At the de Winter costume party, the narrator wears a beautiful white dress at the suggestion of Mrs. Danvers. It’s only when she appears before Maxim himself that the narrator learns, to her horror, that the white dress matches the one that the late Rebecca wore to the last costume party. On the surface of things, the white dress symbolizes Mrs. Danvers’ cruel—and rather petty—manipulations. But it’s also a more subtle symbol of the importance of social and gender roles in Rebecca. The narrator wants to fit in with her new life in Manderley, but as she spends more time there, it dawns on her that the only way to “fit in” is to imitate the actions and habits of her predecessor, Rebecca—in essence, to become Rebecca. Wearing Rebecca’s white dress is, on a symbolic level, the culmination of the narrator’s attempts to adjust to her new life—and proof of why these attempts are utterly misguided.
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The timeline below shows where the symbol The White Dress appears in Rebecca. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...the narrator’s bedroom, wearing an “Eastern” gown. Beatrice explains the truth to the narrator: the white dress she wore was the same white dress that Rebecca wore to the last costume party.... (full context)