In Rebecca, how does the reader's earlier perception of Rebecca compare to the real Rebecca that we learn about towards the end of the novel?
In the earlier stages of the novel, the reader's view of Rebecca is influenced by that of the narrator, the second Mrs de Winter. Along with the narrator, we try to piece together a complete picture from what others say about her. She appears to have impressed everyone with her grace and charm and accomplishments, making the narrator feel sorely inferior. The narrator is convinced that she was not only beautiful and clever but also angelically good, and made Maxim happy, as she herself cannot.
However, although we as readers are likely to be swept along with this positive and glowing picture of Rebecca, we, like the narrator, are tantalised by the rather odd behaviour of some people who seem unwilling to talk about her. The narrator concludes that this is really because they are comparing her unfavourably with her glamorous predecessor, but in the later stages of the book we learn that there is a much more sinister reason. The tormented Maxim is finally driven to reveal all: that although so beautiful and alluring on the outside, Rebecca was really corrupt, deceitful and cruel. The narrator listens aghast yet at the same time rather relieved that Maxim never loved Rebecca at all.
The jigsaw pieces came together piece by piece, the real Rebecca took shape and form before me, stepping from her shadow world like a living figure from a picture frame. (chapter 20)
The narrator's former picture of Rebecca, and the reader's, turns out to be essentially wrong. Rebecca was indeed beautiful and clever, but she was anything but virtuous, and she certainly did not make Maxim happy. For a large part of the book, she manages more or less to deceive the reader, as she deceives nearly everyone else in the story.