Talented Mr. Ripley is a twist on An American Tragedy

Finished Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley last night and I am now thinking about the parallels between this book and other novels where the protagonist commits murder in the first act.

The grandfather of all books like this is Crime and Punishment, which it just so happens I am reading at the same time (halfway done!). In Crime and Punishment the murder occurs early on and Raskolnikov spends the next several hundred pages responding to the fallout from his crime. He waxes and wanes on whether or not to give himself up, whether he is obligated to by honor, morality, and  faith, or perhaps his philosophical ideas can pardon his guilt, excuse him from any responsibility or repercussions.

This isn’t the case in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Tom feels no guilt over his murders, nor does he deliberate about how he should be held accountable. His only equivocation is in how to avoid being caught. In this sense Tom his more like Clyde in Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. In that novel, the antihero murders a poorer girl he gets pregnant so as not to disturb the good thing he has going with a rich gal. (Woody Allen cribbed the plot for one of his best later flicks)

For Ripley, the clever thing is that the poor person Tom murders is not Dickie Greenleaf, but Tom Ripley. By killing Dickie, and inheriting his personality and, ultimately, his money, Tom does in his old boring self and emerges as a new creation.

In finishing the novel, I would have to say that my biggest complaint is that the finale is a fizzle instead of a bang. Tom is lifted out of the realm of suspicion not by any skill or chance, but by what appears to be the pure ineptitude of the investigators. They just sorta give up on the case and Tom, though he feels a perpetual anxiety over still being found out, just marches into the sunset rich and safe. The film, I recall, has a much more dramatic finale where Tom is pinned down and must commit one final murder in order to ensure his security. The book, oddly enough, is more like a film as it sets itself up for a sequel (with references to Tom’s growing interest in art, i.e. forgery) rather than attempt to function as a complete package.

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