About the Book

Book Protagonist: Rachel Watson
Publication Date: 2015
Genre: Non-Fiction, Romance, Suspense and Thriller

Historical Context

The Girl on the Train

By Paula Hawkins

Set in present-day London, 'The Girl on the Train' addresses the societal expectations of women and features some forms of gender discrimination.

‘The Girl on the Train’ possesses historical factors that reveal the social and cultural system of the early 2010s. Some include gender role depiction, social media influence, perception, the development of the domestic thriller genre, and the state of London and England in the 2010s.

Although the exact year is unnamed, the novel is set in modern times when the usage of smartphones and the domestic thriller genre were becoming quite popular.

London and England in the 2010s

The novel reflects the financial crisis of 2008 that turned residents against asylum seekers and immigrants and significantly affected the economy of London in the 2010s. This deterioration manifests in the struggles of the book’s characters, especially Rachel Watson, who loses her job and strives to survive.

Although The Girl on the Train‘ has a fictitious plot, it is in London and its neighboring environs. The book’s title references the commuter train regularly congested with tired passengers. The train is always behindhand because of irrelevant stops owing to broken signals. In the novel, Paula Hawkins portrays a suburban community with battered Victorian-style houses depicting a decline in the city.

Development of the Domestic Thriller Genre

In 2013, England witnessed many notorious crimes that gained media popularity. The kidnapping and murder of five-year-old April Jones, the trial of Amanda Knox, the murder of Lee Rigby, and the trial of Ian Watkins for child assault were some of them. These cases arguably promoted a clime where violence was a serious concern to citizens and fueled attraction to the mysterious aspects of life.

The popularity of these events led to a revived interest in villainy and thrillers that shared related concepts. The public’s increasing fascination with the investigation of felonies and the dangers beneath the surface of everyday life led to the growth of the thriller genre.

Historically, the domestic thriller genre is traced to the 1940s and 1950s when authors like Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith delved into the darker sides of local life. The genre became more familiar in the 1980s and 1990s with writers like Ruth Rendell and Tana French.

Upon this existing literary culture, Paula Hawkins created the story of ‘The Girl on the Train.’ However, she initiated new features, like untrustworthy narrators and multiple viewpoints. Using confusing and unpredictable accounts kept the reader anxious and uncertain until the end.

Along with this, various narrations presented complex and different perspectives. Paula Hawkins’ creative descriptive style generated many imitations and brought the genre to a broader audience.

Gender Roles Depiction

‘The Girl on the Train’ examines the interchange of gender and power. It also mirrors the effects of expected traditional roles on women.

Gender roles in London in the 2010s were transforming as more fluid gender identities, and non-traditional gender duties became more famous. Women in London got jobs that were initially dominated by men. Fields like finance and politics saw the ingress of women even though there was a notable imbalance in pay and career growth of both genders.

The struggle for equality also permeated the home life. Unconventional family arrangements like single-parenthood and same-gender parents gained tangible approval. Emphasis was on partners sharing workloads and responsibilities.

In ‘The Girl on the Train,’ Rachel Watson is a divorced woman whose addiction to alcohol is linked to her inability to have a child. She finds succor in drunkenness and eventually loses her husband to it.

On the other hand, Anne Watson is a wife and mother committed to traditional gender roles, yet she struggles with unfulfillment. She constantly tries to convince herself she is happy with her choices when she is not worrying about Rachel Watson’s involvement in her family life.

The Unreliable Narrator

Although the idea of an unreliable narrator has existed for years, the term got coined by Wayne C. Booth in ‘The Rhetoric of Fiction.’ This work of literary criticism stated that unreliable narrators involved a style that told the story through a describer whose credibility is compromised owing to biases or a deliberate attempt to misdirect the reader. Gillian Flynn’s 2012 ‘Gone Girl’ applied such a technique.

There was a sudden rise in artful and experimental writing styles in the 2010s. Several London-based writers started testing various storylines and narrations to produce more complicated and distinctive works.

An unreliable narrator is used to conceal clues, mislead the reader, and challenge assumptions. This style of writing promotes anxiousness and intrigue.

Social Media Influence

The 2010s was a decade of fast technological development in London. Around the time ‘The Girl on the Train’ was published, social media was already prevalent in contemporary society. Platforms like Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram quickly became popular, and users exchanged pictures and other content. Awareness of police brutality and racial discrimination got raised using hashtags like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.

‘The Girl on the Train’ displays characters using phones and computers to stay connected with family and friends and get the latest news and entertainment. Social media also defines the characters’ perceptions of others and themselves in the novel.

Rachel Watson turns to social media to divert her attention from her woes and stalk her ex-husband’s new family. Anna Watson fights to maintain a perfect image on social media.

‘The Girl on the Train’ highlights the contrast between the characters’ public personalities and their private lives.


What was the social and cultural climate during the time in which ‘The Girl on the Train’ was set?

Set in contemporary times in London, England, the social and cultural climate at the time was represented by economic decline, evolving cultural behaviors, and technological developments.

What were the reactions to mental health and addiction in London in the mid-twentieth century?

In the mid-twentieth century, mental health and addiction were misperceived and poorly treated in various parts of London. Mental health challenges were considered individual faults, and addiction was a moral shortcoming. People with mental health issues received bad treatment in many parts of London.

What was a prevalent cultural belief in London during the 2010s?

‘The Girl on the Train’ is set in the early 2010s when Westernized societies concentrated on self-sufficiency, capitalism, and increasing awareness of social deference. Self-improvement, wealth, and achievements were important cultural values during this time.

How did development in technology during the mid-twentieth century shape the events of ‘The Girl on the Train‘?

Although technological development during the mid-twentieth century did not directly influence the occurrences or settings in ‘The Girl on the Train,’ it addressed the effects of modern technology. Mobile phones, laptops, and social media usage feature in the characters’ lives.

Fave Ehimwenma
About Fave Ehimwenma
Fave Ehimwenma is a proficient writer, researcher, and content creator whose love for art and books drives her passion for literature reviews.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap
Share to...