Maxim has a difficult time being free of Rebecca for two reasons. First, his guilt eats away at him; secondly, Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, refuses to allow the memory of Rebecca to stay in the past.
Constant reminders of Rebecca abound. Mrs. Danvers continuously relays every possible detail about Rebecca's sophistication and conquests, both social and romantic, to Maxim's new wife.
Maxim's bride struggles to find her place in her new home with her new husband, but is unable to do so especially because Maxim is torn between the past and the present. And because Maxim cannot move forward, the second Mrs. DeWinter believes that she is not only inept in trying to follow in Rebecca's footsteps, but that the inadequacies she perceives within herself have driven Maxim away from her, making it impossible for him to love her. Mrs. Danvers' subtle attempts to sabotage Maxim's new life cause him to become even more isolated from what hope might be found in his new marriage.
Maxim's only chances for freedom from Rebecca lie in two paths he must take. First, he must learn to separate himself as best he can from the hateful woman Rebecca truly was, learn what he did not know of his first wife in terms of her manipulative nature, and come to terms with regard to the myth of the woman and the truth of the woman. When Maxim can see his former wife through the eyes of outsiders, such as her doctor (who knew she was dying), he will be able to take the first steps toward his freedom from a woman whose hold over him has, for the entirety of the story, reached beyond the grave. Only then can he make sense of the past and accept his responsibility in the circumstances of her death. He can then learn to put his feelings of guilt into their proper perspective and free himself from Rebecca's machinations which have clawed at him since her death.
Second, Maxim still lives at Manderley, a place haunted with the memories of how husband and wife despised and hated one another. It has become little more than a macabre monument that the twisted Mrs. Danvers perpetuates in "honor" of the conniving, ruthless Rebecca. Maxim continues to be reminded daily of this mythical woman of idealistic proportions, and cannot allow himself to heal in the supportive arms of a new wife who was never beguiled by Rebecca, but is haunted the her spirit nonetheless.
Ultimately, Maxim must learn to live with knowledge of his part in Rebecca's death; he must accept the darkness of her soul as she attempted to destroy him, and let it go; and finally, he must leave the home they shared and begin a new life, something that takes place when Manderley goes up in flames at the story's conclusion.