The album centres on Pink, a character Roger Waters modelled after himself. Pink's life experiences begin with the loss of his father during the Second World War, and continue with ridicule and abuse from his schoolteachers, an overprotective mother and finally, the breakdown of his marriage. All contribute to his eventual self-imposed isolation from society, represented by a metaphorical wall.

The album was one of the best selling of 1980, and as of 1999, it had sold over 23 million RIAA certified units (11.5 million albums) in the United States. Rolling Stone magazine placed The Wall at number 87 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of all Time.