The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In The Girl on the Train, what function does it serve to have three narrators?

    Having three narrators - Rachel, Megan, and Anna - allows Hawkins to build suspense and dramatic irony through what certain characters know and do not know. For example, the reader knows that Megan will be killed before she experiences it by witnessing the investigation through the narration of Rachel and Anna. Furthermore, Hawkins advances the idea that things are often not as perfect as they seem to outsiders by showing the personal and relationship problems of the three women from their own points of view.

  2. 2

    How does time, particularly the skips in time between narrators, play a role in The Girl on the Train?

    Hawkins primarily uses time skips to create suspense, often showing the reader things from Rachel’s point of view before they have happened to Megan or Anna. This is especially true for the skips backwards in time for Megan’s narration, which starts a year before her disappearance and slowly gives readers clues about her murderer while the investigation goes on in Rachel and Anna’s present time. The marking of time from morning to evening each day underscores the repetitive and slow pace of life for the three women, all of whom often feel restless in their routines. Specifically for Rachel, this repetitive marking of time also becomes significant when there are gaps, often signaling a time when she was too drunk or depressed to narrate.

  3. 3

    What role does Kamal Abdic play in The Girl on the Train?

    Kamal Abdic plays two major roles in the story. Firstly, he is the major suspect of the police and the reader as Megan’s murderer after Scott. It is implied that he and Megan are in a sexual relationship which could have led to him killing her. His presence in the story and importantly in Megan’s early narration distracts from Tom’s carefully unspecified involvement in her life.

    Secondly, Adbic’s profession as a therapist allows Hawkins to have characters think through moments in their earlier lives which influence their actions and feelings during the story. It is at Dr. Abdic’s suggestion that Rachel forgoes thoughts of hypnotherapy in favor of returning to the underpass and focusing on other senses, which eventually help her to solve the case before the police.

  4. 4

    What is the role of alcohol in The Girl on the Train?

    The effects of alcohol are central to this mystery novel and set up the major conflict. Rachel has witnessed key information about Megan’s murder but cannot and may not ever access these memories due to her blackout. Besides this, Rachel’s abuse of alcohol sets her up as an unreliable and at times unlikable narrator; the reader must be careful to monitor what Rachel is drinking to analyze the validity of her thoughts and feelings, and predict the results of her interactions with others. In general, drinking is presented as both the cause and the effect of negative circumstances; beyond Rachel’s drinking, both Anna and Megan choose to drink wine when they are feeling upset, often leading to dangerous decisions such as Anna snooping on Tom’s computer and Megan kissing Kamal Abdic.

  5. 5

    How does Megan’s troubled past play a role in The Girl on the Train?

    At only fifteen, Megan’s brother died and Megan ran away from home, eventually settling down with an older boy named Mac for around four years before the death of their child and dissolution of their relationship. These early and significant encounters with love and death set Megan up to not truly trust herself in her relationships and seek control through extramarital affairs, especially as they affirm her womanhood shaken by the death of her child. Furthermore, the fact that Megan had previously run away when faced by a difficult situation lays the false idea that Megan may have run away rather than being murdered in the current situation.

  6. 6

    How does Hawkins portray women and the role of women in society in The Girl on the Train?

    Though Hawkins's three narrators are female, giving the female voice a central place in the story, the values by which the main female characters - Rachel, Megan, and Anna - live and are judged by others largely conform with traditional portrayals of women defined by looks and the ability to give birth. All three women are jobless, though they have held jobs, and the two women who are married depend on their husbands for both monetary and a good deal of emotional support. The main difference between Rachel and Anna is Anna's ability to start a stable family with Tom by having a child, since Rachel's downward spiral into joblessness and a drinking problem begins when she cannot conceive. These problems have even led to the further diminishing of Rachel's womanhood. She is often scoffed at for no longer being thin and good-looking since her inability to become a mother and subsequent failed relationship led her to drinking and insomnia.

  7. 7

    Crucial to The Girl on the Train is the relationship between truth and memory. How objective or “true” can a memory, by definition, really be? Can memory lie? If so, what factors might influence it?

    The fallibility of memory is highly important in criminal cases as what is remembered is not always the truth; often it is colored by emotion at and after the time of the event, and affected by more recent memories. As Dr. Kamal Abdic warns, especially in the case of a "blackout," one cannot expect to regain full memories, especially by techniques like hypnosis. This creates a difficult situation for Rachel and for readers, as they seek the truth through memories that may or may not be colored by inebriation, emotion, and fantasy. Even while Hawkins affirms the truth in some of the more important revelations Rachel makes, leading to the solving of the case, Hawkins points to the fallibility of Rachel's memory through her character's confusion over the clothing of the woman she saw getting into Tom's car on the night of Megan's disappearance. Rachel also has a dream in which the incorrect clothing plays a central role, pointing to the problems of interpreting dreams as memories or reflections of reality.

  8. 8

    Characters often make assumptions about Rachel based on the information they have about her. From where do these different assumptions stem? How, as the reader, did your assumptions or perceptions about Rachel change throughout the book?

    Most characters interacting with Rachel throughout the novel cast her in a negative light - from Anna, Tom, and Scott, to strangers on the train and throughout London, to the detectives working Megan's case. However, through Rachel's memories of her earlier life and her discussions with Kamal Abdic, the reader comes to realize that circumstance has created the Rachel at whom people currently scoff. A majority of the societal disdain Rachel receives comes from alcoholism and public drunkenness, something Rachel is working to tackle at the conclusion of the book, resulting in a hopeful tone as the book closes.

  9. 9

    Rachel is the character who spends the most time narrating, followed by Megan and then Anna. How would the book be different if Megan or Anna were the primary narrator?

    Rachel is perhaps the most interesting and infuriating main narrator for the story because of the problems she has with memory and perception due to her alcoholism. Thus, by focusing on Rachel, Hawkins presents readers with many clues but weaves a complex tale by casting doubt on Rachel's perceptive abilities and having Rachel often entrench herself in more confusing situations by following her emotions or desire for escape.

    Using the narration of Megan and Anna less than half of the time allows them to protect Tom from the reader's view much of the time. Megan never refers to him by name during their affair and Anna often glosses over any issues in their marriage in favor of narrating a perfect fairy tale of a life. Had Megan or Anna been more at the forefront, therefore, much of the suspense of the story would likely have been lost.

  10. 10

    In what ways will a film adaptation be better and worse at tackling the plot and suspense of The Girl on the Train? What things from the novel may need to change for a film production and audience?

    The film adaptation will face a challenge as it is often easier to portray first-person narrative tales and especially psychological thrillers through text. However, the film will have the chance to create an intensely emotional and visual portrayal of the mystery. Perhaps most difficult for the film will be the scenes in which Megan is with the man she is having an affair with, since the film will need to imply that she is with Kamal Abdic while in reality she is with Tom. A lesser problem might be the portrayal of Rachel herself, in that a balance must be struck between her instability - a main feature of her character and of the suspense her narration creates - and the "likeability" films often must imbue their characters with as a means to engage viewers.