Study Guide

The Girl on the Train Repetition

By Paula Hawkins

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The Wheels on the Train Go Round and Round (and Round)

If only the three point of view characters in the book would talk to one another, they might see how similar they all are, and then they might not feel as lonely. But since they isolate themselves from one another, they never see the similarities. We as readers, however, do. There are many instances of repetition from one character to the next—not because of lazy writing, but instead as a subtle way of showing what these women have in common.

The first instance is when Megan is "spoiling for a fight" (2.16) with Scott in Chapter 2. Anna uses the same phrase, "spoiling for a fight" (20.13), with Tom in Chapter 20. Megan and Anna like drama and both experience their fair share on the home front.

But Megan and Anna don't have a monopoly on the drama; Rachel loves it, too. For instance, she "want[s] to be at the heart of" (9.46) the investigation. Rachel and Megan also think similarly. At one point, Megan's thoughts go "round and round and round" (16.1), when the chapter before, Rachel, feeling betrayed, describes the feeling as a "dagger in [her] heart twist[ing], round and round and round" (15.85). When an author repeats language in the very next chapter, you can pretty much count on it being intentional and an attempt to draw your eye to similarities.

On the other side of drama, both Rachel and Megan go to therapy and get the same results. Megan says, "I feel lighter, I think, freer" (22.35), while Rachel says she feels "lighter, more hopeful" (21.64). While the similarities just don't quit, it's not all light and hope, and both women get injured in similar ways at different times. Rachel cuts her finger on a knife, and Megan cuts her hand climbing a fence. And then Megan almost gets hit by a car after stepping off a curb, while Rachel does get hit by a car after stepping off a curb.

Rachel also gets violent. She smashed her and Tom's wedding photo after he went to Vegas instead of saving for a second round of IVF, and when she finds Scott and Megan's smashed wedding photo, she thinks "sometimes you just don't get round to getting them fixed" (27.48). She feels a little sympathy for Scott in this moment, who threw his photo after Megan admitted the affair. Which brings us to this: It's not just the women who have similarities. The men do, too.

Scott and Tom, for instance, are both totally capable of violence, though Tom obviously takes the cake since he's a murderer. And similarities extend across genders, too. Scott, worried Megan is having an affair, checks her e-mail, and Anna checks Tom's e-mail when she suspects him of cheating, too. Since both Megan and Tom are adulterers, their spouses actually have reasons to be so suspicious.

But why does all this overlap and repetition matter? It prevents anyone from just being the good guy. All of the major players in this book are a combination of sympathetic and unsympathetic (even though our sympathy for Tom ultimately disappears), making it easy to root for each of them in moments—and near impossible to do so in others. 

The Girl on the Train Repetition Study Group

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