Marge declines Tom and Dickie’s invitation to San Remo, but asks them to pick up a special cologne for her from a French shop there. Tom and Dickie share a suitcase, as the trip is going to be a short one. These details make Tom feel nervous and resentful of both Marge and Dickie. On the train to San Remo, Dickie is polite and cheerful, but Tom feels Dickie is overcompensating. Tom feels an “aversion to San Remo before they even get there.” On top of it all, Dickie tells Tom that he would like to go to Cortina alone with Marge—he thinks he “owes” her a “pleasant holiday.” Tom reacts badly, but suggests that they stop in Cannes to look around town. Dickie acquiesces.
Though the details of the first stretch of Tom and Dickie’s San Remo trip might seem small and inconsequential, Highsmith renders them in such a way that they contribute to Tom’s downward spiral into self-doubt, jealousy, anger, and resentment. Tom views Dickie’s shortening of the trip length, his refusal to go to Paris, his catering to Marge’s desires, and his request to go to Cortina as stabs to the heart, and, knowing Tom Ripley, it is not a far-flung possibility that some form of retribution is close to follow.
On the beach in Cannes, Tom and Dickie spot a group of men making a human pyramid, and Dickie makes reference to them being “sprightly.” Tom feels a “sharp thrust of shame,” remembering both Dickie and Marge’s questioning of his sexuality and Aunt Dottie’s labeling of him as a “sissy.”
Dickie’s mockery of “sprightly” men is to Tom a direct assault. Though Tom and Dickie have both insisted vehemently that they are straight, Tom’s “shame” regarding the tauntings of his childhood is too great.
That afternoon, Tom and Dickie leave for San Remo. Dickie sleeps on the train, and Tom stares at him as he does. He considers stealing Dickie’s signet ring on the last day of the trip. As he continues to watch Dickie sleep, he feels “affection, impatience,” and “frustration.” He realizes “not for the first time” that he wants to kill Dickie. He concocts a plan to murder him and make it look like an accident and, moreover, to “become Dickie Greenleaf…step right into Dickie’s shoes.”
With his rage toward Dickie at a fever pitch, Tom ignores his more complicated feelings and fantasizes about Dickie’s murder. Not only will Tom get revenge on Dickie for all of his recent slights, but he will be able to easily “become” Dickie. The reward is too great, and Highsmith imbues Tom’s thoughts with the sense that he has already fully committed to carrying out the murder.
In San Remo, Tom suggests that the two of them take a boat out into the bay. Dickie agrees, and they rent a boat and set off. Though Tom is afraid of water, he is determined to go through with his plan. He notes that no one from land can see them at all—“he could have hit Dickie, or kissed him, or thrown him overboard.”
Tom’s fear of water must be quashed again as he heads out into the bay to kill Dickie. The privacy the two of them have out on the water is Tom’s perfect ideal—he longs to be alone with Dickie forever, even as he prepares to murder him.
Dickie slows the boat’s motor so that Tom can jump in for a swim, and, when he does, Tom smacks him over the head with an oar. Dickie is “groggily surprised,” then shocked and angry and “glowering and fierce” as, after a few more blows, he loses consciousness and begins to bleed from the forehead. Dickie screams and groans frighteningly in the bottom of the boat, twitching as he does. To silence him, Tom delivers several more blows to the forehead, and then, still not satisfied, Tom uses a “bayonet grip” to bludgeon Dickie’s body until it goes fully limp. Immediately, Tom removes Dickie’s rings and pockets them, then strips Dickie of the rest of his possessions, including Marge’s perfume.
The murder is brutal and dehumanizing, yet Dickie’s “surprise” as it begins and his “fierce” protests as it continues do nothing to deter Tom from his goal. Highsmith’s prose describes this gore in the lush detail she uses to talk of luxurious meals and fine possessions. Before dumping the body, Tom pockets Dickie’s rings, as they symbolize to him Dickie’s wealth and confidence in his identity. They will also be a central part of Tom’s disguise.
While attempting to sink Dickie’s body, Tom accidentally starts the boat’s motor and falls into the water. He panics, but manages to reach up and shut the motor off, then pull himself back aboard. After resting for a moment, he restarts the engine and steers the boat toward a small cove. Once ashore he gathers stones and loads them into the boat, then shoves it out to sea. He falls facedown onto the beach, exhausted, and begins to “plan” his return to his hotel, then to Mongibello, crafting the story he will tell.
Tom encounters his fear of water at his moment of great triumph, symbolizing his having been pulled down into some other, terrible state. Careful to cover his tracks, Tom refuses to allow himself to rest until the boat has been sunk to his satisfaction, and, when he does rest, he lulls himself with plans of how he will deceive everyone he knows.