The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What motivates Tom to kill Dickie?

    Tom's motives in committing his first murder are multiple and complex, and he is only consciously aware of some of these motives. On the one hand, Tom kills Dickie because he wants access to Dickie's money. He craves comfort, travel, and luxury, and knows that he will have access to them if he can access Dickie's wealth. On a slightly less conscious level, Tom kills Dickie because he feels animosity towards him. Dickie has rejected Tom, shown his preference for Marge, and disgustedly referenced Tom's somewhat hidden sexuality. Finally, on a completely subconscious level, Tom kills Dickie because he feels shame and self-hatred. His attachment to Dickie, and his attraction to other men in general, make him uncomfortable, so he tries to remove the source of this discomfort by removing Dickie from his life. He also longs to escape his own personality, and hopes to avoid those aspects of himself that he dislikes by assuming a new identity.

  2. 2

    How does Patricia Highsmith make readers feel sympathy with Tom in spite of his worst actions?

    In most narratives, a character like Tom would be a villain. Here, while readers might know that he is behaving in a way that hurts others, Highsmith makes it difficult not to root for him. One reason for this is that Tom feels deeply vulnerable and human, and his worst choices stem from this humanity rather than contradict it. After all, Tom kills Dickie in part because his own self-doubt and self-hatred are so acute. Most readers feel empathy with such misery and instability to an extent, and Highsmith merely pushes the limits of our empathy with Tom's eventual descent into murder. Moreover, Tom is something of an underdog in much of the book, at first because of his own humble roots and timidity, and later, as he runs from the law, because he is a lone fighter against European and American law enforcement. Each of these sympathy-provoking characteristics is directly linked to his less sympathetic ones—he commits murder because of his own emotional vulnerabilities, and he assumes an underdog role precisely because he is hoping to avoid being held to account. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to extricate Tom's "villainous" side from his heroic one.

  3. 3

    Discuss the themes of tourism and travel in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

    On the one hand, Patricia Highsmith paints an alluring picture of overseas travel for her readers. While this novel offers plenty in the way of fast-paced chases and convoluted plot, its setting is vivid and varied, offering readers images of Italian coastal villages and Greek islands. The book's protagonist appreciates this beauty and hungers for it, but the setting also highlights some of his social anxieties and class aspirations. Tom, as well as some of his acquaintances, sees Europe as a perfect tool with which to elevate himself. He cultivates his Italian language skills, decorates a grand home in Venice, and socializes with wealthy visitors and locals in the hope of appearing cultured. At the same time, he dreads being seen as a "tourist." In an age of increasing mass tourism, Tom considers it important to distinguish himself from middle-class travelers, and therefore spends conspicuously and with great attention to his reputation.

  4. 4

    Discuss the ways in which Dickie's rings are used for symbolic and plot purposes.

    Dickie's rings are the object most associated with him, serving as a symbol of Dickie's identity for readers and characters alike. As a result, Tom hoards the rings, holding on to them even when he knows that his possession of the rings puts him at a greater risk of being discovered. In this way, the rings come to symbolize not only Dickie himself but also Tom's obsession with and admiration for him. Interestingly, Marge's discovery of the rings doesn't lead the other characters to suspect Tom. Contrary to both Tom's expectations and the reader's, the rings end up more or less clearing Tom's name, since Marge and others assume that Dickie would remove them only if suicidal. Here, Highsmith plays with symbolism, subverting convention: though a more traditional plotline might allow the rings to serve as Tom's downfall, here, his impulsive decision to keep them only buttresses his alibi.

  5. 5

    How is irony used to shape Marge's characterization?

    Early in the novel, well before Tom decides to kill Dickie, Marge suspects his motives and openly dislikes him. Though her suspicions are well-founded, other characters find Tom trustworthy and likable, to such a degree that they never seriously suspect him of killing Dickie or Freddie. This is not in itself ironic, but it is ironic that Marge herself eventually becomes Tom's greatest ally, repeating his assertion that Dickie has committed suicide. Furthermore, Marge believes that Dickie has abandoned her and even committed suicide as a result of her actions, when, in fact, Tom his killed Dickie precisely because he worries that Dickie prefers Marge to himself. In general, Marge has good instincts and is intelligent, but a series of ironic twists cause others to disregard her input, with the eventual result that she herself puts aside her suspicions and falls for Tom's plot.