Isolationism, a political term of the post "World War" climate, constitutes Tom Ripley's world. Isolated from his society in New York, Tom Ripley can only be a "fraud," an outsider who glimpses a world he wants to inhabit, and people he wants to be. As an American, he glimpses the realization of the "American Dream"—financial success and happiness—derived from the erasure of an old identity and construction of a new one. But this desire becomes dangerous, for the world that he escapes to is one marked by alienation. The expatriates living in Europe—Dickie, Marge, and Freddie—are all isolated from each other, and lacking identities save for their "flat" characterizations.
Amongst these elusive characters, Tom Ripley's spectral presence is in no way astonishing. What is shocking about Tom Ripley is the way in which he mirrors those around him—in an extremely literal sense (for he does dress as Dickie, before the mirror) and figuratively. Each American character lacks something—Marge desires Dickie's commitment, Dickie desires the valorization of others, and Freddie desires attention. Like these characters, Tom desires to be part of a community, to receive affirmation that he is "somebody," but he lacks the class status of the other characters. Tom believes that "It was impossible ever to be lonely or bored . . . so long as he was Dickie Greenleaf," but, the narrator reminds us, that is what "he thought." For Tom, desire's hold is stronger and more dangerous than it is for the other characters, for he does not merely look for affirmation from others, but must attempt to create a "self" that is worthy of such attention. He constantly makes excuses for his "inferior" appearance, and his use (and abuse) of Herbert Greenleaf's money. He is not from "old money," and his history is vague, at best. We know of Aunt Dottie, who need not send more checks to Tom once Herbert Greenleaf "sponsors" his travels. After Tom kills Dickie, his "ecstatic moment" results from the thought of "all the pleasures that lay before him now with Dickie's money, other beds, tables, seas, ships, suitcases, shirts, years of freedom, years of pleasure."
Identity, then, becomes complicated for these characters, because they are constantly defining themselves in relation to others. The relationships between characters are problematic as sexuality is as ambiguous as Tom's "true self." The lines between characters—Marge and Dickie, Dickie and...
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