Rebecca

Rebecca Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator stands in the library with Maxim, having just learned that he murdered Rebecca. There is no horror in the narrator’s heart—she finds that she can’t feel her body, so great is her shock. Maxim approaches the narrator and begins to kiss her, insisting that he loves her enormously. Suddenly he stops, noticing that the narrator isn’t kissing him back. “You don’t love me,” he says.
Maxim seems to love the narrator sincerely—he’s been reluctant to express his feelings because he thought the narrator would hate him when she found out he was a murderer. Of course, Maxim hasn’t taken into account the fact that the narrator will have to reevaluate her feelings for him in light of this huge new revelation—he initially assumes that the narrator will automatically still love him.
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The narrator tries to express what she’s feeling to Maxim, but instead of listening, Maxim explains what will happen next. The police will identify Rebecca’s body in the boat—her rings, her clothes, etc. As Maxim speaks, the narrator can only think back to what he’s already told her: he murdered his own wife. “What are we going to do?” she asks. Without responding, Maxim tells the narrator that he’d wanted to tell her about his murder earlier, but couldn’t find a way of opening up to her: she’d seemed aloof, and more interested in talking to Frank than to him.
It’s telling that the narrator uses the word “we” when asking what the future holds. She doesn’t question whether or not she bears responsibility for Maxim’s actions from here on out—she treats it as a given that she’ll have to assist her husband in any way she can. Previously, we’d thought of Maxim as a confident, collected character, but now we see that he was going through the same internal crisis as the narrator: he was trying to find a way to talk about Rebecca, but couldn’t.
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Maxim explains more about Rebecca. Rebecca, he claims, was “damnably clever,” and extremely talented at saying the right things to the right people. Although Maxim was thrilled to marry Rebecca at first, he quickly realized that she was incapable of love. When he was in Monte Carlo with Rebecca years ago, he took her to the top of a hill—the same hill where he took the narrator. There, Rebecca told Maxim “things I shall never repeat to a living soul.” As Maxim explains this, he begins to laugh, which terrifies the narrator.
This chapter (which consists almost entirely of the “truth” about Rebecca) begins with a bang: Rebecca wasn’t the saint everyone thought her to be, and on the contrary, she was manipulative and treacherous. This twist seemingly confirms that Rebecca is actually the villain of the novel, but some feminist critics have also suggested that Rebecca isn’t really that bad, especially because we only see her from Maxim’s perspective. Some have pointed to the fact that Rebecca embodies both masculine and feminine qualities as evidence that she could have bee lesbian or bisexual (it’s worth noting that du Maurier may have been so as well). In this sense, it’s possible that Maxim despises Rebecca because she’s “incapable of love” for him, not because she’s wicked.
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Maxim goes on to explain that he could never divorce Rebecca—there would be too much suspicion, too many rumors. Instead, he and Rebecca agreed to live in peace with one another, with Rebecca running Manderley and Maxim staying out of her way. Rebecca secretly despised the servants at Manderley, but never let them know it—as far as the servants were concerned, she was an angel. As the narrator listens, her heart is full of love for Maxim: she realizes Maxim never loved Rebecca at all.
Maxim is obsessed with maintaining an appearance of properness, so he can’t divorce Rebecca (this seems unrealistic to a modern reader, but we must simply accept that a divorce would be very scandalous). This is an important revelation, because it shows that manners, wealth, and fame can be weaknesses as well as strengths, as Rebecca used Maxim’s desperation for the appearance of a happy marriage to manipulate him. The narrator’s sudden rush of love for Maxim is more disturbing than comforting, however—her pleasure at realizing that Maxim doesn’t really love Rebecca, and she doesn’t have to compete for his affections, entirely overpowers what he’s just revealed. The narrator seemingly cares more that her husband really likes her best than the fact that he’s a murderer.
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Over the years, Maxim explains, he was loyal to Rebecca because she helped reshape Manderley into a grand estate. But slowly, she began to grow idle. She would flirt with Frank, trying to meet him alone in the cottage. Eventually, Frank, who was loyal to Maxim, told Maxim about Rebecca’s attempts to seduce him. After Rebecca realized she could never control Frank, she started on Giles, Beatrice’s husband. Giles was practically in love with Rebecca, though Beatrice, Maxim noticed, disliked Rebecca.
