Study Guide

The Girl on the Train Memory and the Past

By Paula Hawkins

Memory and the Past

Murder mysteries rely on witnesses, and problems arise when the witnesses are unreliable. Rachel isn't unreliable because she's a liar; she's unreliable because she literally can't remember what happened, no matter how hard she tries. Almost every theme in The Girl on the Train branches off from Rachel's alcoholism, and her memory is no different. At times, it feels like Rachel's past lies at the bottom of a bottle. She can't see it through the alcohol, but if she drinks it all, she'll pass out before she sees what lies beneath. The first two-thirds of the book are Rachel's struggle to remember.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. What does Rachel remember at the end of the book, and how does her recovered memory change your perception of certain characters?
  2. If Rachel didn't have memory loss, how would the book be different?
  3. Would you consider Rachel an unreliable narrator?
  4. How does Tom manipulate Rachel's memories?

Chew on This

Rachel's memory is like a black hole. Unfortunately, she drinks to fill this hole, which only makes the hole larger.

Rachel isn't the only one with a complicated relationship with the past. Megan's past—the death of her brother and her baby—also cause a hole in her, affecting almost everything she does.