On the ship, Tom begins to play the “role of a serious young man with a serious job ahead of him.” He does not attempt to socialize with the other passengers, and instead he hones his identity as “a young man with a private income, not long out of Princeton, perhaps.” Tom is excited to start a new life, and he envisions, even if his mission to bring Dickie home fails, staying on in Europe.
Tom is roleplaying a new “character,” honing his ability to shapeshift and impersonate any person, or kind of person, he wants to. Tom has not even begun to complete his “mission,” but already he is calculating how he can benefit from it without actually having to accomplish it.
Tom writes letters to the Greenleafs, amusing himself by adding imagined accounts of Dickie’s life in Europe. He does not send these fanciful letters, which are full of somewhat lurid observations of Marge and Dickie’s relationship. He writes and sends a letter to his Aunt Dottie, “cutting himself off from her.” He is eager for distance from her snide letters, pitiful checks, and reminders of how cruel she was to him as a child—calling him a “sissy” and a burden.
Without even knowing Dickie and Marge, Tom is wary and jealous of their relationship. His cutting ties with his Aunt Dottie reflects his desire to rid himself of his former life and of his memories of her having belittled and teased him in regards to his appearance and demeanor—an appearance and demeanor he hopes to cast off.
Tom ruminates on the mistakes he’s made in the last few years in New York—never sticking to anything, stealing when he felt “the world owed him”— but he delights in his new identity as a mysterious and lonely figure on the ship, the subject of excited “speculation” from other passengers. He thinks the others must think that he has something “important on his mind,” and he decides that, in fact, he does: “the present and future of Tom Ripley.”
Tom is self-aware enough to process his own sense of entitlement, but he regrets it only marginally and is unable to focus on anything but the future. His obsession with the creation of a new identity manifests in his narcissistic thought pattern regarding what the other passengers must think of him—his every thought is of himself.