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by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca Theme of Memory and the Past

Daphne du Maurier's blockbuster turned classic is for the most part, a memory of the past. It's narrated by a woman known only as Mrs. de Winter who's looking back on the most intense part of her past, from a present that seems to be comfortably numb. Her memories are of big, important events, including her Cinderella-style rise from paid companion to wife of the dashing, wealthy Maxim de Winter. But she also remembers the small things, like the weather, which show an intimacy with the natural world. Whatever the details, we must be aware that the story we're reading is subject to the unreliability of memory.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. What does Rebecca have to tell us about how memory works?
  2. Does the fact that Mrs. de Winter's story is a memory make it more or less reliable?
  3. Is Rebecca an actual ghost, or is her memory what haunts the characters?
  4. How do Rebecca's possessions serve as reminders of her life on earth?
  5. Will Maxim and Mrs. de Winter ever be able to forget Rebecca? Should they?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Mrs. de Winter doesn't know how to live in the present.

Maxim's memory of Manderley's fiery destruction eclipses his memory of killing Rebecca; it becomes his new source of torment.

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