We learn more about the people in Manderley: Beatrice always disliked Rebecca, which explains why she liked the narrator. Rebecca seems like a classic “femme fatale,” using her beauty and sexuality to manipulate the men around her. Because she’s (supposedly) incapable of love, it seems that Rebecca manipulates men out of a sense of boredom more than anything else.
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Maxim explains that Rebecca had a cousin, Jack Favell, who lived in London. The narrator nods and explains that she’s met him at Manderley. This surprises Maxim, who had no idea that his wife knew Favell—the narrator explains that she didn’t want to upset Maxim with the news. Maxim continues: Rebecca began an affair with her cousin, and would meet up with him in the cottage near the Happy Valley. Maxim, who knew that they were spending nights there, threatened to shoot Jack if he ever found him on Manderley property.
All this revelation of the truth is complex for us to interpret, even if the narrator automatically believes Maxim and assumes that Rebecca was a villain. Rebecca was certainly a bad wife, but part of her perceived “wickedness” was daring to assert her own agency and power in a male-dominated world. Maxim could not tolerate this, just as he could not tolerate that she was cheating on him (seemingly not because he loved her and was jealous, but because he was concerned with his image). We also learn that the cabin was off-limits for a different reason than the narrator had supposed.
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One night, Maxim went down to the cottage with a gun, thinking that he’d surprise Rebecca and Favell. Instead, he found Rebecca waiting there alone, looking pale and oddly sickly. Maxim, unsure what Rebecca is doing, tells her, “What you do in London does not concern me. You can live with Favell there, or with anyone you like. But not here. Not in Manderley.” Rebecca laughs and says that Maxim has no way of controlling her. He could never divorce her for infidelity, since everyone in her life thinks she’s the perfect wife. She could convince Mrs. Danvers, her most loyal follower, to swear anything Rebecca asked her to swear. Rebecca goes on, taunting Maxim by saying that any child she gave birth to would have to be raised at Manderley, whether Maxim was the father or not. Furious, Maxim shoots Rebecca. She falls to the floor, still smiling.
In this flashback scene (the only time in the entire book that dialogue is attributed to Rebecca), we see Rebecca at her most manipulative and cunning. She knows that Maxim wants to keep up appearances at all costs, and she also knows that he can’t stop her from cheating on him, heavily implying that she’s already pregnant with a child from another man (probably Favell). Although it’s Maxim who strikes first, it’s also clear that Rebecca has come out ahead in their confrontation—she dies, but she continues to cast a pall over Maxim and the narrator even after death. In this way, the smile on her face foreshadows the sinister way she’ll control others’ lives from beyond the grave. All this information also adds to the speculation about who the real “villain” is—we only see this confrontation from Maxim’s perspective, and even then it seems like murder is an excessive “punishment” for Rebecca’s cruelty. Maxim essentially justifies his violence by declaring Rebecca wicked, and the narrator immediately buys into this. The more complicated question, then, is just what du Maurier intends—if she agrees that Maxim was justified, or if she thinks he is the real villain, or if the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
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Maxim carries Rebecca’s dead body to the sea, where he throws her in a boat and then sinks the boat. Since then, he’s always known that eventually her boat will be found and the body identified. In other words, Rebecca will win in the end. The narrator protests that she and Maxim have to think of a way to explain the body in the boat. If the police find Rebecca’s body, then Maxim will have to say that he made a mistake with identifying the previous body. Maxim acknowledges that this excuse, while not very believable, would keep him out of jail—there’s no proof against him. Suddenly, the phone begins ringing.
The stakes of the upcoming police investigation (symbolized by the phone ringing) are clear enough. Even if Maxim won’t be sent to jail or executed for murder, he’ll be disgraced in his community, first because people will find it strange that he couldn’t identify his wife’s body, and second because people will wonder why Rebecca was with another person when she died. These are significant stakes, particularly to a landed aristocrat like Maxim—he wants to keep his reputation spotless, and the investigation would be a huge scandal.
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