by Daphne du Maurier
Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
Going Out With a Bang
In some ways, Rebecca ends very differently than most murder stories. Usually, the murderer is either killed or caught, most often by some agent of justice. Here, the agent of justice, Colonel Julyan, actually seems to help cover up the crime, and Mr. and Mrs. de Winter both go free. Understandably, some readers have big problems with this, even if they were rooting for these characters all along.
We're pretty sure the ending of Rebecca was meant to be a little confusing. Your teachers might call the ending ambiguous, meaning its wide open to different interpretations. Check out those last lines:
The road to Manderley lay ahead. There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea. (27.123)
Like so many of the images in Rebecca, this one is very much in the gothic tradition, presenting us with a picture that is both beautiful and terrible in the same moment. Of course it's not explicit, but we can assume that Manderley is burning (and that Mrs. Danvers had a hand in it). Mrs. de Winter even sees the blaze as a metaphor for Rebecca's spilled blood: the fire is the spilled blood of Manderley. Revenge.
"The End Was In the Beginning" (Ellison)
In Rebecca, the ending is actually chronologically before the beginning. We might barely remember the opening chapter once we get to the grand finale, but the latest updates on Mrs. de Winter and Maxim are provided right there. It's worth going back to check it out.
Readers who are appalled by the fact that Maxim escapes official justice might just find some consolation in the opening chapters. Maxim and Mrs. de Winter are free and together, but at what cost? Mrs. de Winter describes them as having a feelingless existence, living sparely, eating moderately, avoiding all excitement, and never talking about the past. Not quite the life they had hoped for.