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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Talented Mr. Ripley

cover image By: Highsmith, Patricia (female)
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (D282)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 595: PS3558 .I366 T34 1959
Contributor: M.A. Moran


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Patricia Highsmith Geographic Locale: begins in New York City; moves to southern Italy near Naples, with scenes in Rome, Venice, and other European cities Date of Publication: 1959  |  Original Date: 1955 Setting: urban (large cities) and a small village Motives: greed, fear, murder. Tom becomes increasingly fond of living the easy life. He realizes Dickie will not support him much longer. He thinks first of stealing Dickie's signet ring. Then, "A crazy emotion of hate, of affection, of impatience and frustration was swelling in him, hampering his breathing. He wanted to kill Dickie....Dickie was just shoving him out in the cold....He could -- He had just thought of something brilliant: he could become Dickie Greenleaf himself....The danger of it, even the inevitable temporariness of it which he vaguely realized, only made him more enthusiastic. He began to think of how."

Plot Summary

Tom Ripley, a young American ne'er-do-well, travels to Italy on an unusual assignment, to convince a rich man's son to return home. Once in Europe, Ripley's talent for evil leads him to commit two murders and assume the identity of one of his victims. At the end of the novel, he seems to have evaded the hands of Justice.

Major Characters

Alvin McCarron adult male, short, chunky, about 35 years old, with a friendly, alert face; "One couldn't tell a thing from that face, Tom thought; it was trained." Detective

Lieutenant Roverini adult male, middle-aged, Italian, he "looked like thousands of other middle-aged Italians, with heavy gray-and-black eyebrows and a short, bushy gray-and-black mustache," police lieutenant

Tom Ripley adult male, 25 years old, American, living on what he receives from an elderly aunt and what he can get from various schemes and not-quite-legitimate means. Easily bored, intelligent but without a college education, Tom's desire to prove his cleverness often involves him in dishonest and criminal activities. He feels superior to most of the people around him, has no real friends, and resents having had to be deferential to others throughout most of his life

Dickie Greenleaf adult male, well-off son of an American shipbuilder. After going to Italy, he decides to remain in Europe to paint although his talent is negligible; self-absorbed

Freddie Miles adult male, American traveling indefinitely in Europe, a friend of Dickie Greenleaf who comes close to discovering that Tom has killed Dickie and assumed his identity, self-styled playwright, overweight, unattractive with "large red-brown eyes that seemed to wobble in his head as if he were cockeyed, or perhaps he was only one of those people who never looked at anyone they were talking to"

Marge Sherwood adult female, an American whom Dickie meets in Italy. "She wasn't bad-looking, Tom supposed, and she even had a good figure, if one liked the rather solid type." Marge is in love with Dickie and suspects Tom of having similar feelings for Dickie and of drawing Dickie away from her. She is writing a novel and returns to America by the end of the book.

Mr. Greenleaf adult male, pays for Tom's trip to Europe so Tom may persuade his son, Dickie, to come home. A wealthy businessman, he has little knowledge of his son or appreciation of him. A gullible man; even his concern for his wife seems offhand.


boat oar and drowning; a heavy glass

Level of Violence

violence is near the surface for Tom on several occasions. For both murders, he hits the victims several times with increasing violence. He has feelings of anger toward people he considers vulgar, opinionated, silly, and unintelligent.


Tom sees Marge and Dickie kiss, but Dickie says they never had sexual relations. Marge suspects Tom of being a homosexual and passes the suspicion on to Dickie; Tom continually denies it. "Why should she? What've I ever done? He felt faint. Nobody had ever said it outright to him not in this way." Tom and Dickie come across a group of acrobats at whom Dickie sneers. "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. All right, Tom thought, the acrobats were fairies. Maybe Cannes was full of fairies. So what? He remembered Aunt Dottie's taunt: Sissy! He's a sissy from the ground up. Just like his father!"

Gender Roles

Marge joins in activities with Tom and Dickie. On a few occasions, Tom sees her as a source of comfort and nurturing, but gender does not seem to play a large part in the novel.


not an issue

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

drinking occurs as a regular course. Tom drinks to excess with Dickie when they travel to Naples. Drinks are part of all social gatherings described.

Law Enforcement

Tom gets away with murder twice, and with forgery and impersonation. Highsmith makes the efforts of the law enforcers and the news reporters seem humorous rather than efficient. Tom holds no respect for the police or the American detective.

Added Features

Highsmith has a series of books about Tom Ripley which cover many years. In one of the later ones, the consequences of Tom's earlier crimes seem to be catching up with him, but ultimately they do not. There is mention of Mussolini's past rule in Italy and mention of TV as a career opportunity.

Subject Headings

Italy/ Wealth/ Murder/ Greed

Psychological Elements

Tom has bouts of paranoia, suffers some bad dreams, and at times makes sounds of regret about his actions. But he is always able to convince himself that it was not really his fault. He re-makes the situation, draws up alternate versions of what happened, and convinces himself that those versions are the truth.

Film Adaptations

Purple Noon, 1960, CCFC; The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999, Paramount