Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. 

The Intersection of Race and Class 

Leave the World Behind demonstrates how people’s prejudiced attitudes come to the surface when race and class intersect in ways that challenge their biased beliefs.  When G. H. and Ruth, who are Black, knock on the door of their vacation house in the middle of the night, the white renters immediately distrust their story of a power outage in New York City. Although G. H. and Ruth display the trappings of wealth, including expensive clothes, nice manners, and a luxury car, Clay and Amanda struggle to accept that a Black couple could own such a stunning vacation home. Feeling a sense of ownership, Clay and Amanda see G. H. and Ruth as intruders on their weeklong fantasy that the home is theirs. Even after G. H. offers to refund their money, the couple feels entitled to live in the house as though it were their own. 

As G. H. and Ruth’s social position becomes clear, Amanda in particular struggles to reconcile her immense respect for wealth with her innate racism. This makes for some awkward encounters. When Ruth mentions that she was in admissions at Dalton, an exclusive New York school, Amanda realizes that the woman she dismissed as a cleaner not only outranks her socially, but could be the kind of useful connection she ought to be trying to ingratiate herself to. The tables are turned on Amanda, and she spends much of the novel feeling alternately impressed by their wealth and status, and feeling superior to them by virtue of her race. Interestingly, Amanda and Clay’s racist attitudes are not present in Archie and Rose, who immediately accept that G. H. and Ruth own the house, and who see them as an ordinary elderly couple.  

Dependence on Technology in the Information Age 

When all forms of digital communication fail, the characters’ dependence on technology affects their ability to cope with the disaster and make decisions about their survival. While all of them are inconvenienced and distressed by the sudden loss of connectivity, Clay, a media professor, emerges as the one in the group who most depends on technology. As they plunge ever deeper into uncertainty, Clay comes to realize how much of his ability to function depends on his access to a smartphone. Not only is he literally lost without his phone, he also experiences withdrawal symptoms that make him physically uncomfortable, and worries that Rose has a similar addiction. Meanwhile, Amanda quickly forgets her work and Rose finds ways to entertain herself that don’t involve streaming, indicating that their essential activities can continue even if the internet and phones are down.  

The loss of the TV signal leaves the two families without a figurative hearth to gather around. In the aftermath of the noise that terrifies and unsettles them all, watching TV would have been a way to distract them and give them some relief from reality. Without this natural gathering place, which takes away the need to talk, the two couples are forced to interact directly. Still uncomfortable with one another, they socialize almost as if they are at a party. But as the crisis deepens, G. H. is the one who points out that they are a group of adults who, without information, are almost entirely useless. Before the advent of the internet, societies communicated verbally and shared information locally, but digital technologies had rendered that unnecessary. The breakdown of this societal structure is apparent when G. H. and Clay visit Danny, who is unwilling to exchange information, leading them to decide that the best thing to do isn’t to go to town or to the hospital, but to stay where they are and muddle through in ignorance.  

The Unifying Effect of Fear of the Unknown 

Although Clay and Amanda’s racism initially creates distance and distrust between the two couples, fear of the unknown serves as a powerful unifier, bringing the two families together in an effort to pool their resources against the mysterious crisis. Ironically, fear of the unknown is one of the main forces that fuels racism. People distrust those they think of as “other,” whether because they look different or because they speak another language. But with a disaster of incalculable magnitude bearing down on them, the four adults come to realize that any differences that set them apart are negligible compared to what they have in common, not just as New Yorkers and parents, but also as human beings. The collective fear of the unknown has a unifying effect, enabling them to transcend their personal concerns, biases, and prejudices. It forces them to come together, relying on one another for support, and seeking strength in numbers. Fear of the unknown acts as a unifying bond, pushing these strangers into an alliance that will allow them to confront the challenges and uncertainties as a collective, rather than as isolated individuals.