As a contemporary work of fiction (written after 1945), The Talented Mr. Ripley focuses on the dissolution, or disparity, of the "self." The novel's focus on the solipsistic nature of its protagonist, a character who is equally antagonistic to himself, reflects the works appearing after World War II, infused with questions of "national," if not "individual," identity. Locating this novel in Europe heightens the drama of displacement; placing this novel in Italy creates the drama of what Anthony Minghella, screenplay writer and director of the 1999 film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, refers to as the exploration of "issues of identity and sexuality." The novel is "escapist" in the sense that it allows Tom Ripley the opportunity to travel beyond his society to explore the boundaries of his identity. What ensues, most tellingly, reveals how tenuous those boundaries are.
While The Talented Mr. Ripley is identifiable as a work of "contemporary" fiction, its location in and between the modern and postmodern is more ambiguous. Although the narration is third person omniscient, like James' The Ambassadors, the allusions to James' text illustrate that something else is at work in the novel. Highsmith's play with the modernist tradition is evident as the reader travels to Europe with Tom Ripley, only to then delve into the nightmare of Tom's mind. In this sense, Highsmith's work appears "postmodern" as it posits the idea that the self is polyvalent, multi-vocal— informed by other voices. This concept that the self is fragmented, and multiple, is played out in the context of the novel as Tom can only see himself as Dickie; once Dickie is removed from the text, Tom can become like him, if not liked by him.
While Highsmith is regarded as a writer of "suspense" fiction, as her work, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, would indicate, her work appears to transcend such simple categorizations....
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