About the Book

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

Themes and Analysis

The Girl on the Train

By Paula Hawkins

In Paula Hawkins' intricate 'The Girl on the Train,' themes like abuse, dependence, deceit, the role of women, perception, and memory are analyzed.

‘The Girl on the Train‘ was Paula Hawkins first thriller novel that became a bestseller and got adapted into a prosperous movie.

In the book, themes like mental health, violence, and alcoholism explain the characters’ roles. The author’s evaluation of recollection, addiction, and perception raised a discussion among readers and critics.

While some admire the literary style of unpredictable narrators, others term it ‘disorienting.’ Still, the novel explores emotional and mental states and creates an exciting plot.

Abuse and Dependency

In different parts of ‘The Girl on the Train,’ Rachel evokes pity and frustration from the reader. Her struggles with infertility, the loss of her husband, and her job elicits sympathy, while her overwhelmingly obsessive traits and relentlessness are triggering.

Married to Tom, she becomes an alcoholic who blackouts while indulging in the habit. Her dependency on alcohol temporarily helps her cope with her inability to have a child and escape her husband’s harsh judgment of her. As her condition deteriorates, Tom uses it as an excuse to cheat and finally divorce her.

When this happens, she intensifies her drinking to distract herself from all her losses. She remains fixated on Tom and his new family, refusing to call him an ex. She monitors him and even gets accused of trying to harm his daughter. Rachel’s addiction to alcohol and memory lapses makes her a suspect in Megan’s murder. She also intentionally lies to protect the rest of her damaged image.

Although Rachel’s abuse of alcohol is the most prominent in the novel, Megan and Anna also have odd dependencies that stem from past trauma. Megan is unhappy and unstable because of abuse from a former relationship. When she lost their child, her lover at the time deserted her. Years later, she struggles to settle into a relationship and constantly seeks male validation.

Anna’s dependency is the most subtle of the women. In love with her husband, she becomes overprotective. When she begins to feel insecure, she focuses on her child to escape reality.

In all parts of the book, Hawkins illustrates how the principal characters cultivate habits and addictions from distressing occurrences. While infertility and her divorce are the primary reasons Rachel struggles mentally, Hawkins slowly reveals that years spent with her deceptive and verbally abusive husband contribute to her struggles.

Perception and Memory

The theme of perception is one of the most important in the novel. Hawkins follows a simple narrative style to prove that things are not always as they seem and appearance can be deceptive.

When Rachel catches Megan kissing Kamal from the train window, she concludes they are sexually involved. Hawkins uses presumptions like this to influence the reader’s thought process and move the plot forward. By presenting obscure hints about an event, she stays in control. Using various accounts helps shift attention from one suspect to another.

Rachel’s initial perception of Megan and Scott is perfection. Believing they are happily married, she invests her emotion in their union. In reality, however, Megan deals with feelings of pain and loss. Anna believes Rachel is a threat to her family and becomes insecure.

Using the theme of perception, Hawkins describes how the characters assess themselves, other people, and events. As the story climaxes, it becomes apparent that their judgments are not entirely correct.

Another theme worthy of note in The Girl on the Trainis the theme of memory. Rachel experiences a loss of consciousness while drunk, making her an unfit witness when there is a crime.

While married to Tom, he takes advantage of her inability to recollect events to abuse her. He also gaslights her into accepting she is the abuser. Her poor recollection and Tom’s accusations impale her self-confidence and self-worth. She cruelly judges herself and sinks deeper into psychological disorder.

With the character of Megan, Hawkins shows how the wrong perception of one’s self is as damaging. Pushing herself to forget who she was and her experiences, Megan struggles to fit into her husband’s idea of a wife and Tom’s idea of a lover.

Anna’s peace gets threatened by the memories of her life before marrying Tom. As his mistress, she had watched him effortlessly lie to his wife and is frightened the same is getting done to her.

Finally, Hawkins explains how Rachel’s eventual remembrance of Megan’s disappearance and her life while married to Tom emboldens her to take charge of her future.

Deception and Lies

Hawkins also explores the theme of intentional lies and restrained truths. The characters lie to themselves and each other. Although Rachel has lost her job, she keeps leaving for work to deceive her roommate, Cathy. She lies to the police during the investigation of Megan’s murder and lies to Scott about her friendship with Megan to gain his trust.

The most damaging lie is believing that she lost a good man because of abuse. She thinks the worst of herself because Tom blames her for the end of their marriage.

Tom is a cheating husband at the start, but the extent of his falsehood is narrated chapters into the novel. When his schemes are exposed, he blames Anna for his actions. Megan is also deceptive. She makes her friend lie on her behalf while she hangs out with Tom without her husband’s knowledge. She refuses to document her thoughts like her therapist suggests because she wants her past hidden.

