How does the reader's understanding of Maxim de Winter in Rebecca change as the story progresses?
It is vitally important to remember that this story is actually told using the first person point of view, where the entire action is narrated to us through one of the characters in the story. However, and vital to the success of this incredible novel, such narratives are by their very nature partial, because one character is not able to see the thoughts and motives of other characters, and can only present us with their actions and what they observe. This leads to the narrator of this novel being unreliable as she is not aware of so much to do with Max de Winter and the relationship he had with Rebecca. Note the way in which the first bit of information we are given about Max de Winter comes from Mrs Van Hopper, who, at the end of Chapter Two, says:
"It's Max de Winter," she said, "the man who owns Mandeley. You've heard of it, of course. He looks ill, doesn't he? They say he can't get over his wife's death..."
Of course, it is these words that suggests to the narrator, and to the reader, that Max de Winter is a character who is desperately trying to forget his perfect first wife that he loved so much. We judge all of his actions under this assumption, just as the narrator does. It is only much later on in the novel, when Maxim confesses his crime to his second wife, that she and we discover the truth and are forced to reassess all of our assumptions:
The jig-saw pieces came tumbling thick and fast upon me. Disjointed pictures flashed one by one through my bewildered mind... Maxim's silence, Maxim's moods. The way he never talked about Rebecca. The way he never mentioned her name.
The discovery of what really happened makes us change our opinion of Max de Winter radically, from a grief-stricken husband unable to move on with his life because of his love for his first wife to a man who was tortured by the existence of his terrible first wife and in the end was driven to murder her because of her excesses. Our sympathy for Maxim is gained through his narration of what his life was like being married to Rebecca.