The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley Literary Elements


Crime, psychological thriller

Setting and Context

Italy, mid-twentieth century

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person omniscient narration following the point of view of Tom Ripley

Tone and Mood

Fast-paced, intense

Protagonist and Antagonist

Tom Ripley is both the story's protagonist and its antagonist

Major Conflict

The book has two major conflicts. The first is Dickie's rejection of Tom, culminating in Tom's murder of Dickie. The second is the police investigation into Dickie's disappearance, in which Tom must disguise his own crime.


The climax of the novel comes when Tom travels to Greece, expecting to be arrested as soon as his ship docks. Instead, he is shocked to learn that he is no longer under any investigation at all.


In the book's early pages, Highsmith hints that Tom will assume Dickie's identity by frequently mentioning how similar the two men look


Tom fears that he might kill his friend Peter, but phrases this worry to himself in the passive voice, thinking "the same thing that had happened with Dickie could happen with Peter." This vague, understated reference to Dickie's murder allows Tom to recall it without facing his own culpability.


This novel is full of allusions to European landmarks and cities, including the leaning tower of Pisa, the Piazza Venezia, and the Colosseum.

Herbert Greenleaf recommends that Tom read Henry James's novel The Ambassadors, another story of an American abroad.


Images of dirt and squalor in Tom's New York apartment, and of violent murders later in the book, contrast with those of opulence and natural grandeur as Tom travels Europe. Tom is determined to fill his life with these latter images of beauty, but does so by killing two people, thus injecting the novel with several scenes loaded with viscerally gory images.


Qualities of vulnerability, creativity, and fearfulness coexist in Tom's character with qualities of extreme selfishness, dishonestly, and materialism. The novel is driven by the paradox of Tom's character, which is at once sensitive and entirely emotionless.


The parallels that Highsmith draws between Tom and Dickie also serve to highlight their differences. They look alike, and both are attracted to beauty, leisure, and excitement. Yet Dickie comes from a wealthy, loving background, and is prone to generosity and openness. Tom comes from a working-class background and had a troubled family life, and he is closed-off and violent.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

Tom, seeking a place to take refuge after killing Dickie, finds a cove that shows no signs that "a human foot had ever touched the place." Here, the "foot" works as synecdoche, standing in for an entire person or group of people.


While Tom handles Freddie and Dickie's corpses, he continues to refer to them simply as "Freddie" and "Dickie," subtly personifying them as if unable to grasp that he has ended their lives.