By creating a plot featuring these characters, Hawkins reveals that the relationship between men and women is structured around falsehood and distorted truths. She also describes how secrets lead to tragic consequences.

The Role of Women in the Society

The women in this novel are assessed by their ability to perform traditional gender roles. They define themselves by their ability to fit into structured femininity.

Society’s expectations of women do more harm than good. Hawkins illustrates this in the life of Rachel. She blames herself for her barrenness, becomes depressed, and turns to alcohol. After her divorce, she loses her source of income. People around judge her without an understanding of the catastrophic consequences of betrayal and infertility.

While married to her, Tom degrades her because she fails to live up to societal expectations. With the character of Anna, Hawkins depicts how society puts women in unnecessary competition with each other, making them value male validation over female friendships. Megan’s trauma also makes her dependent on male approval. Both women stop pursuing their careers when they get married.

Hawkins shows the discontentment with total domestication by describing the loss they feel. When Megan accidentally drowns her baby, she does not realize Mac shares a part of the blame for the negligence of his child. She blames herself for Libby’s death and Mac’s abandonment. Rachel realizes Tom played a part in Megan’s death and tries to rescue Anna, but she refuses to accept the truth to protect her marriage. Eventually, though, Rachel and Anna kill their manipulator and reclaim their lives.

Hawkins shows in ‘The Girl on the Train’ how the overburdening society desert women in their most vulnerable state, and only they can save themselves.

Analysis of Key Moments

  • Rachel obsesses over Megan and Scott.
  • Megan Watson’s disappearance. Rachel initially believes she ran off with her lover.
  • Rachel’s account as a witness gets questioned because she is an alcoholic and mentally unstable.
  • Rachel tries to recall what happened on the night of Megan’s disappearance with no success.
  • Megan’s body is found, and Rachel’s unreliability and interference in the investigation make her a suspect.
  • Scott becomes a suspect, and Rachel tries to help him uncover the truth. However, she lies to gain his trust.
  • Scott discovers he was deceived and harasses Rachel briefly.
  • Anna finds Megan’s phone in Tom’s gym bag.
  • Rachel’s memory gets restored, and she discovers Tom was present on the night Megan was killed.
  • Rachel tries to save Anna from her murderous husband.
  • Rachel confronts Tom about his involvement in Megan’s death, and he confesses.
  • Tom tries to kill Rachel, but she kills him instead, getting support from Anna.

Style, Tone, and Figurative Language

The story of ‘The Girl on the Train is written in an informal and suspenseful tone. Hawkins employs a first-person narrative style, short, segmented sentences, and repetition.

Metaphors and similes are used in the description of the settings and characters. The tone is gloomy and emphasizes the emotions and struggles of the characters in ‘The Girl on the Train.’

Analysis of Symbols

The Train

The train symbolizes Rachel’s life journey. It represents her confinement and inability to move on from her former life. While watching a train pass by, Megan and Anna fantasize about escaping from domesticity.


Alcohol symbolizes Rachel’s desire to self-destruct. Although aware of the horrible consequences of drunkenness, she continues the habit. She also uses alcohol to escape from her reality temporarily.


What similarities did Rachel, Megan, and Anna have in the novel?

In ‘The Girl on the Train,’ the narrators share some affinities. First, all three women are unreliable narrators. Their contorted truths and disorganized thoughts make it hard to trust their accounts. Also, they are victims of the society they live in and personal traumas like unplanned murder, insecurity, abuse, and addiction. Finally, the three women were sexually involved with Tom at one point, whether as a mistress or wife.

What is the significance of memory in ‘The Girl on the Train?’

Hawkins examines the idea of recollection lapses and how memory can get altered by trauma, addiction, depression, and assault. Rachel cannot deliver proper accounts of events when she is drunk. Her blackouts also let her husband get away with abusing her for a long time. Megan’s slow explanation of the events in her past life creates suspense. Finally, Hawkins analyses the concept of perception based on the distorted memories of the characters.

How was Rachel affected by her discovery of Tom’s affair with Megan?

At first, Rachel remains fixated on Tom even when he has moved on. However, when she discovers Tom was sexually involved with Megan and even the last to see her alive, she doubts her memory and marriage to him. She eventually tackles the feeling of loss that drove her to obsession. She realizes Tom was the problem all this time, and she was his victim.

What is the importance of Rachel’s daily ride on the train?

Rachel’s train ride is a metaphor for her life. Although she is constantly moving, she remains stagnant. Also, while on the train, Rachel creates her opinion of people based on assumptions. The train is a device used by the author to get Rachel involved in the disappearance of Megan. She becomes obsessed with Megan and Scott, and when Megan goes missing, she wants to solve the mystery.

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.
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