For this assignment, I have chosen to diagnose the character Tom Ripley from Patricia Highsmith’s 1951 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. This novel won the Edgar Allen Poe Scroll Mystery Writers of America award and also introduced the fascinating anti-hero Tom Ripley, who was to appear in many of her later crime novels. In 1999, the book was made into a movie starring Jude Law, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Gwyneth Paltrow. This novel is written from the third person’s point of view. The setting of the novel starts of in Manhattan, New York and the readers follows the character to Italy, where his abnormal mental state is apparent.
Background on the character.
Tom Ripley is a young man struggling to make a living in New York City after running away from his aunt in Boston with no prospects other than a talent to survive by being willing to do whatever is required.
“Oh, I can do a number of things – valeting, baby-sitting, accounting – I’ve got an unfortunate talent for figures. No matter how drunk I get, I can always tell when a waiter’s cheating me on a bill. I can forge a signature, fly a helicopter, handle dice, impersonate practically anybody, cook – and do a one-man show in a night club in case the regular entertainer’s sick. Shall I go on?” Tom was leaning forward, counting them off on his fingers. He could have gone on. – Tom Ripley, (page 51)
Herbert Richard Greenleaf, a shipping tycoon approaches Tom in hopes that Tom will be able to persuade his son, Richard (Dickie) to come back to the United States and assume his responsibility as a member of the Greenleaf family and the family business.
“He has been in Europe for two years. The Schrievers spoke very highly of you, and thought you might have some influence on Richard (Dickie) if you were to write to him. I want him to come home. He has responsibilities here – buy just now he ignores anything I or his mother try to tell him.” – Herbert Greenleaf (page 7)
Tom comes to see this as a rare open-ended opportunity. He was eager to start a new life with a clean slate. He also planned on finding a job in Europe once his allowance from Herbert Greenleaf was used up. Tom was versatile and as mentioned before, was willing to do anything to survive.
Upon his arrival in Itlay, Tom meets Dickie and his American girlfriend Marge Sherwood. Although Tom tries to suck up to Dickie, Marge doesn’t seem to like Ripley very much. Marge is in love with Dickie who is close with her but is not committed to a lasting relationship. As Tom and Dickie spend more time together, Marge feels left out and begins insinuating to Dickie that Ripley is gay.
“Another thing I want to say, but clearly, ‘ he said, looking at Tom, ‘I’m not queer. I don’t know if you have the idea that I am or not.
“Queer?’ Tom smiled faintly. ‘I never thought that you were queer.’
Dickie started to say something else, and didn’t. He straightened up, his ribs showing in his dark chest. ‘Well, Marge thinks you are.” – Dickie Greenleaf (page 70)
One day, Tom goes into Dickie’s bedroom after getting into an argument with Dickie. Tom, nonchalantly, uses his clothes from the cupboard. Tom then realizes that if he parts his hair the same way Dickie does, he looks exactly like Dickie; a realization that startles him. Dickie walks in on Tom and is visibly upset that Tom had used his clothes. From this moment, Tom senses that his wealthy friend has changed his notions towards him, resenting his annoyingly constant presence and that dampens their friendship.
“He jerked Dickie’s closet door open and looked in. there was a freshly pressed, new-looking grey flannel suit that he had never seen Dickie wearing. Tom took it out. He took of his knee-length shorts and out on the grey flannel trousers. He put on a pair of Dickie’s shoes. The he opened the bottom drawer of the chest and took out a clean blue-and-white-striped shirt.
“What are you doing?”
Tom whirled around. Dickie was at the doorway. Tom realized that he must have been right below at the gate when he had looked out. ‘Oh – just amusing myself,’ Tom said in the deep voice he always used when he was embarrassed. ‘Sorry Dickie.’
‘I wish you’d get out of my clothes,’ Dickie said.
Dickie looked at Tom’s feet. ‘Shoes, too? Are you crazy?” – Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf (pages 69 -70)
Dickie goes on to tell Tom that Marge thinks Tom is gay because that is the only explanation for his attachment towards Dickie. Dickie is shocked at Marge’s accusation and confronts Tom about it. Tom, whose sexuality is vague in the novel, is taken aback by Marge’s statement. Critics have debated about Tom’s sexuality. Some would say he is bisexual and other would say it is ambiguous. In the novel, Tom does mention that he wants to give up on both man and women because he cannot make up his mind which gender he likes better. I would conclude and say that Tom’s sexual orientation is ambiguous.
However, Tom does have an unhealthy obsession with Dickie. He gets incredibly jealous when Dickie spends time with Marge which was what motivated him to walk into Dickie’s room in the first place. Tom also had gotten accustomed to the wealthy lifestyle Dickie’s father had afforded him. He wanted to make it permanent. And so, after this incident, Dickie took Marge’s advice and tried to slowly cut out Tom from his life. This only infuriated Tom further. Dickie, however, felt that he owed Tom something for his journey, and agreed to go on a short holiday with him to San Remo. Increasingly anxious by Dickie’s apparent disgust, Tom finally decides to murder him. Tom kills Dickie by beating him to death with an oar while they are out sailing in San Remo. He dumps Dickie’s body into the water and ruins the boat.
