How do the past events of Rebecca in the novel Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier affect the narrator throughout the whole book?
The narrator is unaware of the dramatic events surrounding the marriage of Maxim and Rebecca de Winter, and Mrs de Winter’s subsequent death. She only gleans snippets of information from her employer Mrs Van Hopper and the members of the Manderley estate. She is deeply intimidated by the memory of Rebecca as a vibrant, beautiful, graceful and gregarious woman: all the qualities that the narrator does not have. What is missing from everyone’s description of Rebecca is her selfishness and cruelty: the qualities which lead to her death.
The narrator, along with the reader, has to piece together Rebecca’s past and for her some points are painful – for example the dress choice for the ball maliciously engineered by Mrs Danvers.
It is towards the end of the novel where Maxim’s revelation of his feelings for Rebecca finally liberate the narrator where he explains how he killed his first wife saying "I hated her." The narrator is then free of the restrictions of trying to follow in her predecessor’s footsteps, knowing that Max married her for herself, and because she was not like Rebecca.
What happened to Rebecca, the first Mrs. De Winter, is all important to the narrator's fate in the novel. Although Rebecca is dead, her faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, remains and makes life torturous for the narrator. What Mrs. Danvers and others say about Rebecca cause the narrator to doubt her husband's love, her own sanity, and drains her confidence (what little she had in the first place).
Even at the novel's end, it is not until everything regarding Rebecca is cleared up and she is "laid to rest" that the narrator can begin to live a life that is not ruled by what Rebecca did or did not do.