The Talented Mr Ripley
Thomas Ripley is a petulant, emotionally stunted young man with a victim mentality, a colossal inferiority complex, and uncontrollable feelings of resentment and envy. He’s not likable, but Patricia Highsmith writes well enough to make you understand and even identify with his feelings, and to make you care what happens to him. Though the novel is narrated in third person, Ripley’s undulating moods color the description of every scene and character.
Ripley has a fluid identity, both outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly, he forges signatures and impersonates the person he killed well enough to convince people he is the murder victim, still alive and well. Until he needs to stop being that person. Then, all at once, and to all the world, he is Tom Ripley again.
Inwardly, he rationalizes whatever he wants to believe by re-conceiving people and events in different terms. It makes perfect sense to him one minute to kill someone because she’s stupid and annoying, and to want to keep her around the next minute because her naivete may actually be useful to him down the road.
Ripley isn’t quite a psychopath, though he manipulates people like one. His devious actions are almost entirely in the service of feelings he can neither control nor understand. In the later chapters, he alternates between disappointment and joy when the rest of the world can’t see him for the horrible person he is. The privileged people he envies, blinded by their own good nature, are unable to conceive of the kind of evil that comes so naturally to him. And if these people are the creme of the society he so bitterly envies, maybe his contempt of society is justified.
Ripley’s feelings of envy and contempt and doubt and weakness are probably common to all people. He just feels them more intensely. They color his perceptions, and he can’t help acting on them, even when he knows his actions are irrational and destructive. Highsmith does an excellent job of making you feel and understand the inner workings of a disturbed mind, and that’s what makes this book so interesting.