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Written by Elizabeth Yuill
Tom Ripley is a manipulative and disturbed young man with a gift for fraud and deceit. Despite his difficult upbringing and bereft surroundings, he is obsessed with the lifestyle of the wealthy; he agrees to track down shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf’s errant son in order to ingratiate himself with the rich older man. Tom quickly becomes obsessed with Dickie and his life of luxury, as evidenced by him dressing in his clothes and imitating his mannerisms. When Dickie begins to tire of him, his obsession turns to anger over potentially being rejected and losing his lifestyle, so he turns to murder. The character’s lack of humanity and care for those others than himself seems to represent Highsmith’s own misanthropy; he is paranoid over his own welfare but cannot seem to connect with or have sympathy towards anyone else. He is “talented” in all manners of deception, and able to think on his feet.
Dickie is the son of Herbert Greenleaf, who has run away from the family business to live a life of luxury in Italy. He appears to be a fairly shallow young man, who wishes to avoid all responsibility and keeps an aloofness from both Marge and Tom who are devoted to him. He is entertained by Tom initially but tires of him after being disturbed by the sight of him dressed in his clothes and imitating him. This obsession, once revealed, leads Dickie to resent Tom’s constant presence and presumably plan to cut him loose, after one last holiday to Sanremo as a gesture.
Marge is a friend of Dickie, who shares in his relaxed lifestyle. She resents Tom’s closeness with Dickie and tries to sabotage it by insinuating that Tom has a homoerotic obsession with him. After the murder, Tom carefully provides communications to Marge to assure her that Dickie has abandoned her. She does become suspicious anyway, but is led to believe by Tom that Dickie has in fact killed himself.
She is described as a plump girl-scout figure, and is like Tom in her longing for Dickie’s attention and affection.
Freddie is an old friend of Dickie from his social set, who encounters Tom at what he thought to be Dickie’s apartment in Rome, leading him to suspect something is wrong. He confronts Tom and is killed with an ashtray, creating another liability for the conman to cover up (by pretending he was killed by robbers).
Greenleaf is the initial representation of all Tom hopes to achieve, a symbol of wealth and power, and provides him with a link to that world. He is frustrated with his son’s quest to avoid responsibility. He confronts Tom with Marge and a private detective in Venice, but is persuaded to believe that Dickie has indeed killed himself.
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