The title of The Corrections refers most literally to the decline of the technology-driven economic boom of the late nineties. Franzen makes this clear at the beginning of the book's final chapter, also titled "The Corrections":
The Correction, when it finally came, was not an overnight bursting of a bubble but a much more gentle let-down, a year-long leakage of value from key financial markets...
(On a more abstract level, the title is an homage to William Gaddis' The Recognitions.)
This economic correction parallels the simultaneous "corrections" that Franzen's characters make to their own lives in the novel's final pages. Franzen has said that "the most important corrections of the book are the sudden impingements of truth or reality on characters who are expending ever larger sums of energy on self-deception or denial." Enid becomes more flexible in her worldview and less submissive to her husband's authority, and Chip begins a more mature relationship with a woman, simultaneously reconciling with his father. Gary, the only central character who fails to learn from his mistakes and grow during the course of the novel, loses a lot of money as technology stocks begin to decline.
Another key theme in the book is America's transition from an industrial economy to an economy based largely on the financial, high-tech and service sectors. Alfred, a railroad engineer with a pension and a deep loyalty to his company, embodies the old economic order of mid-twentieth century America. His children, a chef, an investment banker, and a professor/internet entrepreneur, embody the new economic order at the turn of the millennium. Franzen depicts this economic transition most concretely in his descriptions of Denise's workplace, an abandoned Philadelphia coal plant converted into a trendy, expensive restaurant.
The narrative of Chip's involvement with Gitanas' attempt to bring the country of Lithuania to the market – "lithuania.com" on the internet – comments on unrestrained capitalism and the privileges and power of the wealthy while meaningful distinctions between private and public sectors disappear. "The main difference between America and Lithuania, as far as Chip could see, was that in America the wealthy few subdued the unwealthy many by means of mind-numbing and soul-killing entertainments and gadgetry and pharmaceuticals, whereas in Lithuania the powerful few subdued the unpowerful many by threatening violence."
The book addresses conflicts and issues within a family that arise from the presence of a progressive debilitating disease of an elder. As Alfred’s dementia and parkinsonism unfold mercilessly, they affect Enid and all three children eliciting different and over time changing reactions. Medical help and hype – the latter in the form of the investigatory method “Corecktall” – do not provide a solution. At the end, Alfred refuses to eat and dies, the ultimate “correction” of the problem.