What is the overall story in this novel, "Rebecca"?
This is ultimately a story of perception, both the perception of the readers and the perception of the characters themselves. It matters not what the truth is - what matters is what we ourselves believe. That is what controls our behavior. De Maurier cleverly puts us into the narrator's position - by being unnamed, it is easier for the reader to actually BE her, and to be experiencing things as she does. We go in, like she does, knowing almost nothing, but quickly become full of suspicion.
Mrs. Danvers perception of Rebecca appears positive, as she is loyal to the ways of her former mistress and cold towards our narrator. The new Mrs. de Winter perceives that Maxim greatly loved his wife. However, we learn that this perception is false, as Maxim as killed his former Mrs.. Maxim presents Rebecca as having been a mean-spirited and disloyal woman. But is this really true? The narrator accepts Maxim's perception in the end because she loves him, and by believing him, she can dismiss that he is a murderer. However, this does not absolve him of guilt, and it does not prove that Rebecca deserve to have died. It is all about what each person "chooses" to believe.
A quote by Maxim sums up this theme: "They all believed in her down here." He refers to Rebecca's adoring public. They "believed" in her - but belief (perception) is not truth.
Rebecca is one of my favorite novels. It is unusual because the reader never really knows the name of the narrator who is the main character in the story. It is a story of gothic intrigue and love. The narrator, originally a poor young woman working as a companion to a wealthy older lady, tells the story as a flashback. The narrator met her current husband Maxim de Winter while travelling as a companion for a Mrs. Van Hopper. The wealthy Maxim sweeps her off her feet and brings her home to his estate at Manderley. There the mystery begins as the new Mrs. de Winter begins to hear tales of the lovely Rebecca - the former Mrs. De Winter who died mysteriously. The book then follows the narrator as she tries to fit into Manderley and unravel the mystery of Rebecca and her husband. It is a wonderful, romantic and exciting story. Enjoy it and use the enotes on Rebecca to help you on your way.