Study Guide

Alone Themes

By Maya Angelou

  • Isolation

    Lonesomeness is something that all humans (no matter who they are or where they live) know well. In a way, it connects us. However, the speaker of "Alone" warns that we cannot go through life all by our lonesome selves. Life will swallow us whole unless we've got family, friends, or a community of some kind to help us through the hard times.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Does the speaker ever actually say that the millionaire is alone? How do we know that he fits into the same category as the speaker?
    2. Do you think that the speaker is talking to an audience in this poem? If so, who?
    3. How many times does the word "alone" appear in this poem?
    4. Why do you think Angelou says "nobody can make it all alone" instead of something like "everybody needs other people"? What is the difference between these two phrases?

    Chew on This

    Although "Alone" seems to worry that people are isolated, the poem itself actually breaks out of isolation by addressing other people.

    There isn't any solution to the isolation described in this poem.

  • Suffering

    The speaker of "Alone" ominously declares that "the race of man is suffering/ and I can hear the moan." Instead of talking about how suffering is something that all humans experience at some point in their lives, our speaker warns people about a change she observes in the world. It's as though humans are suffering more and more. She's noticing a shift in how humans live, and she's worried.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. What do you think causes the speaker the most suffering in this poem?
    2. Do you think that all people suffer equally in this poem? The speaker? The millionaire? The millionaire's wife?
    3. Why is being alone a bad thing? How does this poem describe it?
    4. Is the loneliness in the world getting better or worse? What section of the poem helps you to come to this conclusion?

    Chew on This

    Although the speaker suggests that being alone is the cause of suffering in this poem, the true suffering seems to come from not knowing how to nourish the soul.

    This poem offers a cure for suffering: finding a community that can nourish the soul.

  • Spirituality

    We know from the start of "Alone" that our speaker is struggling to find her spirituality, to feel connected to something greater than herself. She is lying in her bed thinking about how to find her soul a home. As a result of her need and quest for spirituality, she has a revelation about all people. She realizes that in order for people to find homes for their souls, they have to stick together. Community helps spirituality flourish.

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. Is this poem about finding religion? Why or why not?
    2. Is this poem advocating spiritual renewal by turning to a god or to a community? What in the poem helps you to come to your conclusion?
    3. How do the references to the Bible contribute to the poem?
    4. Do you think that the alone-ness described in this poem is fixable in this life? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    There's no actual cure (in this world) for the alone-ness that the speaker describes in this poem.

    The cure for the alone-ness the speaker describes can be found by re-connecting with people around us.

  • Society and Class

    Lots of people feel that money can cure everything, but the speaker of "Alone" (and the Notorious B.I.G.) knows differently. She tells us that even millionaires, with more money than they can use, can't make it through life all alone. Money doesn't bring happiness and it doesn't chase the blues way, she argues. In fact, it seems to make some people even lonelier. Loneliness, therefore, is something that everyone, regardless of money or class, copes with. It's a powerful force.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Why do you think the speaker singles out millionaires in Stanza 3?
    2. Do you think that the millionaire's kids suffer differently than other kids? If so, how?
    3. Do you think that this poem is about all people everywhere? Why or why not?
    4. Does this alone-ness seem to be getting worse in this particular time? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    As it turns out, money actually makes people less fulfilled than other, poorer people.

    Money doesn't affect whether or not a person is alone at all.