Course Hero. "The Girl on the Train Study Guide." Course Hero. 3 Aug. 2017. Web. 18 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Girl-on-the-Train/>.
Course Hero. (2017, August 3). The Girl on the Train Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 18, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Girl-on-the-Train/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "The Girl on the Train Study Guide." August 3, 2017. Accessed July 18, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Girl-on-the-Train/.
Course Hero, "The Girl on the Train Study Guide," August 3, 2017, accessed July 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Girl-on-the-Train/.
The novel begins with Rachel's description of a pile of clothes left near the track. The clothes are a symbol for displacement and abandonment, a theme that permeates the novel. They seem out of place near the track, as does Rachel in the commuter train, given she does not have a job to commute to. Rachel is displaced, renting the spare bedroom in a friend's apartment after her divorce. Megan also feels out of place in her marriage to Scott and longs for her job as a gallery manager. The clothes have been abandoned, like Rachel, whose husband left her for another woman, and like Megan, who has been abandoned by her boyfriend Mac after their baby's death.
The clothes remain in their place through almost the entire novel, symbolizing immobility. Rachel is stuck in her past, longing for the perfect marriage she supposedly lost, wanting to go back to the house now occupied by somebody else. Megan, too, longs for her life as a gallery manager, and beyond that, the sense of innocence and hope she had before her brother's death. Even Anna longs for her better past, for the life of carefree abandon before she became a mother.
At the same time, the clothes are a harbinger of the future, taking on a vital role in unraveling the mystery of Megan's disappearance and murder. In the police report, Megan is described by her clothes, jeans and a red T-shirt. But at first Rachel does not remember having seen a woman that fits that description. Instead, she remembers a woman in a blue dress. Slowly her subconscious begins circling the truth of what she saw when she realizes that the woman she remembers walking away from her is Anna, pointing to Tom's presence in the underpass, but that the woman actually getting into Tom's car wore jeans and a red T-shirt.
In contrast to the high-speed technology that trains often represent, the commuter train Rachel uses moves past the same row of houses day in and day out and frequently breaks down. Rachel is stuck at a dead end, pointlessly commuting to a job she no longer has and a home where nobody waits for her.
Similarly, Megan watches the trains go by her house, imagining the exotic trips to faraway lands she and her brother wanted to take but never did. Like Rachel she is stuck in her present life, on a track to nowhere. Tragically she is on a track toward a violent death, symbolizing eternal immobility.
Windows and doors in the novel symbolize isolation and separation. Rachel sits behind the window of the train, isolated from the life she imagines behind the windows and doors of the houses that roll by. She is twice removed from the reality of these lives, which becomes abundantly clear when it turns out that the imagined happy life Jess and Jason lived is in fact as troubled as her own. Similarly, she peeks through the windows of Tom and Anna's house, imagining the perfect life she believes was within her grasp but that slipped through her fingers and is now lost.
At the same time, the windows and doors point to the secrets that lie hidden behind the drawn curtains and locked doors of suburban homes. The cookie-cutter houses, supposedly providing the scenery to the wholesome life of families, are revealed as nothing but facades that hide abusive relationships, where husbands and wives cheat upon and destroy each other.