Mr. Ripley’s Talent for Identity Theft

Murder, forgery, and the chaos wrought by a nomadic soul are all included in the mystery novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Tom Ripley, the main character created by Patricia Highsmith, is a man to be feared. This fear is not due to the appearance of Tom, who even in his own words is described as weak and anxious, but from the man’s inner thoughts. A bitterness for the world, callousness for other people around him, and a loneliness that no one can seem to dispel for long are all the reader becomes privy to in regards to Tom during the course of the story.

Highsmith’s novel is not what most people would consider a mystery: the basic murder, then the who-done-it clue searching that follows after, with a detective thrown in who may or may not have a personal connection to the crime. Instead her mystery is about the character Tom Ripley, the villain who can’t hold a job or run a quality scam, and the buildup to his first kill. Tom is a man to be feared because of his unsuspecting nature. His thoughts, that are only shared with the reader, range from carefully considered to a maniacal rush of emotions. The fear comes from the fact that we can only be aware of our own thoughts (aside from anyone who may be telepathic) and even the people closest to us may have sinister plans. Tom is in great control of his body, how it acts, behaves, and is perceived by others. He presents a man incapable of any wrong doing, but the conflicts inside of him are a mix of fear and rage that also include the occasional murder fantasy. He is a Dr. Jekyll that is also in complete control of his Mr. Hyde.

Despite Tom’s history of scams that never actually seemed to have worked out, he embarks on a trip to Europe where a series of lies and atrocious acts find him at the end of the novel without punishment on vacation in Greece. He was orphaned as a child and raised by an uncaring aunt to become a listless adult with no interest in a career or the low-life peers he is surrounded by. Enter a worried father for the well being of his son, Dickie Greenleaf, living a life of luxury and ease in Italy who funds Tom’s trip to speak sense to this young, amiable man. Tom and Dickie soon become inseparable, but Tom’s inability to be satisfied with what he has puts them on the outs. Luckily for Tom, his talent in controlling every aspect of his appearance and mannerisms is used to become Dickie. Although the situations that arise seem completely doubtful for anyone to actually prevail through, Tom continues to surprise the audience.

By the end of the novel, the reader has grown uncomfortably close to this man who kills for personal gain, and even what he considers to be necessity. He is portrayed as a troubled man, who is hollow and can only be made whole when he is pretending. His personality is fake and easily overwhelmed by his own conniving traits. Still, the audience connects with Tom and his need to belong or fit in somewhere, to be someone that means something. This is why Highsmith’s character is so brilliant, and capable of carrying on a highly regarded series in literature. Tom is a man that the average person can relate to, anyone who has at one point felt lost with themself, making him even more terrifying. Any villain that functions inside the realms of reality, who is filled with inner turmoil that borders on chaos, but is also incredibly human makes a story worth reading.

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