The Talented Mr. Ripley


Patricia Highsmith

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Themes and Colors
Obsession, Identity, and Imitation Theme Icon
Wealth, Luxury, and Excess Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality  Theme Icon
Escapes Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Talented Mr. Ripley, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Obsession, Identity, and Imitation

At the start of the novel, Tom Ripley is unhappy in every aspect of his life. He lives in a rundown apartment, which is the latest in a long series of rundown apartments, and he is working as a low-level con man. He is ashamed of and embarrassed by every aspect of his existence, and he feels that he deserves more from life. Tom’s gifts as a forger, as well as his ingenuity and cunning…

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Wealth, Luxury, and Excess

Highsmith’s descriptions of Tom and Dickie’s romps through Europe are alluring—they are some of the most lushly-worded parts of her book—and they make clear that wealth enables Dickie to do whatever he pleases. His life as a “painter” in Mongibello comes with a home, servants, and lavish lunches, dinners, and trips across Europe—often on a whim. By creating a portrait of excess and allowing readers to view it through the eyes of a poor man…

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Appearance vs. Reality

Nothing is ever quite as it seems in Mr. Ripley. Tom’s principal talent is presenting himself as other than he is, and this is the act from which he derives the most joy in his life. That shapeshifting quality, however, makes readers rightly suspicious of the outward appearances of several of the novel’s major characters and settings. Tom Ripley inspires intrigue, suspicion, unease, and disorientation at every turn and, through the lens of his…

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Every major character in Mr. Ripley is running from something: Dickie Greenleaf flees a life in New York that he doesn’t want, Tom Ripley runs from his poverty and self-loathing by escaping from his own identity, and Marge Sherwood escapes the realities of the writing life and the fear that her book won’t ever be published. Furthermore, by allowing Tom Ripley to make the ultimate escape at the novel’s end—an escape from justice—the novel configures…

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