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Power, Control, and Information Theme Analysis

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Like many of Daphne du Maurier’s works, Rebecca studies how people maintain power over others. Surprisingly, the characters in the novel almost never rely on physical force (the simplest form of power, one would think) to assert themselves—in fact, on the one significant occasion when a character does use violence, his actions are presented as a total failure. Instead of violence, the powerful characters in Rebecca control their weaker peers using intimidation, manipulation, and various other psychological weapons.

Perhaps the most important such weapon in du Maurier’s novel is information. As a mystery novel, Rebecca is full of hidden information that must be gradually discovered or revealed. Throughout the novel in general, then, power means knowing this information, weakness means not knowing information, and control consists of the powerful keeping information from the weak. Even in the early chapters of Rebecca it’s clear that power and knowledge are closely related. The narrator’s weakness, uncertainty, and immaturity are synonymous with her ignorance of Maxim de Winter’s life and family. Although she’s admired Manderley since childhood, she has almost no idea what it contains. This weakness allows Maxim to “buy” her into marriage—essentially by saying that he’ll give her access to money, luxury, and, most importantly, some of the secrets of his life.

As Maxim’s example suggests, information must be managed carefully in order to control other people. Many of the characters in the novel try and fail to control their enemies, because they don’t quite understand what to do with their own knowledge. The most obvious example of this problem is Jack Favell, who tries and fails to blackmail Maxim into giving him money. Favell thinks that his knowledge of Rebecca’s unfaithfulness can send Maxim to jail, but when Maxim calls his bluff, Favell doesn’t know how to wield his own weapon—he tells Colonel Julyan, the local detective, everything he knows, but Julyan takes an immediate dislike to Favell’s aggressiveness, and so from the beginning he doesn’t take the information seriously. By the same token, Mrs. Danvers wields great power over the narrator, in spite of her inferior social rank, because she knows more about Rebecca and the de Winter family history. It’s only when Danvers begins to surrender this information voluntarily that she loses all power over the narrator—with no more secrets to keep, all the leverage is gone from Danvers’ relationship with the narrator.

In Rebecca, control always comes “from a distance.” Only rarely do the characters pose literal, physical threats to one another. More often, they control their peers by dangling money, access, and above all, information, in front of them. The tense, claustrophobic mood of the novel stems from du Maurier’s unorthodox understanding of power and control. The narrator isn’t being physically coerced during her time at Manderley, and yet Maxim and Mrs. Danvers are controlling her, using her ignorance to frighten, intimidate, or manipulate her.

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Power, Control, and Information ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Power, Control, and Information appears in each chapter of Rebecca. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Power, Control, and Information Quotes in Rebecca

Below you will find the important quotes in Rebecca related to the theme of Power, Control, and Information.
Chapter 6 Quotes

“Naturally one wants you to be happy, and I grant you he's a very attractive creature but—well, I'm sorry; and personally I think you are making a big mistake—one you will bitterly regret.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Van Hopper (speaker), The narrator , Maximilian de Winter
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the narrator--who's just gotten engaged to Maxim--crosses paths with her rather cruel former employer, Mrs. Van Hooper, for whom she's acted as a valet and travel partner. Van Hooper, who, it's been suggested, is jealous of the narrator's friendship with Maxim, tells the narrator that she doesn't approve of the marriage.

It's strange that such a simple quote from such an unimportant character should have such major ramifications for the narrator's relationship with Maxim. For the rest of the novel, the narrator continues to remember Van Hooper's words, eventually concluding that her former employer was right all along: she was wrong to marry such a mysterious, taciturn man. The fact that the narrator would be so disturbed by the opinion of a woman she despises suggests that the narrator herself is uncertain about her marriage to Maxim: she barely knows Maxim, and so she's afraid that Maxim thinks of her as a mere "cure" for his marriage to Rebecca.


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Chapter 8 Quotes

“Who is it?” I said, “who do you want?”
There was a strange buzzing at the end of the line, and then a voice came, low and rather harsh, whether that of a woman or a man I could not tell, and “Mrs. de Winter?” it said, “Mrs. de Winter?”
“I'm afraid you have made a mistake,” I said; “Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year.” I sat there, waiting, staring stupidly into the mouthpiece, and it was not until the name was repeated again, the voice incredulous, slightly raised, that I became aware, with a rush of color to my face, that I had blundered irretrievably, and could not take back my words.
“It's Mrs. Danvers, Madam,” said the voice. “I'm speaking to you on the house telephone.”

