Isolation is one of the major themes of this story. Although the novel is narrated in a voice that uses the personal plural pronoun “we” (a form often used inside the corporate world to make everyone feel like part of a group) and insinuates a sense of solidarity, this is far from the truth. The connections between the main characters are very fragile and are perhaps not even real. There is very little empathy or deep understanding of other people’s emotions. Coworkers are often looked upon merely as entertainment. For example, the callousness of office life is exposed when a betting pool is set up to guess the date that one coworker will die from lung cancer. Coworkers scrutinize one another, search for any weak spots, and try to provoke a negative reaction. And at the same time, they defensively hide behind their own emotional walls, hoping to keep their personal feelings and fears to themselves.
The theme of imprisonment is reflected in the tasks that the characters must perform at the ad agency. They waste their creative energies coming up with pictures and stories that will entice and entrap the general population into buying their clients’ products. They do this for nothing but the money that will allow them to also go out and buy products. Trapped in a world of consumerism, most of the characters have shut away the idealism of their youth, their dreams of being novelists and great artists or of working at other jobs that are more rewarding. Afraid to break away, they force-feed themselves ad-like messages about how they must stay at the agency because they have house payments or children who need to be fed.
Hidden beneath the characters’ quiet despair are subtle hints of compassion and the desire to reach out beyond self-limitations. This is displayed first when one coworker loses her young daughter in a brutal murder. It is displayed again when the characters become aware that their boss has breast cancer. But these emotions are quickly buried or lost when the writers and artists are distracted by their own lives. A genuine, long-term connection seems to be impossible in the corporate world of Ferris’ novel.