Rebecca’s narrative takes the form of a flashback, with the narrator, who is nameless throughout the novel’s entirety, telling the story of how she met her husband, Maxim de Winter and their time together at Manderley.
The flashback begins with the narrator as the young, traveling companion to an American, Mrs. Van Hopper. While in Monte Carlo, the narrator meets Mr. de Winter, as they are staying in the same hotel, and frequently finds herself in his company. After only knowing each other for a few weeks, he proposes to her to keep her from returning to America with Mrs.Van Hopper. The narrator accepts and they marry before returning to his estate, Manderley. However, shortly after their return, the narrator takes notice to the everlasting presence of Mr. de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca, who drowned in a cove near Manderley in the previous year. Due to Rebecca’s continued existence despite her death, the narrator struggles in her life at Manderley. She feels as if she can never be “Mrs. de Winter” as she cannot compare to Rebecca.
As is a yearly tradition, Manderley is to host a costume ball. However, after the preparation, the gala ends in disaster. The narrator has worn the same dress as Rebecca wore to the last ball, and has seemingly horrified Mr. de Winter, convincing the narrator that he will never truly love her, and greatly upsetting her. The following day, Rebecca’s old sailboat is discovered, along with Rebecca’s body. This prompts Mr. de Winter to confide in the narrator the truth—that he has killed Rebecca due to anger over her wickedness, and that he has never truly loved her.
This revelation provides stability to the narrator. She now feels reassured in marriage, even though there is more pressure placed on Maxim and the discovery with his wife, as there is speculation over how she died. After some investigation, they find that Rebecca had spent time in London visiting a doctor on the last day of her life. Although original speculation is placed on pregnancy, it is soon revealed that Rebecca had cancer, which provides a motive of suicide, relieving Mr. de Winter of the crime of killing Rebecca. At the end of the novel, after Mr. de Winter and the narrator return from their visit to London to see the doctor Rebecca visited, they discover that Manderley is in flames.