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Mrs. Danvers (speaker), Rebecca de Winter
Related Symbols: Manderley
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

In this darkly amusing scene, the narrator answers the telephone in her new home, Manderley. Unfamiliar with the voice on the other end of the line, the narrator explains that "Mrs. de Winter"--i.e., Rebecca de Winter--is dead, only to realize that Mrs. Danvers is trying to get in touch with the narrator herself.

The narrator is so uncomfortable with her new role as the mistress of Manderley that she doesn't even answer to her own title. The narrator has become Mrs. de Winter, but she continues to think of Rebecca as the true owner of this elite title. The narrator's nervousness reflects her lack of familiarity with the lifestyle of the English aristocracy. A middle-class girl, she hasn't a clue how to go about running Manderley--the contrast between Rebecca's legendary competence and the narrator's incompetence is crystal-clear, and a crucial aspect of the power dynamic between Mrs. Danvers (who also clearly thinks of Rebecca as the real Mrs. de Winter) and the narrator.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“I ought to have told you all this before,” I said.
“I wish you had,” he said. “I might have spared you some worry.”
“I feel happier,” I said, “much happier. And I've got you for my friend whatever happens, haven't I, Frank?”
“Yes, indeed,” he said.
We were out of the dark.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Frank Crawley
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the narrator talks with Frank Crawley, an accountant and administrator of the Manderley estate. The narrator finds that she's comfortable opening up to Frank about her frustrations with her marriage. Frank assures that narrator that Maxim has done a good thing by marrying her: the narrator is actually superior to Rebecca in every way, since she's kind, sincere, and honest. Inspired by Frank's calm manner, the narrator feels comfortable talking about her feelings, and instantly gets the consolation she'd been hoping for. In other words, the narrator learns that she's partly to blame for her own anxiety: if she'd only open up about her feelings, then she wouldn't feel so anxious.

The passage is also important in that it hints at a possible romance between Crawley and the narrator. The narrator's "comfort" around Frank seems to suggest that she feels closer to him than to her own husband--although nothing ever explicitly comes of this connection.

Chapter 15 Quotes

She had relaxed against the pillows, plucking at her shawl, and her mouth began to tremble. “You talk too much, all of you. I don't understand.” Then she looked across at me, a frown on her face, and began shaking her head. “Who are you, my dear, I haven't seen you before? I don't know your face. I don't remember you at Manderley. Bee, who is this child? Why did not Maxim bring Rebecca? I'm so fond of Rebecca. Where is dear Rebecca?”

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Gran (speaker)
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator goes with Beatrice to visit Maxim's aging, senile grandmother, "Gran." To the narrator's horror, Gran doesn't realize that Rebecca has died: as far as she's concerned, the narrator is a kind of impostor, "stealing" the role of wife away from Rebecca, the rightful owner.

Gran's behavior in this scene, senile though it might be, literalizes the narrator's own feelings of insecurity at Manderley. True enough, the narrator does feel like an impostor: thanks to the severity of Mrs. Danvers, the narrator thinks of herself as an inadequate replacement for Rebecca. The narrator lacks confidence in her own abilities, to the point where she begins to hate herself simply for not being Rebecca.

Chapter 16 Quotes

He considered me a moment, his eyebrows raised, whistling softly. “Listen, my sweet. When you were a little girl, were you ever forbidden to read certain books, and did your father put those books under lock and key?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, then. A husband is not so very different from a father after all. There is a certain type of knowledge I prefer you not to have. It's better kept under lock and key. So that's that. And now eat up your peaches, and don't ask me any more questions, or I shall put you in the corner.”
“I wish you would not treat me as if I was six,” I said.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Maximilian de Winter (speaker)
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has brought up the issue of Rebecca to Maxim de Winter himself. But instead of opening up about the issue to his wife, Maxim clams up, condescendingly claiming that the narrator is too young and childish to understand Maxim's feelings. As Maxim explains it, the narrator is like a young child, who needs to be kept out of a library for her own good.

