The driving force behind the actions of this book's characters is loyalty. This is seen most clearly in the characters of Frank Crawley, the business manager of Manderley, and Frith, the head butler. Crawley expresses his loyalty by being congenial, never shying away from a topic of conversation and yet never expressing exactly what he thinks either. Mrs. de Winter can sense that Crawley is on her side, but she also knows that he will not be completely honest about what he thinks of Rebecca because his sense of loyalty to Maxim would forbid it. Frith is just as deeply loyal, but it is easier for him to keep up his attitude of detachment because, as a servant, he is not involved in family matters nor expected to know about the de Winters' affairs anyway.
Like Frith, Mrs. Danvers is a family servant, but her sense of loyalty makes her negligent in her duty. She is loyal to Rebecca, the dead member of the family, and, in her attempt to preserve Rebecca's memory, she is disrespectful to the current Mrs. de Winter. At first, her loyalty appears as just an annoying, but almost respectable, personality tic, as when she tells the narrator that certain practices are followed because "that is the way Mrs. de Winter wants it done," ignoring the fact that the person she is talking to is now Mrs. de Winter. After the costume ball, her hostility becomes open, and she tries to capitalize on the narrator's grief at her inability to fit in by urging...
(The entire section is 1250 words.)
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With the now famous opening lines of Rebecca — "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" — du Maurier begins her exploration of the relationship between the past and present. For Maxim and his second wife, the two protagonists, the past and the present are inextricably linked. The second wife's insecure past leads her to feel insecure in her new marriage, and Maxim's past relationship with Rebecca damages his relationship with his new wife. Manderley, Maxim's family home, most clearly symbolizes the relationship between the past and present. Because Rebecca can make Manderley beautiful, Maxim endures a marriage he hates. Ironically, though, his obsession with glorifying his heritage leads to Manderley's destruction. The novel suggests that clinging to the past or trying to escape the past are both dangerous. As the second wife learns, one achieves an uneasy truce with time only by remembering the past while living firmly in the present.
Another theme in Rebecca concerns the battle between good (represented by Maxim and his second wife) and evil (Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers). Good wins out by the end of the story, but Maxim and his second wife carry permanent scars as a result of their encounter with evil. Interestingly, du Maurier shows that passive, naive goodness cannot defeat evil. When the second wife is timid and guileless, she unwittingly helps the forces of evil. It is only when she herself becomes strong that she can help Maxim defeat...
(The entire section is 380 words.)