What are the major themes in The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Paranoia is the most central theme to the text.

This concept is explored as a commentary on the nature of meaning and how it is made (epistemology). Oedipa Maas becomes enmeshed in a chain of associations and coicidence which lead her to begin to believe that everything is connected. As she searches for hard evidence that the connections she perceives are real and that W.A.S.T.E exists, these questions emerge: 

  • Do the connections she perceives need to be real in order to be meaningful? 
  • If connections like these are the only way to make meaning yet present themselves as elusive and unstable, what does that say about meaning itself? 
  • If connections are the only way to make meaning, albeit unstable, and if paranoia is the only way to make connections, does meaning become a product of paranoia (rather than logic or objective observation)? 

These are the thematic outgrowths of the central notion of paranoia explored in the novel. There is a suggestion here that a certain kind of faith in meaning is necessary for meaning to exist. Meaning is, then, participatory and not objective. 

...the overall impression is (...) unsettling; no communications can be trusted, and language itself offers not clarity but confusion.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial