In the novel's second chapter, Tom returns to his apartment after his conversation with Herbert Greenleaf. The description of Tom's apartment contrasts vividly with the images of luxury and grandeur elsewhere in the book. The apartment has "a smelly john" and a "grimy single room," and when Tom showers, the "rusty showerhead sent a jet against the shower curtain and another jet in an erratic spiral." These images of darkness and dirt reveal that, while Tom is willing and able to channel a great deal of energy into the impression he gives off in public, he has neither the willpower or the resources to improve his own private conditions. Tom cares about his status, but neglects his private and inner life. The grimy apartment both tells the reader why Tom is so desperate for an escape, and hints at the grimy underbelly of his own personality.
On his train journey to Mongibello to meet Dickie, Tom is awestruck by the sights of Europe he sees through the windows. In Paris he sees a cafe with a "rain-streaked awning, sidewalk tables, and boxes of hedges, like a tourist poster illustration." Passing through Pisa, Italy, he glimpses the famous leaning tower—a "thick white column sticking up out of the low chalky houses that formed the rest of town." In both cases Tom is thrilled by the way each sight resembles its stereotypical, tourist-oriented portrayal. Within the train he is a pure outsider, treated only to brief glances at his surroundings. These images, which are entirely visual and static, resemble photographs of a place more than a complex setting: Tom is a mere onlooker at this point in the novel. As the narrative continues, he will feel driven to achieve a closeness with these places, and will be tormented by the suspicion that he remains an onlooker.
Mongibello, where Dickie and Marge live in Italy, is a place of rustic, luxuriant retreat for all three Americans. It contrasts sharply with images of Tom's cramped and dark New York apartment. Tom arrives and sees "houses above him, struggling against the mountain, and houses below, their tile rooves silhouetted against the blue sea." When he steps out barefoot, "the cobblestones were hot as coals," and Tom climbs a series of craggy stone steps to reach a beach with "shimmering blue waves." Altogether, these images give an expression of rambling natural splendor and enormous, liberating scale. At the same time, images of the hot sun and steep stairs imbue the setting with a certain severity, creating a sense of threat beside its beauty.
The Talented Mr. Ripley includes two scenes of graphic violence: Tom's murder of Dickie and his murder of Freddie. In each scene Tom uses a heavy object to hit the other man in the head. Dickie's murder scene includes a rush of both aural and visual imagery: Tom uses an oar to make "a dull gash that filled with a line of blood as Tom watched." While Tom watches dispassionately, the scene carries on with dizzying speed. Dickie lies "on the bottom of the boat, twisted, twisting," and gives "a roar of protest." After dealing a final blow, Tom looks around and sees nothing but "a little white spot speeding from right to left, a speeding motorboat." The scene is quick but image-packed, reflecting the overwhelmed loss of control Tom feels when seized by desire to kill. This contrasts with the scene in which he murders Freddie by hitting him in the head with an ashtray; the imagery in the scene of Freddie's murder is far less vivid and varied. Highsmith writes that "Freddie looked dazed. Then his knees bent and he went down like a bull hit between the eyes with a hammer." Later, she writes simply, "blood came." This decrease in imagistic richness shows that Tom has become rather inured to violence. It is, by his second murder, both less exciting and less nerve-wracking.
When in a particularly good mood, Tom resolves to have dinner overlooking "moonlight on the grand canal." He plans to "watch the gondolas drifting as lazily as they ever drifted for any honeymooner, with the gondoliers silhouetted against the moonlit water." While taking in these sights, Tom wants to eat, and imagines he'll order "breast of pheasant or petto di pollo, and perhaps cannelloni to begin with, creamy sauce over delicate pasta..." This mixture of images reveals that Tom now considers himself a privileged insider privy to the best Europe's cities have to offer. He wants to watch gondoliers on the canal and knows that this is the visual language of tourist brochures, even referencing its appeal to honeymooners. However, while taking in this sight, he wants to eat expensive food—an option available only to those with the means to actually visit Italy and spend a great deal of money there. His recitation of the dishes he will order, many of which have Italian names, lets the reader know that he has become literate in the country's culture. Essentially, while visual imagery hints at the way Tom idealizes Europe, taste images show that he finally has access to the European lifestyle he has dreamed of.
The Talented Mr. Ripley Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Talented Mr. Ripley is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.