The Relatable Mr. Ripley
In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith gives us a depiction of a man defined largely by his hidden otherness. An outsider who appears for all intents and purposes to be just another humdrum functioning member of society. She makes a strong case for Ripley in this regard, he is often trends towards the sociopathic end of the social spectrum, and can burst out into moments of unrestrained violence. These characteristics separate Ridley from his fellow man, and when Highsmith allows us to see from his unique perspective it becomes all too frighteningly clear how dangerous he truly is.
All of this praise is true on a conditional basis however, it owes its ingenuity largely to the time period in which it was written. As a modern reader Ripley sociopathic tendencies don’t exactly strike me as all that foreign in our modern culture. This is a very condemning appraisal of our modern culture, but in many ways it’s clear as day that the mild anti-social behavior Ripley exhibits almost constantly is the narrative that often runs in peoples minds in 2018.
It’s a story I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times before, plastered over headlines for the past few years, we’re more connected than ever and yet more alone than ever, all thanks to the internet and the technology that fuels it. This new culture that we (millenials, gen x, etc.) exist within, has made a lot of the very pillars of Ripley’s otherness seem extremely relatable.
A prime example of this would be Ripley’s attention to letters and his adverseness to actual one on one social interaction. If you can equate a written letter to a text message it is clear to see that both are sent from a location often far away from their recipient. There is a safeness in sending a message, well thought out and spell checked, when compared to navigating a dicey social situation. This is only multiplied when we consider Ripley is a practiced liar and manipulator. In this way modern young adults are exhibiting behavior that is similar to that same defensive and closed off behavior preferred by someone like Ripley.
Another striking comparison exists within the modern trend of labeling oneself an introvert, and declaring that social interaction is something you cannot handle, or that you can only handle in small doses. This also comes up often in Ridley’s time, at one point he is practically screaming at himself to escape a one on one conversation with a near stranger (Mr. Greenleaf) that has ran its course. I for one can personally attest to having felt the same fear and entrapment described by Ridley in this scene. And if you dont want to take my word for it, there are plenty of firsthand accounts of introverted people who despise any sort of complicated or unfamiliar social situation online.
I hope you don’t mistake my tone here, as there is often a negative connotation when there is discourse about technology usually citing its negative impact on young minds. (Get off your phone at the dinner table!, etc etc etc.). I think what Highsmith has done here is quite impressive, writing from her vantage in the 1950’s she had no conception of what modern society would look like. Despite this she has captured exactly how the modern person feels at times when they are overcome by society and its vice grip of demands.
Despite all this connection to modern society, I think Highsmith is alluding to something that was present around her in the 50’s. Except in that time it wasn’t acceptable to claim you were an introvert and that’s why you didn’t want to talk to your mom’s new boyfriend over dinner, it was seen as a social faux pas, and a serious one at that.
In this way this book has remained universal in its recognition of the other, the outsiders in society, by making modern readers feel as if they’re not really all that different after all. That is, unless you bash someone to death with an oar in the middle of the ocean, I can only hope culture will never get to a point where that is a relatable impulse.
Overall I would give this book a 8/10, it scores high for its universal appeal and its thrilling, inventive fiction.