The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith was born in Texas and was raised between there and New York City. She is known the world over for her oft-adapted psychological thrillers and crime novels, one of the most famous of which is The Talented Mr. Ripley. A graduate of Barnard College, Highsmith began to gain recognition for her short stories in the early 1940s, and, in 1950, published her first novel, Strangers on a Train, to great acclaim. The book was later adapted into a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Described as “difficult,” “cruel,” “rough,” and “relentlessly ugly” by various editors, publishers, and acquaintances, Highsmith struggled with depression and disordered eating throughout her life. Highsmith, a lesbian, navigated tumultuous relationships with men and women alike throughout her adult life. She is credited with writing and publishing (under a different pen name) the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, The Price of Salt, in 1952. in 1963, she moved to Switzerland, where she lived until her death in 1995.
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Historical Context of The Talented Mr. Ripley

In the wake of World War II, a period of American innovation and wealth began in earnest, while a devastated Europe began to repair itself from the war. Taking advantage of this new wealth and mobility, Highsmith’s American characters traipse through Europe, where the exchange rate is in their favor. The privileges and anonymity of life abroad present characters with an alternative to their lives in the States, one that’s both bohemian and bourgeois. As the world settled back into place and new countries, governments, and commitments to peace solidified, the shifting boundaries and the sense of possibility that Europe offered proved irresistible to Americans who sought change, freedom, or even solace in the new postwar landscape.

Other Books Related to The Talented Mr. Ripley

With The Talented Mr. Ripley, Highsmith (who was already a seasoned writer of thrillers, such as The Two Faces of January and The Cry of the Owl) embarked on a challenge to reinvent the genre by creating a protagonist whose sociopathic ways would not keep audiences from rooting for his success and vindication. At the time of Ripley’s publication, popular thrillers such as The Thirty-Nine Steps and Murder on the Orient Express focused on characters who either found themselves wrongly accused of a crime, or were otherwise unwittingly involved in the investigation of a murder or mystery. In writing Ripley, Highsmith created a main character who dives headlong into a life of betrayal, deceit, and crime, inspiring later novelists such as Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho), and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) to create similarly devious and fearless protagonists.
Key Facts about The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Full Title: The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • When Written: 1953
  • Where Written: Lenox, MA
  • When Published: 1955
  • Literary Period: Modernism; Realism
  • Genre: Fiction; psychological thriller; suspense; mystery; international crime
  • Setting: New York, NY; Italy; France; Greece
  • Climax: Tom Ripley murders his acquaintance Dickie Greenleaf off the coast of San Remo in order to adopt Dickie’s identity as his own.
  • Antagonist: Tom Ripley
  • Point of View: Third person narrative which closely tracks the thoughts and feelings of Tom Ripley

Extra Credit for The Talented Mr. Ripley

Ripleymania. With The Talented Mr. Ripley, Highsmith created a brand new kind of hero: the evil antihero. Ripley was such an iconoclastic novel with such a brand-new idea—what if the bad guy gets away with it?—that it captivated readers the world over and inspired a series of sequels, known by fans as “the Ripliad.” Highsmith’s Ripley novels have been adapted into movies starring Alain Delon, Dennis Hopper, Matt Damon, and John Malkovich (to name a few) as the face of the murderous Mr. Ripley. Ripley continues to inspire the way we think about “heroes” today—Kill Bill, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and even Suicide Squad are some television shows and movies that feature protagonists whose morals are, in a Ripley-esque way, dubious.

The Generous Ms. Highsmith. After her death in 1995, Patricia Highsmith bequeathed her entire estate to the Yaddo artists’ colony in upstate New York, where she completed work on a draft of Strangers on a Train in 1948. The colony is renowned for supporting the work of celebrated writers, such as Truman Capote, David Foster Wallace, and John Cheever.