Book Summary and Analysis |

Fiction | Mystery and Crime



Summary and Critique of

Paula Hawkins’s
The Girl on the Train

by J.B. Feliciton

Copyright©2015 J.B. Feliciton. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.

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Keeping Up Appearances

The novel emphasizes the strict social expectations placed on women in modern patriarchal society. Rachel thinks that she fails to be a good woman because she cannot have children. Megan is unable to be a good wife, but she tries to act like one to keep up appearances. Anna is concerned with keeping up the status of a physically attractive woman. In the final scene, Anna becomes more upset by the fact that she is compared to a fat and unattractive woman than by the disturbing behavior of her husband.


Women’s Marginalization

The novel portrays how easily women can be manipulated to question themselves and trust male authority. It questions the belief that a woman is worthy only when she is thin and attractive. It questions the existing societal conventions when Rachel says, “Let’s be honest: women are still only really valued for two things—their looks and their roles as mothers. I’m not beautiful, and I can’t have kids, so what does that make me? Worthless.” Rachel assumes that being a mother and being a thin woman who is loved by her man is all that there is to being a female human. Consequently, she expects that other people will dislike and disapprove of her just because she is fat and has no children.



Rachel believes that only the traditional role of motherhood can justify any woman’s existence. She is not willing to work on herself as a person, and she blames her inability to have children for her emotional, spiritual and intellectual emptiness and for her lack of control over her own life.

Rachel’s story emphasizes how different people have different expectations from parenthood. Today, experts on relationships and self-improvement tell women that they have to have friends, interests, hobbies and intellectual pursuits in order to build a happy relationship with a man. However, Rachel is one of those people who does not apply the same idea to the relationship between a mother and her child. That is, Rachel is convinced that a woman does not have to work on her own personal development and enrichment in order to be a good mother. Instead, she expects that the act of biological reproduction will automatically make her a praiseworthy parent and human being.


Deception and Adultery

Adultery is one of the repeating motifs in The Girl on the Train. It is affects the lives of all of the main characters. In the beginning, the reader learns that Rachel is in a deep depression because her husband Tom cheated on her and left her for another woman. Anna, Tom’s former mistress and new wife, has warm memories about her affair with Tom. She enjoyed being a mistress and never felt sorry for any pain her affair caused Rachel. Anna finds out how it feels to be betrayed when she learns about Tom’s affair with Megan. Megan feels that her affairs with men empower her.

Deception is another main theme of the novel. Rachel deceives herself when she chooses to believe that she can handle her addiction to alcohol. As a result, she is unable remember the events that occurred on the night Megan goes missing. Tom has deceived Rachel and Anna with his adulteries. Tom also deceives Rachel when he uses her drunken blackouts to distort her recollection of the events on the night when Megan disappeared. He also uses her drunken blackouts to make her think that she attacked him when they were married. His lies prevent Rachel from realizing that he may be capable of violence and murder. Megan hides the dark secrets of her past from Scott so that he cannot understand why she is so unhappy. Rachel lies to Scott when she pretends to be Megan’s friend.

Deception and adultery are among the reasons for Megan’s death, and personal deceptions of the leading characters in the novel make it difficult to find the truth behind Megan’s disappearance and murder.


Self-Gratification and Egotism

Self-gratification and egotism is another theme in the novel. While Megan is overwhelmed by personal issues from the past that she is unable to escape, she uses physical connections with other men to make herself feel valued and empowered and support her dreams about running away. Tom is a habitual adulterer who places his self-gratification above the interests of women in his life. He does not have a problem with spending big money on his own vacations while ignoring the needs and wishes of his family (that is, Rachel’s wish for more treatments to get pregnant, Anna’s wish to sell the house and move somewhere else). When it comes to Tom’s affairs, he does not admit his own selfishness. Instead, he blames his ex-wife Rachel and then his second wife Anna for his own infidelity, claiming that their behavior made him become unfaithful. Moreover, he blames other people for the crime that he commits.


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