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Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca: Disparities Between Upper And Working Class Women

1380 words - 6 pages

Disparities between upper and working class women and their roles in society are made very obvious in gothic literature. However, they are especially highlighted in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, in which the protagonist sits between the upper and lower classes because of her own choice to marry a man from a higher class than herself. In the time period that the book was written, there were still large distinctions in class, though it was also a period that allowed for more social mobility because the older distinctions in class were beginning to fall away. The protagonist’s choice to marry a man so far above her in social class sets the stage for a love story that challenges society’s expectations of a woman’s role in her marriage and proposes the question of whether to choose self or conformity because of those expectations.
When the protagonist of the novel decides to marry Maxim de Winter, she feels as if they are equals, but this sense of equality is lost when she learns of his first wife, Rebecca, and begins to compare herself to her. At her first arrival at Manderley, before the property in its entirety can even give her any real first impression, she notices that when she sits in Rebecca’s old spot, the dog comes to her because “that had been his custom, and he remembered, in the past, she had given him sugar there.” (du Maurier 76). This bothers the narrator because she feels that she is not exactly like Rebecca and that adhering to Rebecca’s same routines and customs would cause her to lose part of her uniqueness. Unlike Maxim and his first wife, “Maxim and Mrs. de Winter are enabled to fulfill their marriage on more equal terms,” (Miquel-Baldellou, 33). However, though she believes herself to be equal with Maxim, the protagonist still knows that “marriages to wealthy men will conflict with the norms of class and status” and so the comparison of herself to Rebecca is clearly because of the fact that she is not as comfortable running an upper class household as Rebecca was (Miquel-Baldellou, 29). These are the first of many differences that can be noted between the upper and lower class, using the protagonist and Rebecca as representative symbols for each, respectively.
The protagonist’s comparison of her plain and ordinary self with the wild and beautiful Rebecca furthers the gap between the upper and working classes by citing ways in which Rebecca was considered superior. Establishing her role as a dominant female influence, Rebecca defies her role as an upper class woman and inspires the narrator to defy her expected role as the young, innocent girl who married into her position. Though she meant to pull herself closer to her husband and to his world, the protagonist’s costume at the first party they give reveals that “In dressing up as Rebecca, the narrator admits defiance,” which is caused by her strong feelings of inadequacy (Pyrhönen, 3). These feelings of inadequacy are furthered by the haughty housekeeper Mrs. Danvers’ opinion...

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