“He picked up an oar, as casually as if he were playing with it between his knees, and when Dickie was shoving his trousers down, Tom lifted the oar and came down with it on the top of Dickie’s head.
Tom stood up and brought the oar down again, sharply, all his strength released like the snap of a rubber band.
Tom swung a left-handed blow with the oar against the side of Dickie’s head. The edge of the oar cut a dull gash that filled with a line of blood as Tom watched. Dickie was at the bottom of the boat, twisting and twisting. Dickie gave a groaning roar of protest that frightened Tom with its loudness and its strength. Tom hit him in the side of his neck, three times, chopping strokes with the edge of the oar, as if the oar were an axe and Dickie’s neck a tree. The boat rocked, and water splashed over his foot that was braced on the gunwale. He sliced at Dickie’s forehead, and a broad patch of blood came slowly where the oar had scraped. For an instant Tom was aware of tiring as he raised and swung, and still Dickie’s hands slid towards him on the bottom of
the boat. Dickie’s long legs straightened to thrust him forward. Tom got a bayonet grip on the oar and plunged its handle into Dickie’s side. Then the prostrate body relaxed, limp and still. (page 91)
Tom then assumes Dickie’s dentity, living off the latter’s trust fund income and carefully providing communications to Marge to assure her that Dickie has dumped her. Freddie Miles, an old friend of Dickie’s and from the same social set, comes across Tom at what he supposes to be Dickie’s apartment in Rome. He soon suspects something is wrong. When Miles finally confronts him, Tom kills him with an ashtray.
Tom twisted the stair rail in his hands as if it were Freddie’s neck. Then Tom heard Freddie’s footsteps running up the stairs. Tom stepped back into the apartment and closed the door. He could go on insisting that he didn’t live here, that Dickie was at Otellq’s, or that he didn’t
know where Dickie was, but Freddie wouldn’t stop now until he had found Dickie. Or Freddie would drag him downstairs and ask Signora Buffi who he was. Freddie knocked on the door. The knob turned. It was locked. Tom picked up a heavy glass ash-tray. He couldn’t get his hand across it, and he had to hold it by the edge. He tried to think just for two seconds more: wasn’t there another way out? What would he do with the body? He couldn’t think. This was the only way out. He opened the door with his left hand. His right hand with the ash-tray was drawn back
Freddie came into the room. ‘Listen, would you mind telling-‘
The curved edge of the ash-tray hit the middle of his forehead. Freddie looked dazed. Then his knees bent and he went down like a bull hit between the eyes with a hammer. Tom kicked the door shut. He slammed the edge of the ash-tray into the back of Freddie’s neck. He
hit the neck again and again, terrified that Freddie might be only pretending and that one of his huge arms might suddenly circle his legs and pull him down. Tom struck his head a glancing blow, and blood came. Tom cursed himself. He ran and got a towel from the bathroom and put it under Freddie’s head. Then he felt Freddie’s wrist for a pulse. There was one, faint, and it seemed to flutter away as he touched it as if the pressure of his own fingers stilled it. In the next second it was gone. (pages 123 -124)
He later disposes of the body on the outskirts of Rome, attempting to make police believe that Miles has been murdered by robbers.
Tom does his best to dodge the Italian police, but manages to keep himself safe by restoring his own identity and moving to Venice. In succession Marge and Dickie’s father, an American private detective confronts Tom, who suggests to them that Dickie was depressed and may have committed suicide. Marge stays for a while at Tom’s rented house in Venice and this is when she discovers Dickie’s rings in Tom’s possession. She seems to be on the verge of realizing the truth. Panicking again, Tom contemplates murdering Marge, but she saves herself when she says that if Dickie gave his rings to Tom, then he probably meant to kill himself.
The story concludes with Tom traveling to Greece and resigning himself to eventually getting caught. On arrival in Greece, however, he discovers that the Greenleaf family has accepted that Dickie is dead and that Ripley shall inherit his fortune according to a will forged by Tom on Dickie’s Olivetti typewriter. While the book ends with Ripley happily rich, it also suggests that he may forever be dogged by paranoia.
“Even if there were policemen on the pier, it wouldn’t necessarily mean -â€¦” (page 249)
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision (DSM -IV-TR) classifies Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) under personality disorders Axis II Cluster B (dramatic, emotional, or erratic) and the code is 301.81. This is my diagnosis for the character Tom Ripley in the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley.
The reason why I say that Tom Ripley has NPD is because the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder revolve around a pattern of lavishness, the need for approval, and sense of power. Individuals who have this disorder need to feel overly important and will exaggerate achievements and will accept, and often demand, praise and admiration despite worthy achievements. They may be overwhelmed with fantasies involving unlimited success, power, love, or beauty and feel that they can only be understood by others who are, like them, superior in some aspect of life and the character Tom Ripley has all of these symptoms.
