory

From the very title of the novel (which is the name of a dead woman) to the ghostly atmosphere of Manderley house, death is an all-pervasive theme in Rebecca. Mrs. de Winter, a living breathing woman is obsessed with the memory of her husband’s dead wife – to such an extent that she barely lives herself.

Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, continues to fan an undying flame to the memory of her beloved Rebecca long after her death.

Maxim is also haunted by the crime he committed – and the memory of his ex-wife casts a dark gloom over his ancestral property. This is further intensified when Rebecca’s dead body is washed up on shore in her old sailboat. In the end, we learn that Rebecca, even when she was alive, was almost dead from a terminal illness.

Justice

The latter half of the novel is filled with an investigation into Rebecca’s death – which is ultimately chalked up to suicide. This leaves Maxim, her killer, to escape scot-free. However, the novel does seem to offer some kind of justice in the end – in the form of Maxim’s one true love, Manderley going down in flames.

Deceit

Nobody is aware of the truth in Rebecca from start to finish – neither the characters nor the readers. The unreliable first-person point of view sets the tone of deceit throughout the novel, and the whole story is littered with lies no matter which way you turn. Whether it’s Maxim lying about the truth behind his ex-wife’s death, Mrs. Danvers deceitfully pushing the heroine to a suicide attempt, or Rebecca lying about her pregnancy to Maxim, this novel is one big story full of lies. Not to mention, Rebecca’s whole life had been a lie – as she charmed the hearts of the people around her and successfully hid her wicked streak.

Sexuality

Throughout the novel, Rebecca painted as a brilliant and desirable woman who could charm every man and woman who came her way. Some scholars have even suggested that she might be bi-sexual – especially considering the intimate relationship she shared with Mrs. Danvers. Her sexual affair with her cousin (and several other men) was the reason for her death, and it seems as if she did not enjoy a sexual relationship with her husband before her marriage.

This is unfortunately mirrored in Maxim’s second marriage as well, and Rebecca is yet again the cause behind the lack of a sexual relationship between the newlyweds. Mr. and Mrs. de Winter suffer a slowdown in their passion due to the haunting memory of his ex-wife. Maxim, therefore, becomes the polar opposite of Rebecca and is painted throughout the novel as a sexually restrained man. However, the spark in the marriage is reignited once the truth about Rebecca’s affair is made known to Mrs. de Winter – and they resume a romantic and sexual relationship once again.

Analysis of Key Moments in Rebecca

  1. The unnamed narrator meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo.
  2. They fall in love, get married and move to Manderley house.
  3. The young heroine struggles to adjust to her new life in Manderley.
  4. She is haunted by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and the ghost of Maxim’s ex-wife, Rebecca.
  5. The heroine accidentally shows up at a costume ball wearing Rebecca’s old gown.
  6. She is horrified by her mistake and almost kills herself.
  7. A rocket goes off near the cove to signal that a boat had run aground.
  8. The boat turns out to be Rebecca’s sailboat and contains her dead body in it.
  9. Maxim reveals the truth to his wife – that he had killed Rebecca for having an affair and getting pregnant, and sunk her boat.
  10. The coroner’s report comes back as suicide.
  11. Rebecca’s cousin and lover, Jack Favell accuses Maxim of murdering Rebecca.
  12. The local magistrate heads out to investigate the matter.
  13. The magistrate finds out that Rebecca had traveled to London on the day of her death to meet with a doctor.
  14. The doctor reviews that Rebecca had been terminally ill and infertile.
  15. The death is ruled as a case of suicide.
  16. Maxim and the heroine learn that Mrs. Danvers has disappeared from Manderley.
  17. They arrive home to find Manderley up in flames.

Tone

Not only is Rebecca a study in deceit, but the entire tone of the novel is deceptive as well. The reader never knows what is about to happen, or what the truth is throughout the novel. Daphne Du Maurier has carefully constructed the tone of her novel to be disruptive – and manipulates the reader into forming judgments that they otherwise might not have made.

No, Maxim. No. You will put his back up. You heard what Frank said. You must not put his back up. Not that voice. Not that angry voice, Maxim. He won’t understand.

