The Sot-Weed Factor returns to Barth's earlier exploration of the existentialist notions of action, choice, and value.
Whereas his earlier fiction considered these questions in a contemporary context, Barth's third novel introduces an existential perspective into late-seventeenth-century colonial America.
Throughout the novel, he suggests that the absence of any absolute order and the necessity of confronting the imperative to act is a persistent human dilemma; in addition, he suggests that early America was a lawless and perilous place, filled with murky political conspiracies and a thorough disregard for any sense of fair play.
Barth is also concerned with the difficulty in establishing a coherent sense of self and the assumptions that underlie any notion of the self. In part, this is accomplished through his use of twins in the novel to suggest opposition and the merging of contraries.