In the initial parts of the book, Tom felt that his gifts for figures were not recognized and he was sour about it. He was unhappy with the lack of praise for his gift. Later, he killed Dickie, because he felt that Dickie was not giving him the same amount of attention and that Dickie did not approve of him. He needed the attention and he didn’t like it that he was not in the spotlight anymore. He was also jealous that Dickie spent more time with Marge after the incident in Dickie’s room which made Tom go off the deep end.
Tom also had a taste of a lavish lifestyle and intended on keeping his lifestyle that way, which is why he forged a will by Dickie to Herbert Greenleaf stating that Dickie had left all his money to Tom. Tom knew that money meant power. He knew how much Herbert Greenleaf wanted his son to come back to the US of A and how much Emily Greenleaf missed her son especially in her sickly condition. She was at the last stages of leukemia. Tom totally disregarded how Dickie’s parents felt and just thought of himself and the fact that Dickie did not like him anymore.
On his voyage to Italy, he fantasized a lot about the role that he wanted to play while on the ship. He decided to play the role of a “serious young man with a serious job ahead of him. He was courteous, poised, civilized and preoccupied.” (Highsmith, 1951) Tom also fantasized about killing Dickie. He had premeditated the murder in his head.
“He wanted to kill Dickie. It was not the first time he had thought of it. Before, once or twice or three times, it had been an impulse caused by anger or disappointment, an impulse that vanished immediately and left him with a feeling of shame. Now he thought about it for an entire minute, two minutes, because he was leaving
Dickie anyway, and what was there to be ashamed of anymore? He had failed with Dickie, in every way. He hated Dickie, because, however he looked at what had happened, his failing had not been his own fault, not due to anything he had done, but due to Dickie’s inhuman stubbornness. And his blatant rudeness! He had offered Dickie friendship, companionship, and respect, everything he had to offer, and Dickie had replied with ingratitude and now hostility. Dickie was just shoving him out in the cold. If he killed him on this trip, Tom thought, he could simply say that some accident had happened. He could – He had just thought of something brilliant: he could become Dickie Greenleaf himself. He could do everything that Dickie did. He could go back to Mongibello first and collect Dickie’s things, tell Marge any damned story, set up an apartment in Rome or Paris, receive Dickie’s cheque every month and forge Dickie’s signature on it. He could step right into Dickie’s shoes. He could have Mr Greenleaf, Sr, eating out of his hand. 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. (page 87)
Tom also lacked the ability to empathize and sympathize with others. He killed two people with no mention of remorse and forged a will in Dickie’s name for his personal gain. And Freddie’s murder, though was not planned like Dickie’s was, Tom had no qualms about killing him. Tom would do anything to survive even if it meant murder.
There is a sense of entitlement, of being more deserving than others based solely on their superiority. These symptoms, however, are a result of an underlying sense of inferiority and are often seen as overcompensation. Because of this, they are often envious and even angry of others who have more, receive more respect or attention, or otherwise steal away the spotlight. This was why Tom killed Dickie. He felt that he deserved more attention than Marge and he knew Marge’s complains about Dickie not spending time with her would take its toll on the friendship and attention Tom had gotten from Dickie. And, like he predicted, it did. And so, he committed his first murder.
Treatment for this disorder is very rarely sought. There is a limited amount of insight into the symptoms, and the negative consequences are often blamed on society. In this sense, treatment options are limited. Some research has found long term insight oriented therapy to be effective, but getting the individual to commit to this treatment is a major obstacle. In Tom’s case, I would argue it is because of his severe emotional childhood abuse experiences. Tom’s parents drowned in the Boston River and he was brought up by his aunt Dottie. However, she was not very nice to him.
He thought suddenly of one summer day when he had been about twelve, when he had been on a cross-country trip with Aunt Dottie and a woman friend of hers, and they had got stuck in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam somewhere. It had been a hot summer day, and Aunt Dottie had sent him out with the Thermos to get some ice water at a filling station, and suddenly the traffic had started moving. He remembered running between huge, inching cars, always about to touch the door of Aunt Dottie’s car and never being quite able to, because she had kept inching along as fast as she could go, not willing to wait for him a minute, and yelling,
‘Come on, come on, slowpoke!’ out the window all the time.
When he had finally made it to the car and got in, with tears of frustration and anger running down his cheeks, she had said gaily to her friend,
‘Sissy! He’s a sissy from the ground up. Just like his father!’
It was a wonder he had emerged from such treatment as well as he had. (page 34)
It is in my opinion that Tom Ripley knows that something is wrong with him. There are signs of it throughout the novel. He just enjoys the fact that he can get away with murder. But, the author is right and I concur with her that he will suffer from paranoia for the rest of his life.