Here, Mrs. de Winter is desperately begging for her husband to be deceptive enough and fool the justice system and the readers are unwittingly drawn to do the same – willing, against all better judgment, for a murderer to be set free.

Writing Style

The writing style of Rebecca is filled with nostalgia which is recalled in minute detail by the heroine. The immense attention to detail that the author pays serves to produce a visceral and raw image of the setting as well as the events that occurred in the past.

Daphne Du Maurier has also made use of poetic prose in her writing style. The very first line of the novel, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” is written in iambic hexameter – which ultimately sets the poetic tone for the prose novel.

Analysis of Symbols

Flowers

The novel overflows with flowers on almost every page, whether it is the rhododendrons that stand blood red against the background or the pale azaleas that cover the earth on the so-called “Happy Valley.” 

The two flowers have been planted by Maxim’s dead wife and seem to represent two sides of Rebecca herself. The rhododendrons are reminiscent of Rebecca and the glorious life she led when hot red blood pumped through her veins, and the white azaleas remind one of her Rebecca lying pale and white in death. 

The flowers continue to haunt Mrs. de Winter throughout the novel, much like Rebecca herself does. Rebecca smelled like azaleas when she was alive, but the rhododendrons and azaleas are inescapable long after her death.

Manderley House

The ancestral property of Maxim de Winter takes on a larger-than-life role in this novel. Besides being the predominant setting for most of the events, it seems like the house takes on a personality of its own – one which would haunt Mrs. de Winter almost as much as Rebecca herself.

It is impossible for the heroine to step foot in the house without being reminded of her predecessor, and the house had to ultimately be burned down for Mrs. de Winter to finally be rid of the haunting memory of her husband’s ex-wife.

The Statue of The Satyr

Satyrs are a class of lustful Greek gods that have come to represent sexuality and sexual appetite in literature. When she was alive, Rebecca installed a statue of a satyr which can be viewed from the morning room. This statue – which appears distasteful to Mrs. de Winter – represents Rebecca’s own lustful nature and sexual adventures.

By the end of the novel, we catch Mrs. de Winter thinking to herself about tearing the statue down – an act that suggests that she is sexually reticent when compared to her husband’s ex-wife.

The Cupid Figurine

Rebecca and Maxim receive a cupid figurine as a wedding present which is ultimately smashed to the ground by Mrs de Winter’s own wedding present, a set of art books.

This foreshadows coming events in the novel – where the happy picture that Mrs. de Winter had conjured up regarding the marriage between Maxim and Rebecca is shattered to pieces when she finds out the truth.

FAQs

What does the sea symbolize in Rebecca?’

The sea symbolizes Rebecca’s wild nature. While Rebecca’s bedroom window had a full view of the sea, the narrator (who was completely opposite in terms of personality) had a bedroom far from the sea. The sea in the novel was a raging mass of waves that the narrator stayed away from – similar to the manner in which she shied away from Rebecca’s wild and adventurous spirit.

What is the mood of Rebecca?’

The mood of Rebecca‘ by Daphne du Maurier is a mixture of horror and romance. The air is thick with mystery as a supernatural atmosphere surrounds Manderley house. The narrator is constantly haunted by the memory of her predecessor, Rebecca no matter where she goes in the house. A Gothic vibe surrounds the entire novel with ghosts, a haunted house, death, tragedy, and so on.

How many pages is Rebecca?’

Rebecca‘ by Daphne du Maurier is 416 pages long. The novel revolves around a young female narrator who remains unnamed throughout the book. The narrator marries a rich older man and moves into his ancestral estate, Manderley house. She is soon met with the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers and the terrifying presence of Rebecca’s ghost at Manderley.

Is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier a classic?

Yes, Rebecca‘ by Daphne du Maurier is considered a classic. The novel was initially published in 1938 and has never gone out of print since then. It became a best-seller in the United Kingdom and the United States and remains the most popular novel penned by Daphne du Maurier to date.

About Neesha Thunga K
Neesha graduated in 2020 with a distinction in MA English. Before that, she has spent several years teaching English and writing for various organizations. As a lover of English literature, she truly believes that crafting stories through words is the greatest achievement of mankind. She is now pursuing her passion for literature as an Expert on the Book Analysis team.

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