The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley Metaphors and Similes

Immigrants (Simile)

Departing for Europe, Tom imagines that he feels the way "some immigrants felt when they left everything behind them in some foreign country, left their friends and relations and their past mistakes, and sailed for America." This simile reveals the rather simplistic view approach Tom takes to his own life: when he feels optimistic about his prospects, he is unable to view them in a nuanced way. Therefore, he imagines that going to Europe will allow him to be utterly free of his past and his identity. This unreasonable optimism makes it hard for Tom to see anything clearly, and, therefore, he imagines the process of immigrating through an almost absurdly naive lens, viewing it as an opportunity for liberation and ease rather than as a difficult and draining challenge.

Human head (Simile)

After Tom kills Dickie, he weighs down his rowboat with "stones, all about the size of a human head." Though Tom is determinedly not considering the violence he has just inflicted, this simile reveals that his subconscious is very much occupied with it. In the previous scene, Tom killed Dickie by repeatedly hitting him in the head with his boat's oar. Now, every one of Tom's actions is ancillary to his original act of killing. The comparison of stones to human heads reminds readers that every seemingly mundane action Tom undertakes is, in fact, part of the violent process begun by his choice to kill Dickie.

Bone-white (Metaphor)

On his long-awaited trip to Paris, Tom looks out at the "bone-white Arc de Triomphe." This metaphor, like the simile comparing stones to human heads, hints at gore and death within the everyday. In this case, the symbolism of death lurks in a monument associated with Paris, the city Tom idealizes most. Moreover, this monument is a symbol of triumph. The use of the seemingly cliche phrase "bone-white" serves as a reminder that Tom's triumph is built on a foundation of violence.

Names strung like beads (Simile)

While gleefully anticipating a trip down the Côte d'Azur, Tom imagines the names of its famous towns "strung like beads." This simile hints at the beauty and abundance of this area by comparing it to a piece of beaded jewelry, but also reminds readers that Tom views travel in part as a status-building exercise. To him, locations are akin to items to collect, like beads, and their value, like that of jewelry, is strongly linked to material value and expense. Tom largely enjoys traveling because he hopes to be admired and thought of as a cultured, wealthy individual, the same way a person might use jewelry to signal social class.

Actor in a play (simile)

While traveling Europe in disguise as Dickie, Tom reflects on the "purity" he feels, akin to that experienced, he imagines, by an actor playing a role with such skill that he knows nobody else could do as good a job. This simile makes explicit what readers will likely have already gathered: that Tom's disguise is not a simple necessity designed to route money his way, but is also in fact an instrument of entertainment and enjoyment, like a play. It also reveals that Tom is endeavoring not just to pass as Dickie, but to excel at "playing" the role of Dickie, since he derives creative fulfillment and a sense of artistic accomplishment from it.

Veins and blood (Simile)

Though Tom expects to dislike Venice, he finds himself charmed by the city's lack of cars, which make it "human." He then compares it to an actual human body, reflecting that "the streets were like veins...and the people were the blood, circulating everywhere." This extended simile gives a hint as to why Tom eventually settles in Paris: while he so often feels afraid of intimate relationships and unrestricted vitality, the city allows him the extremely intimate and vital experience of feeling like he and his neighbors are part of one living, dynamic body. This image of blood, as a necessary and life-giving substance that allows a body to live, simultaneously contrasts with and recalls the book's previous images of blood, which arise when Tom kills Freddie and Dickie. In other words, Venice gives Tom a respite from his usual view of the body, allowing him to see it through the lens of life and excitement rather than death and threat.