Anticipation! It occurred to him that his anticipation was more pleasant to him than the experiencing.
In this moment of self-awareness, Tom realizes that the rush of acquiring something new—whether that thing is status, validation, or material goods—outweighs the actual enjoyment of possessing it. This is key to Tom's character. His insatiable desire for new sources of excitement, and his joy in the drawn-out process of attaining them, make it impossible for him to enjoy what he has. For this reason, he cannot resist drafting a forged will, attempting to procure additional money when he is already in the precarious position of having to disguise his previous crimes.
He loved possessions, not masses of them, but a select few that he did not part with. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality. Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence.
Tom is materialistic, but not merely because he enjoys the sensory value of well-made possessions. He has an unstable sense of identity, and the unchanging nature of inanimate objects lend him a feeling of safety and stability. For this reason, when he feels uncertain about his relationship with Dickie, his instinct is to kill him and, therefore, to transform Dickie from an unpredictable, animate person into a mere collection of clothes, rings, and cash.
"Freddie Miles, you're a victim of your own dirty mind.”
After killing Freddie, Tom accuses him of having brought about his own death. As Tom's reasoning goes, Freddie suspected Tom of harming Dickie, and of having a sexual relationship with him. Therefore, in order to keep Freddie from revealing these facts, Tom has been forced to kill him, making Freddie the architect of his own death. This complicated mental maneuver allows Tom to project his violence onto Freddie, absolving himself of blame for not just one murder but two.
Mr. Greenleaf was such a decent fellow himself, he took it for granted that everybody else in the world was decent, too. Tom had almost forgotten such people existed.
Tom has had a relatively difficult life compared to Mr. Greenleaf, and, as a result, is primed to view the world in a different way. Tom assumes that every person, like himself, is desperate for self-advancement at all costs. Mr. Greenleaf, though, has never been desperate himself, since he has a life of wealth and comfort. Greenleaf assumes that other people are as open and well-meaning as he is. Tom recognizes this, but rather than responding in kind to Greenleaf's guilelessness, he takes advantage of it.
It startled Tom, then he felt that sharp thrust of shame, the same shame he had felt in Mongibello when Dickie had said, Marge thinks you are.
In this passage, Tom is remembering Marge's accusation that he has feelings for Dickie and is attracted to men in general. This "thrust of shame" comes very shortly before Tom kills Dickie, and is one motive for him to do so. The evident disgust that Dickie feels for Tom's homosexuality, and Tom's own unwillingness to confront his desires, feel so debilitating that Tom can cope with them only by removing their source. Since he considers Dickie the source of his shame, Tom kills him.
It gave his existence a peculiar, delicious atmosphere of purity, like that, Tom thought, which a fine actor probably feels when he plays an important role on a stage with the conviction that the role he is playing could not be played better by anyone else.
Tom thinks of his impersonation, and his new lifestyle, as an art form. He pretends to be Dickie out of necessity, but also because he finds it exciting, illuminating, and almost transcendent. He treats his work with the seriousness of an artist as well, practicing his technique and mentally absorbing himself in his role. Many of the book's characters—Marge, Dickie, Freddie, and Cleo—engage in some kind of artistic practice, trying to earn their right to self-identify as artists. Yet Tom, with his unconventional art form, is perhaps the most artistically gifted and devoted character in the novel.
It was a good idea to practice jumping into his own character again, because the time might come when he would need to in a matter of seconds, and it was strangely easy to forget the exact timbre of Tom Ripley's voice.
The most unexpected aspect of Tom's scheme is that he does not find it challenging to "become" Dickie. In fact, he finds it far more difficult to turn back into himself, both because he is emotionally distressed by the prospect of having to face his own flaws and fears, and because he becomes so deeply immersed in his role as Dickie. Many of Tom's worst characteristics are inextricably linked to his most admirable ones. In this case, the self-hatred and unstable identity that make him so dangerous, violent, and jealous also help him become more creative, transcending himself in a strangely impressive and skillful manner.
"If he killed himself," Tom concluded, "I think it was because he realized certain failures in himself—inadequacies. It's much easier for me to imagine him a suicide than a murderer."
Tom gives this description of Dickie to the detective Alvin McCarron, hoping for strategic reasons to imply that Dickie is dead. In addition to these logistical motives, though, readers will likely notice that Tom seems subconsciously to be describing himself. He has indeed tried to kill himself in a metaphorical sense, erasing his own identity in favor of a new one, simply because he cannot accept certain facts about himself (such as his sexuality, his class background, and his personality in general). His claim that Dickie is more likely to commit suicide than to kill another person also applies to himself: most people in Tom's life would never expect him to kill another person, and, in a sense, his murders have been entirely in the service of self-obliteration.
Some quality of his relationship with Dickie flashed across his mind like the memory of a nightmare, like a pale and evil ghost. It was because the same thing could happen with Peter, he thought.
Tom's friend Peter is one of the few people in his life with whom he seems to have a genuine, effortless connection. Peter is kind and nonjudgmental to Tom, giving him an emotional space in which to feel vulnerable. In a cruel twist, though, Tom often feels compelled to harm those with whom he has an emotional connection, partly because he fears the vulnerability they tend to provoke in him. As a matter of fact, Tom kills Dickie not in spite of how close he feels to him, but in large part because of it. Here, Tom experiences a fleeting moment of self-awareness, realizing that he poses a danger to those he likes and admires most.
"To a hotel, please," Tom said, "Il meglio, albergo. Il meglio, il meglio!"
These words, the last in the book, give readers a clue at just how delighted Tom feels. His command, in Italian, translates to "the best, the best!" Now that he has inherited Dickie's money and faces no threat of being exposed, Tom feels that he can pursue the best life has to offer, just as (he imagines) he deserves and needs. The problem is that Tom rarely knows what "the best" consists of: he seeks out luxuries and trifles in the hope of feeling fulfilled, seeking ever-greater rewards and ultimately remaining unsatisfied and agitated.
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.