The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley Summary and Analysis of Chapters 18-22


Tom can't shake the worry that Marge will come to Rome looking for Dickie. His first callers, though, are two police officers. They come to his apartment and ask Tom—disguised as Dickie—about the whereabouts of Tom Ripley. Tom, they say, has gone missing. They have linked the sunken bloodstained ship to Tom and Dickie, and clearly think that Dickie is responsible for Tom's death. Tom tries to appear casual, and tells the officers that he and Tom Ripley took a boat in San Remo but returned it, and that Tom visited him in Rome shortly after that trip. He pretends to recall receiving a postcard from Tom shortly after. Before the officer leaves, Tom asks if he is permitted to travel to Palermo. The officer says that he may. The officers leave, and Marge calls. Tom, no longer pretending to be Dickie, tells Marge that he is visiting Dickie and that Dickie is at the police station. He offers to meet Marge for a drink. Before leaving, he checks his messages and finds that Van Houston has written him (intending the message for Dickie), and that Houston, too, would like to meet in person. Tom realizes that he has woven a tangled web. For one thing, he worries that the stamps in Tom and Dickie's respective passports, both of which he possesses, must match the stories he tells to the police.

Tom leaves for Palermo. He wonders whether Marge will give up on Dickie's affection and conclude that he and Tom are in a relationship now. The prospect makes him feel quite gleeful as he strolls around Palermo, delighting in the architecture and beauty and knowing that it is far more exciting because he gets to experience it as Dickie rather than as himself. The next day, he finds a letter from Marge, addressed to Dickie. The letter reproachfully insinuates that Tom and Dickie are in a relationship, and that Marge is irritated with Dickie for lying to her about his sexuality. She also says that she has talked to the police in Rome, telling them that Tom and Dickie are together, to their great interest. Tom wonders whether the police are following him, but has no evidence that they are. He writes a letter from Dickie to the Greenleaf parents, trying to soothe and appease them with a warm tone, even though the Greenleafs have expressed irritation and concern in their recent letters to Dickie.

In Palermo, Tom feels lonely, realizing that his life in hiding makes it impossible to have the glamorous circle of international friends he's always craved. He decides he'll feel better if he travels to Capri, but before he leaves he receives two letters from Dickie's bank and trust company, notifying Dickie that some of his signatures on recent documents are suspicious and that he should write to the bank to confirm that the signatures were not forged. Tom immediately replies to both letters under Dickie's name, reassuring them that his signature was not forged and hoping that these letters will quell any suspicion they have. Soon after, though, the police write to Dickie, telling him somewhat threateningly that he most report to Rome to answer questions about Thomas Ripley. Tom is terrified, but develops a plan: he'll permanently transform back into Tom Ripley, buy a cheap car, and pretend that he has been living in his car and traveling the remote Italian countryside for months. He hates the feeling of putting on his own clothes and assuming his old mannerisms, so much so that he cries, but knows he has no choice. He puts all of Dickie's things in storage except for his rings, which he hides in his own luggage. He buys a car and spends one uncomfortable night in it in order to make his story seem more authentic, then goes to Venice. In Venice he relaxes somewhat, and grabs a few newspapers to read at a cafe. There he sees a small item announcing that the American Dickie Greenleaf is missing. Greenleaf, the paper says, is a friend of both the murdered Freddie Miles and the missing Tom Ripley. He begins to strategize about presenting himself to the police as Tom Ripley. He decides to do so soon, and to exaggerate his own appearance and make himself look less like Dickie. He'll buy glasses, slump, and try to look shy and nervous.

