Last Updated on February 1, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1407
Rachel is the protagonist of Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train and one of the book’s three narrators. She is an alcoholic and spends her days riding the train, looking out the window at the houses, and people, on her route. She is particularly fascinated by a seemingly perfect couple she calls Jason and Jess, who are really called Scott and Megan. Rachel’s marriage to Tom ended with Tom’s adulterous affair with a woman called Anna; Tom and Anna have now married and have a new baby.
Rachel’s obsession with Tom, combined with her drinking, leads her to harass him and Anna. She intrudes on their lives with her constant phone calls and even visits. She envies their life together in the house she once shared with Tom, and she envies that they have a child, particularly as she was unable to become pregnant when she was with Tom.
When Megan goes missing, Rachel visits Megan’s husband, Scott, to help him find out what happened to her, but the police begin to suspect Rachel of being involved in Megan's murder. Because of her drinking and the blackouts she experiences when drunk, she even questions her own actions and wonders if she was somehow involved in Megan’s murder.
Rachel wants to help Scott because she believes in his innocence. She thinks,
Scott ... needs my help, because it’s obvious the police will suspect that he’s done something to her, and I know it isn’t true, because I know him.
In reality, Rachel does not know Scott at all, beyond having seen him from the train window. He is virtually a stranger to her, but in her mind, she has concocted an entire story around him and Megan and their love for one another. Even though Rachel’s reasoning is flawed, her conclusion that Scott is not the real killer is right.
Rachel does not suspect Tom of Megan’s murder until the very end of the book. She has blacked out and cannot remember what happened on the night that Megan died. Finally, when she and Tom confront one another, he blames her for everything that has happened. She says,
I can feel a sob building in the back of my throat, but I swallow it down. This is what he does—this is what he always does. He’s a master at it, making me feel as though everything is my fault, making me feel worthless.
At the end of the book, after it is revealed that Tom was a liar and murderer, Rachel wonders, “If I’d been sober all those years, would I have known?”
Tom is Rachel’s ex-husband and Anna’s husband. His adulterous affair with Anna led to his divorce from Rachel, and he is later unfaithful to Anna with Megan.
Tom manipulates Rachel and the other women in his life, seeing their insecurities and weaknesses and playing upon them. He makes Rachel believe that the breakup of their marriage, and even his murder of Megan, was Rachel’s fault.
While Tom appears to be charming on the surface, underneath he is dangerous, and his immorality extends well beyond his infidelity to the women in his life. He might not intend to kill Megan, but he does everything he can to cover up her murder and misdirect the police.
Megan is one of the novel’s three narrators. (Rachel, who sees Megan and her husband from the train window, initially refers to the two as Jess and Jason.) She is married to Scott, who appears to love her but does not give her much space. Megan feels she cannot return Scott’s love fully, partially because she is harboring a terrible secret from her past. This secret informs all of her actions and her emotions. It also leaves her terrified at the thought of becoming a mother, while Scott would love to become a father; this is one of the major conflicts between the two.
Megan ultimately enters into an adulterous relationship with Tom. She becomes obsessed with him and goes to great lengths to deceive Scott. Megan tells her friend Tara to help cover for her one evening when she plans to see Tom. She thinks,
I know Scott has ways of finding what I’ve been up to anyway, being the techie he is, but it takes a lot longer, so most of the time he doesn’t bother.
Megan’s therapist believes that Scott is abusing Megan emotionally and tells her,
The behaviour you’re describing—reading your emails, going through your internet browser history—you describe all this as though it is commonplace, as though it is normal. It isn’t, Megan. It isn’t normal to invade someone’s privacy to that degree. It’s what is often seen as a form of emotional abuse.
Megan does not see Scott’s behavior clearly, nor does she realize how dangerous Tom can be when he is confronted. This mistake in judgment ultimately leads to her murder by Tom.
Anna is one of the three narrators of The Girl on the Train. Her affair with Tom ended Tom’s marriage to Rachel, and she believes that she, Tom, and their new baby, Evie, are happy.
He comes over to me and, with our daughter between us, kisses me. “We are happy,” he says. We are ... When I look at Tom, I thank God that he found me, too, that I was there to rescue him from that woman.
Tom has told Anna horrible things about Rachel, and even now that they are married, he complains about the constant emails that Rachel allegedly sends him. Anna does not recognize Tom’s true nature or that he consistently lies to her.
At the end of the book, Anna tells the police that Tom was threatening Rachel and that Rachel had to kill him in self-defense.
Scott is Megan’s husband. He would like to have a family with Megan but does not realize that Megan does not want to have children. When she disappears, Scott is devastated.
Scott appears on the surface to be very much in love with his wife, but Megan describes him as “jealous” and “possessive.” The couple often fight, and Scott invades her privacy by going through her emails and browser history—behaviors Megan’s therapist points to as emotionally abusive. Scott has no idea that Megan has been having an affair with Tom. After Megan goes missing, a neighbor comes forward to report that he and Megan had argued recently. The newspaper account says that
Scott admitted that they argued, and said that he believed his wife had gone to spend the night with a friend, Tara Epstein, who lives in Corly ... Megan never got to Tara’s house.
Ultimately, after the truth comes out that it was Tom who killed Megan, Rachel tries to apologize to Scott for all the lies she told him, but he does not respond.
Gaskill and Riley
Detective Inspectors Gaskill and Riley are the police officers who investigate Megan’s disappearance and murder. They investigate Scott because many murders are committed by spouses and because he was heard arguing loudly with Megan just before her disappearance. They also find Rachel’s behavior suspicious, however, and they question her intensely when they catch her in the many lies she tells:
Riley and Gaskill exchanged a look, I wasn’t sure if it was irritation or amusement. I could taste the sweat on my upper lip.
They believe that Rachel might have killed Megan, viewing her as a surrogate for Anna. They say:
The night Megan went missing, we have reports that you—an unstable woman who had been drinking heavily—were seen on the street where she lives. Bearing in mind that there are some physical similarities between Megan and Mrs. Watson—
The detectives warn Rachel to stay away from Tom and not to go near his house, which is adjacent to Scott’s.
Cathy is Rachel's landlady and old college acquaintance. Rachel describes her as her "half-friend," by which she means that they are not particularly close. Nevertheless, after Tom keeps the house that he and Rachel shared, Rachel moves in with Cathy. Eventually, Cathy tells Rachel that she cannot stand living with a drunk any longer, and she asks Rachel to move out.