The narrator stands by the window with Mrs. Danvers, looking down at Maxim, who’s rushing from the direction of the water. Maxim yells that a ship has run aground—it fired a rocket as a distress call.
Ironically, the ship’s distress call (fired because people’s lives are in danger) ends up saving the life of the narrator, who was seemingly about to kill herself.
Mrs. Danvers steps away from the window, and tells the narrator that she should go downstairs to provide help. Then Danvers asks the narrator to tell Maxim that there will be a hot meal waiting for the men on the ship, if they should come to Manderley. The narrator nods and says she’ll pass along this message to her husband.
It’s chilling how easily Mrs. Danvers alternates between urging the narrator to kill herself and serving out in her capacity as an efficient servant at Manderley. But these two roles aren’t really that different for Mrs. Danvers: she is slavishly devoted to the rules and formalities of life at Manderley, and urging the narrator to end her own life is seemingly just a part of her loyalty to Rebecca.
The narrator walks downstairs, where she finds Frith, who tells her that Maxim was here only a minute ago—he’s run back to the ocean. The narrator walks outside toward the Happy Valley. As she walks, she realizes how silly she was to think that Maxim was leaving her—he’s been himself all along, and now he’s tending to the sailors in the grounded ship. She tries not to think about her frightening encounter with Mrs. Danvers—none of it matters as long as Maxim is all right.
As with the costume party, crisis is followed by catharsis and then healing. After being on the verge of suicide, the narrator now begins to climb back from this “rock-bottom” of her life. She sees how absurd it was to think that Maxim would leave her. In essence, she’s appreciating how childish and immature she was, even just a few hours ago. Yet her moment of “growing up” also centers around Maxim, as usual.
The narrator stares out at the ocean, and sees Frank. Frank greets the narrator cheerily and tells her to “join in the fun.” A team of boats is trying to pull the ship back to the water. In the meantime, Frank assures the narrator, the sailors are fine—Maxim will probably invite them all back to Manderley later. A coastguard, who’s standing nearby, adds that Maxim is a wonderful leader, and extremely generous to those in need. The narrator notices crowds gathering from nearby towns to watch the ship from the safety of the nearby cliffs. Families sit, laughing and eating, and the narrator wishes that she could join them.
It’s telling that Maxim spends this entire chapter trying to help other people. So far, the narrator hasn’t told us very much about what, exactly, Maxim does all day long. Now, it seems to be dawning on the narrator that Maxim has a life outside of his duties as the master of Manderley—and therefore, he has a proud, successful life outside of his marriage to Rebecca.
The narrator sees Ben approaching her. The narrator tells Ben that there must be a hole in the bottom of the ship. Ben tells her that “she” will break up slowly, and the fish will eat her until nothing is left. The narrator tells Ben that fish don’t eat steamers, but Ben seems not to understand this.
The narrator thinks that Ben is talking about the ship itself, a steamer, which has run aground on the beach (ships are usually referred to as “she,” after all). But as with the last time Ben mentioned a nameless “her,” du Maurier hints that he is once again talking about Rebecca—and this has very sinister ramifications if it’s true.
The narrator returns to the house, and asks Robert if Maxim has been home. Robert says that Maxim has just left, without saying when he’ll be back. The narrator eats lunch alone in the library, wondering when her husband will return. A while later, Robert enters the library and tells the narrator that a Captain Searle is there, looking for Maxim. Still not knowing where Maxim could be, the narrator goes to speak to Searle, who explains that the sailors have discovered something unpleasant beneath their own ship: the hull of the boat that belonged to Rebecca. Furthermore, Searle tells her, the sailors discovered a body inside the boat. This surprises the narrator, since she knows that Maxim identified a different body as Rebecca’s, months after the accident. The result, Searle concludes apologetically, is that there will have to be a public announcement about the body.
It’s worth noting that the narrator steps up and assumes a leadership position in this chapter—instead of letting Maxim take care of things, she speaks with Captain Searle directly. This is important, because it suggests that the narrator is maturing quickly—the crisis at Manderley is forcing her to assume responsibility to an extent she wouldn’t have dreamed of only the night before. The narrator is then immediately rewarded (or punished) for her direct action by learning some surprising news about both Maxim and Rebecca. The “mystery genre” aspect of the book now takes center stage.
Suddenly, Maxim enters the house and sees Captain Searle and the narrator talking. He asks Searle if anything is the matter. Before Searle can repeat himself, the narrator leaves the room. She finds Jasper, kisses his head, and takes him to the library. A short time later, Maxim enters the library, visibly shaken from his conversation with Searle. The narrator tells Maxim that she’s very sorry for what’s happened. She assures Maxim that she’s matured, even in the last 24 hours, and will “never be a child again.”
Based on everything we’ve seen, it seems that the narrator is right about her own “growing up.” In the last 24 hours, she’s confronted not one but two distinct crises, and survived. She’s stopped being so afraid of Mrs. Danvers—now, she sees Danvers as a sad old woman—and she’s begun to realize that Maxim isn’t as focused on Rebecca as she’d believed.
The narrator goes on to discuss the previous night with Maxim. She asks Maxim if he’d thought she’d worn Rebecca’s dress on purpose, but Maxim says he can’t remember anything from that night. He asks the narrator, “How much do you love me?” Before the narrator can answer, however, Maxim says that they’ve lost their chance at happiness: Rebecca has won.
Paradoxically, Maxim’s pronouncement that “Rebecca has won” is the beginning of a new relationship between Maxim and the narrator. Maxim now suddenly seems willing to be open and honest, meaning that he and the narrator are finally on the same side—a husband-and-wife unit, rather than two strangers living together.
Maxim tells the narrator what Captain Searle has just told him, but the narrator cuts him off before he can finish—she assumes that Maxim will want to find out who the second person in Rebecca’s boat was. Maxim, his entire body shaking, tells the narrator the truth. Rebecca didn’t die in a boating accident: Maxim shot her in the cottage. He then carried her body to the boat and sunk it. The body he pretended to identify belonged to an unknown woman, “belonging nowhere.” He concludes, “Can you love me now?”
Here, we come to the major turning point of the novel. We’ve spent the first half of the novel imagining that Maxim was still in love with a dead woman. Now we see that the opposite is true: Maxim killed this woman, and may not have ever loved her in the first place. Moreover, Maxim didn’t tell the narrator this information, we can surmise, because he thought the narrator wouldn’t be able to love him if she did. Rebecca has always been the barrier between the narrator and Maxim, but not in the sense the narrator has assumed.