Emptiness and silence pervade Hopper's scenes. New Yorkers find themselves alone in the supposed privacy of their homes and hotel rooms, but also in the public realm of restaurants, lobbies, theaters, and the street. In New England, houses and lighthouses stand secluded on hillsides or along the coast. In Gas, a scene from Truro, a lone attendant adjusts the nozzle at a deserted rural filling station. The lanky figure (not unlike that of the artist) echoes the form of each pump, whose progression in the center of the canvas leads the viewer down the empty country road. In other works, the presence of additional figures—a fellow diner, traveller, colleague, or spouse—only renders the isolation more acute by unfulfilled promises of true companionship.

Hopper's paintings invite endless interpretation; they have been variously described as representations of loneliness, alienation, melancholy, or solitude. Hopper, however, cast doubt on such readings, noting, "the loneliness thing is overdone." Over the years when prompted, he offered several explanations for his paintings, often defining them in personal terms: "Great art," he wrote, "is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world."