The 1938 publication of Du Maurier's work was poised between two specific historical realities that influence the book. The book's fundamental dilemma between the past and the present/ future is a dominant theme. The challenge that Mrs. de Winter feels in trying to measure up to Rebecca's past is one that can be seen in the historical context of the work. The looming figure of the past can be seen as the shadow of World War I. Just as the narrator finds that Rebecca's ghost is inescapable, the pall that World War I cast over the European landscape, England in particular, is intense. It is a burning image that seared the consciousness of the modern European and one that sears into Mrs. de Winter's psyche.
At the same time, the looming condition of the past highlights the fearful and uncertain condition of the present and the future. It is into this void in which Mrs. de Winter finds herself. She is unable to compete with the past for its lure is too strong, and is unable to progress with confidence towards the future. This is the condition of Europe in the shadow of World War I and the insecurity of the 1930s en route to World War II. The inability to find peace in consciousness is a historical condition and event that finds its way into Du Maurier's writing.