Tom Ripley hurriedly exits a bar called the Green Cage on Park Avenue, aware that he is being followed by a man in a suit. Nervous that he is about to be caught for committing an unnamed crime, Tom ducks into another bar, Raoul’s, and orders a drink.
From the novel’s first sentence, we have a clear portrait of the slippery Tom Ripley: nervous, guilty, eager to hide and disguise himself. The “Green Cage” also evokes the suffocation of wealth that Tom will encounter.
Tom’s pursuer enters the bar and approaches him. He introduces himself as Herbert Greenleaf, and explains that he recognizes Tom as a friend of his son, Richard Greenleaf, known by everyone as “Dickie.” Tom remembers Dickie, with whom he was once casually acquainted and whose Park Avenue apartment he visited once or twice, as “a tall blond fellow with quite a bit of money.”
Tom’s relief to find that his pursuer is not an officer of the law but one of his wealthy acquaintances’ fathers is palpable. Tom’s remembrance of Dickie includes no details of his personality—only that he is wealthy. From the start, Tom’s attraction to wealth and luxury is apparent.
Tom and Herbert move to a table, where Herbert asks whether Tom and Dickie are still in touch, and explains that Dickie has run away to Italy to paint. Herbert desperately wants Dickie to return home—Dickie’s mother, Emily, is ill, and Herbert wants Dickie to enter the family shipbuilding business. He offers to “send Tom over” to convince Dickie to return. Herbert, grateful that Tom is “the first of Dickie’s friends who’s been willing to listen” to him, tells Tom that his expenses will be covered, and that he hopes Tom will “succeed where the rest of us have failed.” Tom, though aware that Herbert is overestimating his and Dickie’s closeness, is excited by the prospect, and allows Herbert to buy him another drink.
From their first meeting, Tom allows Herbert to treat him, and takes advantage of Herbert’s desperation. This behavior will become cyclical as the novel progresses, with the relationship between Tom and Herbert serving as one of the most egregious examples of Tom’s voracity, greed, and entitlement deployed against another human being.