The next day even more newspaper items appear, speculating about Dickie Greenleaf's role in the death of Freddie Miles and the whereabouts of the missing Thomas Ripley. Regretfully, Tom reports to the nearest police station and reveals that he is Tom Ripley. The police tell Tom to wait in his hotel, where he will be visited and questioned by Roman officers. While waiting, he tries to make himself look less like Dickie by wearing his sloppiest outfit and skipping lunch, hoping to lose a few pounds. He gives the police officer, Tenente Roverini, his fabricated story, saying that he has been living in his car and that he last saw Dickie in Rome for a brief period. He recalls visiting San Remo together, but says they returned their rental boat. The officer is interested in Dickie's personal life, and Tom tries to imply that Freddie and Dickie were competing for Marge's affections. The officer seems not to suspect Tom at all, and, if anything, to suspect Dickie. He also announces that the sunken boat clearly has nothing to do with Tom and Dickie, since they were both seen alive and well long after their trip to San Remo. The officer leaves, and Tom feels so good that he treats himself to an expensive dinner in Venice. While preparing for dinner, he comes up with a new plan: he'll fabricate Dickie's will, which will leave all of Dickie's possessions and money to Tom. He'll place the will in an envelope, and the envelope will include instructions announcing that it should not be opened for several months.


Something rather odd happens in these chapters. While Tom manages to evade being caught, he's had a few too many close calls. These close calls have forced him to confront a serious problem: even if he evades the police, his new life is even lonelier and sadder than his old one. What Tom really wants, after all, isn't wealth or luxury or to see the world. He wants to become a different person, leaving behind the aspects of himself that cause him pain. His greatest joy is simply pretending to be Dickie, but, now that he is on the verge of being found out, he cannot enjoy the sophisticated social life he imagines Dickie having, nor can he wear Dickie's expensive clothes and accessories. In order to evade the police, Tom has to cause himself emotional pain. He is devastated by the process of re-assuming his own identity, so much so that he cries onto Dickie's clothes as he packs them away. He even hints to the police that Dickie was in love with Marge. This, even more than his decision to abandon his role as Dickie, is a sign that Tom has become desperate. After all, he dislikes Marge, and the two have long competed for Dickie's affections. Tom enjoys using his own acting skills and imagination to construct narratives in which he gets what he wants. For example, he has tried to give Marge the impression that he and Dickie are in a close romantic relationship, and is viscerally delighted by his ability to make her think this. Therefore, for Tom to tell the police that Dickie loved Marge, enough to murder another suitor of hers, is an indication that he has failed in a profound way. He may not have been discovered by police, but everything that initially motivated him to kill Dickie and to assume Dickie's identity is now out of reach. He tries to convince himself that "risks were what made the whole thing fun," but this is a mere cliche that doesn't reflect Tom's motives. He has consistently killed in order to soothe his anxieties and minimize what he thinks of as "risk." His attempts to reassure himself that he enjoys taking risks ring hollow.

As Tom reluctantly returns to his own identity, he also appears to emotionally project a good deal onto Dickie, as if trying to transfer his feelings of self-hatred and self-doubt onto him. For instance, his story about Dickie killing Freddie because of unresolved feelings for Marge is both a useful way to avoid being blamed for Freddie's murder and a way to externalize his own motives for murdering Dickie. Tom killed Dickie in part as a way to lay claim to him, since he felt competitive with Marge over Dickie and since he was unable to confront his own feelings of attraction for Dickie. The story of Dickie killing Freddie is not a direct analogy, but by repeating it, Tom is able to imagine that Dickie, rather than Tom himself, committed murder in order to avoid dealing with unpleasant feelings. Furthermore, Tom consciously thinks that his return to his own identity has exactly one benefit—it allows him to avoid feeling any "guilt for the stupid, unnecessary murder of Freddie Miles." Thus, while Tom prefers being Dickie to being himself, he does his best to feel better about being Tom Ripley by imagining that Dickie is responsible for Tom's own worst acts, or that Dickie would have committed similar acts in only slightly altered circumstances.

In the early chapters of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom is quite impressed by Italy. As he develops an antagonistic relationship with the Italian authorities and press, though, he also begins to view them scornfully. This often comes across in his accusations of laziness and inconsistency on the part of the police, or his mocking attitude towards the sensational, flowery language of the country's newspapers. These sections provide some comic relief for readers and paint a detailed, interesting portrait of Italy in the mid-twentieth century. They are also another way for Tom to avoid confronting his own decisions. By imagining, for instance, that the Italian newspapers are prone to exaggeration and sensationalism, he ignores the fact that his actions have been sensational in themselves, regardless of the way they are described.