As the narrator readily points out, Maxim is treating her like a tiny child. Moreover, Maxim is obtusely implying that the narrator is the problem--i.e., that she's curious about things that should be left alone--when in fact it's Maxim himself who's to blame for being too cowardly to discuss the truth with another person. The narrator has felt that she's being treated condescendingly for some time now, but it's not until this scene that she tells Maxim how she's feeling--a sure sign that the narrator is becoming stronger and more assertive.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” he asked. His eyes blazed in anger. His face was still ashen white.
I could not move, I went on standing there, my hand on the banister.
“It's the picture,” I said, terrified at his eyes, at his voice. “It's the picture, the one in the gallery.”
There was a long silence. We went on staring at each other. Nobody moved in the hall. I swallowed, my hand moved to my throat. “What is it?” I said. “What have I done?”

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Maximilian de Winter (speaker)
Related Symbols: The White Dress
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

In this uncomfortable scene, the narrator prepares to enter the Manderley summer ball, a fixture of social life in the community. With Mrs. Danvers's help, the narrator has chosen for her costume a beautiful white dress. To her horror, though, the narrator discovers--as she enters the party itself--that the dress is identical to one worn by Rebecca years before. Mrs. Danvers has tricked the narrator into humiliating herself in front of her guests and her husband.

The scene is designed to show the narrator in a state of total cluelessness: at this point, the narrator has no idea what she's done, or why her behavior has enraged Maxim. And yet we, the readers, can already guess what's going on. The narrator has dared to wear Rebecca's clothes--symbolically, she's attempted to step into Rebecca's role as wife and socialite, and she's utterly failed. In short, the passage confirms the narrator's worst fear: that she's an embarrassing, inadequate substitute for Rebecca de Winter.

Chapter 17 Quotes

I remember Robert dropping a tray of ices, and the expression of Frith's face when he saw Robert was the culprit and not one of the minions hired for the occasion. I wanted to go to Robert and stand beside him and say “I know how you feel. I understand. I've done worse than you tonight.”

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Frith , Robert
Related Symbols: The White Dress
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

In the immediate aftermath of her humiliation at the party, the narrator falls into a state of trancelike calm. She's been so utterly embarrassed by Mrs. Danvers that she feels she can't sink any lower. And yet in the depths of her humiliation, the narrator seems to mature. Before the party, she was shy and mousy, avoiding conversation as much as possible; now, she's become more sympathetic and comfortable with her servants--she reaches out to Robert when he makes a mistake, offering sympathy and support.

In short, the passage shows the narrator regrouping after her embarrassment, and growing from a shy young woman into a mature adult. The passage is also important because it illuminates a crucial difference between the narrator and Rebecca. Rebecca was a glamorous socialite, but she was also cold and bullying. The narrator, by contrast, is a reluctant hostess, but she's also compassionate in a way that Rebecca could never match.

Chapter 18 Quotes

That was why I had come down last night in my blue dress and had not stayed hidden in my room. There was nothing brave or fine about it, it was a wretched tribute to convention. I had not come down for Maxim's sake, or Beatrice's, for the sake of Manderley. I had come down because I did not want the people at the ball to think I had quarreled with Maxim. I didn't want them to go home and say, “Of course you know they don't get on. I hear he's not at all happy.” I had come for my own sake, my own poor personal pride.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Maximilian de Winter , Beatrice Lacy
Related Symbols: The White Dress
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

In the aftermath of her humiliation, the narrator makes the difficult choice to continue with her party. Mrs. Danvers has embarrassed her horribly, but instead of fleeing to her room, she decides to continue on with the party, playing the part of a gracious host.

It's important to note that it's the narrator's pride, nothing else, that compels her to continue on with her hosting duties. In a slightly different sense, the narrator chooses to continue on because she doesn't want her hundreds of guests talking about her behind her back: she's concerned with her reputation in the community. Ironically, in spite of Mrs. Danvers best efforts, the narrator's humiliation at her party has caused her to become a more competent hostess and a more confident partner to Maxim de Winter--she's finally playing the part of Maxim's wife. The narrator presents this as a character flaw, but in reality it's a sign of growth--she's doing things for her own sense of dignity and self-respect, rather than just because she thinks Maxim (or Rebecca) would approve.

