The Talented Mr. Ripley

by Patricia Highsmith

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How are Dickie Greenleaf and Tom Ripley's relationships with Marge Sherwood different?

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Tom Ripley is the book's protagonist and narrator. He is a charming, handsome, and intelligent young man, who has a gift for persuading people to do what he wants them to do. He is also an inveterate liar who feels no remorse about stealing from others. Tom Ripley's parents were rich, but Tom was still an outsider at school because he had been born out of wedlock. He shared his mother with a wealthy man who did not want a permanent relationship with her. His mother had married someone else when Tom was a child, but she divorced him years later when Tom was in college. Her third husband then died suddenly of pneumonia just before they were going to have dinner together.

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Marge Sherwood is the most important female character in the book, but Patricia Highsmith resists placing her in the conventional love interest role. In some ways, her relationship to both men is very similar. Neither Dickie Greenleaf nor Tom Ripley takes her very seriously because both men are so self-centered. Ironically, after Dickie's death, Tom must take her more seriously because she poses a threat through the possibility that she will uncover the truth.

Marge is a young American novice writer living in Italy. She is romantically interested in Dickie, but he is not remotely interested in anything serious. Because he does not mislead her about his intentions, the reader cannot assume that he is taking advantage of her. Marge seems overly dependent on his approval but still knows that their relationship is fragile. When Tom starts to occupy more of Dickie's time, she grows jealous.

To Tom, Marge is initially an obstacle to his spending more time with Dickie—and to gaining further access to his luxuries and money. Tom's dismissive attitude toward her, and his extreme attachment to Dickie, prompts Marge to accuse Tom of being gay, which helps set in motion the events and emotional reactions that lead to Dickie's murder. Later, Marge is suspicious, but Tom adopts a different tone, sufficiently allaying her fears so that he decides not to kill her too.

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