- Author Avatar: The narrator, Zuckerman, is thought to be a version of Roth himself, though he's actually a very minor character.
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: A non-incestuous father-daughter instance occurs when Swede and Merry reunite for the first time in five years. Despite all the terrible things that happened between them, they cry and hold onto each other and express their love... and then trouble starts again.
- Foreshadowing: Much is made in the movie of the fact that Merry has trouble making friends in her little town, which begs the question where did she come by her radical leftist political ideas and New York friends. She got them from her therapist, who has connection with the radical movement.
- Godwin's Law: During a dinner argument, Lou Levov compares pornography to the Holocaust. Slightly subverted in that he's a traditional Jewish man who lived through WWII (albeit in the United States) and understands how awful Hitler was.
- Riddle for the Ages: We never find out just who "Rita Cohen" really was and whether she really knew Merry or not.
- Unreliable Narrator: Nathan Zuckerman (although it is easy to forget that he's the one narrating the story, as he disappears as a character at some point during the 3rd chapter). Having access only to some of the bare facts of the Swede's life, and confronted with his apparent "blankness", Nathan Zuckerman claims concerning his story that he "dreamed a realistic chronicle", and speculates at some point about the objections that the Swede's brother would make.
- Where Did We Go Wrong?: The Swede struggles with this question in the entire book.