“I thought I hated you but I don't now,” she said; “it seems to have spent itself, all the feeling I had.”
“Why should you hate me?” I asked; “what have I ever done to you that you should hate me?”
“You tried to take Mrs. de Winter's place,” she said.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Mrs. Danvers (speaker), Rebecca de Winter
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator comes face-to-face with Mrs. Danvers, the woman who has conspired to humiliate her in front of hundreds of guests (besides belittling her more privately many other times). The narrator, humiliated to the point where she has nothing to lose, asks Mrs. Danvers why she hates her so much. Danvers replies that she hated the narrator for usurping Rebecca's place as Maxim's wife.

In a way, Mrs. Danvers's explanation doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know: it was clear that Mrs. Danvers resented the narrator right away, and that her resentment stemmed from her immense loyalty to Rebecca. Yet Mrs. Danvers comes across as strangely pathetic in this scene. She's so loyal to a dead woman that she's practically a slave--she has no life independent of her relationship to Rebecca de Winter, who is gone. Prior to now, Mrs. Danvers had always seemed like a calm, rational adult, while the narrator had seemed clueless and childish. Now, the roles are reversed: Mrs. Danver is the child and the narrator is the mature presence.

Chapter 19 Quotes

I was free now to be with Maxim, to touch him, and hold him, and love him. I would never be a child again.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Maximilian de Winter
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, the narrator has a bizarre and horrifying conflict with Mrs. Danvers, at the end of which the narrator asserts her right to live in Manderley and be married to Maxim. To her own surprise, the narrator realizes that she's cleansed herself of any feelings of fear or insecurity: where before she was afraid of Mrs. Danvers and afraid of not measuring up to Rebecca, the narrator is now calm and collected, confident that she's a better bride to Maxim than Rebecca ever was.

It's important to note that the quotation stresses that the narrator has grown up, as well as conquered her fears of Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers. In addition to being a mystery, Rebecca is also a coming-of-age story. Here, we learn how the narrator grows from a child to an adult: she gets over her feelings of insecurity and learns to be confident in herself.

Chapter 21 Quotes

“I will give the orders about the lunch,” she said. She waited a moment. I did not say anything. Then she went out of the room. She can't frighten me any more, I thought. She has lost her power with Rebecca.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Mrs. Danvers (speaker), Rebecca de Winter
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage the narrator savors her victory over Mrs. Danvers. Previously, the narrator had been terrified of Danvers. Danvers was the living, breathing symbol of Rebecca's power over Manderley--her continued presence in the house implied the continued presence of Rebecca herself. But now that the narrator knows the truth about Rebecca (i.e, she was a wicked woman who hated the servants and never loved Maxim), Mrs. Danvers seems like a sad, pathetic woman--fiercely loyal to a woman who never particularly liked Danvers in return.

The passage signals that the narrator has again grown towards maturity. Obsessed with Rebecca's strong maternal presence, the narrator had no way to mature into her own woman--everything she did was measured against Rebecca's legacy. Now, the narrator has finally escaped Rebecca's influence, staking out her own place at Manderley in the process.

Chapter 24 Quotes

Thank God for Favell's laugh. Thank God for his pointing finger, his flushed face, his staring bloodshot eyes. Thank God for the way he stood there swaying on his two feet. Because it made Colonel Julyan antagonistic, it put him on our side. I saw the disgust on his face, the quick movement of his lips. Colonel Julyan did not believe him. Colonel Julyan was on our side.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Jack Favell , Colonel Julyan
Page Number: 337
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack Favell comes to Manderley to speak with Colonel Julyan, the local constable who's been put in charge of investigating the death of Rebecca de Winter. Although the coroner has ruled that Rebecca died by suicide, Jack insists that Rebecca was murdered by Maxim (a theory that we know to be the truth). Jack further maintains that he and Rebecca were lovers, and that Rebecca would never have killed herself.

As the narrator points out, Colonel Julyan seems not to believe anything Jack says--Jack is so angry, flushed, and drunk that he can't be taken seriously. The narrator's savvy awareness of Jack's body language and tone suggests how far the narrator has come during the novel. At first, the narrator was clueless, frequently making the wrong impression on other people because of her lack of self-awareness. Now, the narrator seems like the "perfect host," always conscious of the nuances of behavior. As the novel approaches its climax, the narrator seems like an intelligent, confident woman, not a child—even as she mostly disappears from the real "action" of the book.