Throughout the gothic novel “Rebecca”, the techniques such as characterization, narrative style and figurative language are used to portray the story of a young girl slowly maturing by embracing her sufferings. The author Daphne Du Maurier investigates the rules and regulations upheld by women in society in terms of marriage, class and appearances. In “Rebecca”, the youthful and timid narrator is continuously over-shadowed by the spectral presence of Rebecca and the forbidding housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, but as the first Mrs.
De Winter’s duplicitous personality slips from secrecy, the heroine’s loyalty is strengthened and proves to bring forth a new authority and confidence. With interesting techniques like flashbacks, a nameless protagonist and first person narration, the audience feels as if they were living every moment with the narrator. The novelette allows us to feel what the narrator feels, see what she sees and hear what she hears. The audience knows the heroine, and is the heroine. This effect is caused by the first-person narration and that the narrator has no identity, no name.
By being nameless, Du Maurier creates an intimate bond between the reader and the heroine so that they can relate and react to the emotions depicted. Also, this technique allows us to identify with the protagonist, and thus with the issues relating to women. Using a flashback technique to tell the story, it expresses the heroine’s emotions well as she was reflecting on how it felt at the time. It also gives us insight as to how she has changed from a youthful and naive girl to a mature lady “…wrapped in the complacent armour of approaching middle age…” who is able to converse with confidence.
It also tells us how much she loves Maxim to stay with him until the end. Women such as the heroine were limited to their occupation and so, in order to move into a higher class the only option was to marry someone of good wealth and status. This was, however, very rare as in the case of the protagonist. As a wife, you were expected to be loyal and caring to your husband, manage a household and servants and entertain guests while possessing poise and etiquette.
The narrator fulfills the emotional criteria of caring for her husband and being loyal as observed in chapter two of the book when she reads articles of newspapers so that they can “…be saved from a retreat into the past…”. The scandalous first wife, however, is only perfect on the exterior. As a marriage was seen as a mere contract in their context, as long as you appeared good to society, you’re marriage was considered a success as they married for profit and gain. Shown in “She made a bargain with me up there…”.
Against the tradition of her time, Rebecca has had a successful marriage, however, she does not emotionally support Maxim, “…(Maxim) looks a perfect wreck…”. Her manner leads to the next issue at hand. Appearances are shallow in this brilliant and complex book, as seen in Rebecca, the perfect woman in the eyes of society, being “so lovely, so accomplished, so amusing” and with the three qualities that matter in a wife; “breeding, brains and beauty”. Through proper upbringing, breeding, the first Mrs.
De Winter possesses social graces, is able to entertain and most importantly, seems to be faithful to Maxim, her husband. However, this creature of perfection is just a facade to conceal her true snake-like personality, as hints are dropped throughout the book such as this metaphor “…she gave you the feeling of a snake…” . When Maxim reveals Rebecca’s genuine personality, he compares her to the devil himself – “…it doesn’t make for sanity, does it, living with the devil…”, shattering the image of purity and building a sinister portrait instead.
Rebecca is represented through Rhododendrons throughout the book, giving hints to what her character is like. “…these were monsters, rearing to the sky, massed like a battalion,” and “…blood-red, luscious”. In contrast to the first wife, the plain and simple narrator lacks social grace due to poor breeding and is insecure about her new position as both mistress of Manderley and as Maxim’s true wife. She always compares herself and what she does to Rebecca until it becomes almost an obsession, though unlike Mrs.
De Winter, the protagonist is so faithful to Maxim that she is even willing to lie for him as seen in the quote “I would fight for Maxim. I would lie and perjure and swear, I would blaspheme and pray”. The narrator has yet to bloom and her growth and Rebecca’s grasp on her are symbolised through flowers; “…their hour (Rhododendrons) would soon be over…theirs was a brief beauty”. As a young woman with no status and financial support, the heroine takes the position as a woman’s companion, meets Maxim and falls in love with him along the way.
Suddenly thrown into a high position she is not accustomed to, the narrator feels as if she has big expectations to fill and is expressed when she is constantly being compared to Rebecca – “…you are so very different from Rebecca” and “ …that poise, grace and assurance were not qualities inbred in me, but to be acquired, painfully perhaps, and slowly, costing me many bitter moments”. The protagonist achieves poise, grace and etiquette later in the novel when she hears the truth and Rebecca’s grip has dissipated.
This is shown in “Too early yet for Bluebells, still hidden beneath last year’s leaves, but when they came…they made a challenge to the sky…”. This feeling of insecurity stems from the expectations of women as they were pressured to act the perfect wife. Seen in Mrs. Danvers, the only fate for someone not born of status or not having a marriage is of a carer, companion, housekeeper, maid or governess. Mrs. Danvers is the acknowledged antagonist in this novel as she rejects the protagonist and is the driving force behind Rebecca’s “ghostly” revival.
By preserving the first wife’s room and habits the house as seen in chapter 14, Manderley itself becomes the “haunted house” in gothic settings. The narrator is always followed by this presence and she cannot bring herself to even change the smallest things such as a vase where Rebecca always set on the table. Once she does something out of the ordinary of Rebecca, her servants guide her back to the first wife’s habits. Later in the book when the heroine is revealed the shocking truth behind Rebecca and that Maxim never loved her, the narrator takes up her role as the real Mrs.
De Winter and completes her growth. She becomes old and mature, but ironically, her child like personality and naivety is what Maxime loved best about her. “it’s gone forever, that funny, young, lost look that I loved…you look so much older…”. Using a flashback technique, an exceptional plot and most of all intricate, unmatched characterization, Du Maurier keeps her audience in suspense and teaches readers about the possible deception of society. Appearances are not what they seem in this clever novelette about forming identities.