Study Guide

The Girl on the Train Memory and the Past

By Paula Hawkins

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Memory and the Past

I have lost control over everything. Even the places in my head. (1.25)

It's hard to tell whether Rachel lost control of her life and her job because of her drinking, or if those losses caused the dark places inside her mind.

I close my eyes and let the darkness grow and spread until it morphs from a feeling of sadness into something worse: a memory, a flashback. (1.40)

This is the first instance of Rachel meditating on a bad memory and trying to dissect it. It becomes a recurring motif throughout the novel.

I can't risk looking backwards, it's always a bad idea. (2.14)

This is another similar-but-different situation with Megan and Rachel. Both of them hate their memories, but Megan wants to run from them while Rachel wants to get up the nerve to confront them.

If I turned right here I'd go up past my gallery—what was my gallery, now a vacant shop window—but I don't want to, because that still hurts a little. (2.46)

The past almost <em>always </em>hurts in this book. The characters would be much better off if they could focus on the future. You know, as if they were on something that only moved in one direction… something on a track going forward… there's some sort of vehicle just like this… it's on the tip of our tongue, but we can't think of it…

I feel certain that I was in an argument, or that I witnessed an argument. […] Every time I think I'm about to seize the moment, it drifts back into the shadow, just beyond my reach. (3.83)

The book is peppered with moments in which Rachel tries to recover lost memories. Trying to catch them is like trying to remember a dream (or a nightmare) shortly after waking.

I have a memory of ducking down to avoid a blow, raising my hands. Is that a real memory? (5.14)

Some of Rachel's memories don't feel real because her ex-husband, Tom, has been telling her lies about what happened. Rachel has to rationalize what she thinks happened with what Tom says happened, causing confusion.

I'm going to Witney instead. I'm hoping that being there will jog my memory, that I'll get to the station and I'll see everything clearly, I'll know. (7.1)

Returning to the scene of the crime (literally) helps Rachel piece things together. The sights, sounds, and smells of the underpass serve as small trigger.

There is nothing to remember. It is, will always be, a black hole in my timeline. (7.212)

Both Rachel and Megan have these black holes in their timelines, and they do different things to fill them. Rachel either drinks or tries to confront her memories head on, while Megan runs from them, having affairs to try to help her forget.

"Please, try to remember, Rachel." (19.61)

When Rachel hears this plea from someone else (Scott), it inspires her even more to dig deep into her psyche. She needs the external motivation to really get digging.

"The memory doesn't fit with the reality, because I don't remember anger, raging fury. I remember fear." (25.62)

Zeroing in on her emotions is what ultimately helps Rachel remember what is real and what isn't. Her emotions line up with her memories.

The Girl on the Train Memory and the Past Study Group

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