Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca - Notes

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Themes and Devices

  • Cyclical narrative
    • The way the narrative loops back into itself is significant to the theme of love and passage of time; the retrospective narration colours the story with hindsight and shows the Protagonist’s hard-earned wisdom.

    • The prologue contains this cycle within itself- the Protagonist visits the present Manderley in a dream, yet it evokes the past and events of the story in its description. 

      • The protagonist at first being barred from entry and then mysteriously gaining the power to ignore the gate is evocative of how, in the story, she’s of a much lower social class and breeding and normally would never know this world, but her whirlwind marriage with Maxim allows her to effectively circumvent social mobility. 

      • The rhododendrons, later used to symbolise Rebecca, dominate the place, alluding to her ‘winning’

      • The lilac mating with the copper beech yet being imprisoned by the ivy invokes Maxim and the Protagonist’s ‘unnatural’ romance and the stronghold Rebecca’s memory has over it

      • The dream water being unruffled- Rebecca didn’t die by drowning

  • Contextual significance- 1938

    • Rebecca is set in the mid-1930s, and was published in 1938.  In the 1920s and 1930s, literature (as well as many other arts and disciplines) was seeing through the era of High Modernism, a school of thought that prioritised deviation and experimentation from previously-established boundaries and ideas of what was possible.  Du Maurier is notable as she doesn't do this- she uses tropes of traditional Gothic novels, creating a story that does the opposite of experiment, and therefore the opposite of what was popular at the time.  (contrast to Jane Eyre- there's evidence of Realist production in Jane Eyre, which is the era of the novel's production)

    • Arguably, the Protagonist can be viewed as a product of the era and Rebecca as a product of the previous 1920s.

      • Rebecca contains all the characteristics of the 1920s ‘flapper’ archetype.  She’s extravagant and admired, and a liberated woman who makes her own decisions.  Her clothes are velvet and silk- popular fabrics in 1920s dressmaking.  As more of the end of her life is exposited on, she also starts to sport 1920s androgyny- she cuts her hair incredibly short, dies in slacks, and Maxim describes her as looking like a boy.  She’s famed for the parties and balls that she hosts.  Though the explicit nature of them remain unconfirmed, her relations with Mrs Danvers are coded with homosexuality, as lesbian identities saw a controversial emergence during this era.  Rebecca is the first wife, the one to die- it places her firmly in the past.

      • The Protagonist is less of an archetype like Rebecca is; she can be seen more as a product of the era and the Great Depression…


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