Why does the heroine remain nameless? Is this namelessness symbolic?
Early in the novel Maxim tells the heroine, "You have a very lovely and unusual name." But the reader never learns what that name is, or what her family name was before she married Maxim and became Mrs. de Winter. This absence of a name symbolizes the heroine's uncertain identity, on which she often nearly loses her grip during her time at Manderley. In marrying Maxim she has taken a new name, and her new acquaintances address her by this name, but she cannot feel comfortable in it--for she is not the first Mrs. de Winter. Effectively, she is competing for the right to bear her title of Mrs. de Winter- -competing with a ghost, the dead Rebecca. In each of the roles denoted by that name--wife, society hostess, mistress of Manderley--she feels eclipsed by the memory of her predecessor. Indeed, it is Rebecca's name that echoes throughout the book, over and over; and her name constitutes the book's very title. For most of the novel, Rebecca is on the verge of overpowering the heroine, and the heroine seems in danger of losing herself altogether; the danger reaches its peak in the symbolic scene in which she wears the same costume Rebecca wore to Manderley's previous costume ball. Only the revelation of Rebecca's true nature enables the heroine to feel confident in being Mrs. de Winter, and in being mistress of Manderley. Only then does she learn that the name of Rebecca, the name she has heard over and over again since marrying Maxim, has denoted a mere illusion; the real Rebecca was nothing like the mythic woman to whom the heroine had ascribed the name. Now the heroine must no longer compete for her name with an unattainable perfection; she can begin to forge her identity.
Discuss the role of the Oedipus/Electra complex in the novel.
The Oedipus complex is a psychological theory that suggests that boys have a strong desire to kill their father and marry their mother. When the genders of this complex are reversed, the phenomenon takes the name "Electra complex," after a character in Greek drama who connived in the murder of her mother. It is this dynamic that plays out in Rebecca, as the heroine finds that she needs to overcome a maternal figure in order to marry the paternal figure, the older man Maxim. In fact, the story provides two such maternal figures: the first is Mrs. Van Hopper, the heroine's surrogate mother at Monte Carlo. But Mrs. Van Hopper exerts a rather weak force, and victory over her is easily won; in fact, Maxim actually defeats her on the heroine's behalf, by volunteering to reveal to her the news of their engagement. After the couple arrives at Manderley, the heroine encounters the second, and more powerful, maternal figure--a woman who was actually Maxim's wife, the ostensibly perfect Rebecca. The fact that Rebecca is dead, from the heroine's perspective, only enhances her strength: how can the heroine hope to compete with a dead woman? How does one "kill"--even in a metaphorical sense--a woman who only exists in her husband's memory? Resolution comes when Maxim reveals the truth about Rebecca: that she was wicked, and that he never loved her. From the heroine's perspective, this eliminates the figure of Rebecca as a threat to her happiness, effectively "killing" her.
Is Rebecca a ghost story? Why or why not?
On a strictly practical level, Rebecca is not a supernatural novel. All of the events that take place can be explained by natural phenomena; one need not ascribe them to witchcraft, magic, or ghosts. But the reader must not overlook the fact that one the principle characters--indeed, the title character--is a dead woman. The spirit of Rebecca remains a palpable force in the story, and Manderley can be said to be haunted by her specter: "I feel her everywhere," Mrs. Danvers tells the heroine; "You do too, don't you?" And the heroine does. In part, this is due to the fact that Manderley continues to be run just as Rebecca ran it, and to the fact that Mrs. Danvers keeps her bedroom as if ready for her return. But more than that, Rebecca's memory pervades the house and the novel. The fact that her ghost does not actively impact the events of the novel does not mean that her influence is not present; while the ghost herself may not be affecting the physical world, she has human hands to do her bidding, as it were: Rebecca's ghost does not need to go around rattling cupboards or otherwise reminding the world of her presence--in the skeletal Mrs. Danvers, with her skull-like face, Rebecca has a willing ambassador to the world of the living.
Discuss the role of Mrs. Danvers in the novel.
Discuss the character of Maxim. How are his actions consistent or inconsistent with this character?
Is justice served at the end of the novel? Why or why not?
Discuss the role of Manderley in the novel--both the house itself and its grounds and beach. How does setting contribute to the book's plot? To the book's tone?
Discuss the elements that make Rebecca a work of gothic literature.
Discuss the role of Jack Favell in the story. Does he help to shed light on Rebecca's character? How does he impact the plot?
Analyze the heroine's marriage to Maxim. How does their relationship develop during the course of the novel?