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Critical Essay by Erlene Hubly
SOURCE: "A Portrait of the Artist: The Novels of Patricia Highsmith," in Clues: A Journal of Detection, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring/Summer, 1984, pp. 115-30.
Hubly is an American educator and critic. In the following essay, she discusses how Highsmith's portrayal of artists in her novels advances such themes as identity, homosexuality, and the real versus the imagined. The critic focuses on the character Sydney Bartleby, the protagonist of A Suspension of Mercy, and Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Patricia Highsmith's artists, those characters who create works of art and often themselves in the process, form, even when compared to some of her other protagonists, a unique group of characters. There is Sydney Bartleby, the writer-hero of A Suspension of Mercy, who in order to stimulate his imagination, plans the imaginary murder of his wife, an endeavor which he then proceeds to act out as though it were so. His ruse is so successful that both his friends and the authorities think he has murdered his wife, as does he himself at times. There is Howard Ingham, the writer-hero of The Tremor of Forgery, who, again, in order to excite his imagination, deliberately lives in a dangerous place, Tunisia, in order to undergo new and dark passions, committing, possibly, even a murder, so that he can write about his experiences. And there is, above all others, the character of Tom Ripley, who if he is not a writer, is an actor, a master of the art of impersonation. It is this art, when coupled with the act of murder, that enables Ripley not only to kill a wealthy young American, Dickie Greenleaf and then to pose as him, but also to provide for his own future security as well, Ripley producing, after Dickie's death, a will, forged, of course, by him, in which Dickie Greenleaf leaves all his money to his good friend, Tom Ripley. Indeed, Highsmith's artists display her ingenuity at its best, allowing her to fashion plots that dazzle the reader with their inventiveness. In addition, Highsmith's artists get the reader closer to the heart of her fictional world perhaps better than any other of her characters. For by examining her artists, we explore some of her major themes: the nature of identity; homosexuality; the real versus the imagined world; the effect of a foreign country on the Americans who live there.
Sydney Bartleby, the protagonist of Highsmith's novel, A Suspension of Mercy (1965), defines the type. An American writer living in England, Bartleby is at work, as Highsmith's novel begins, on a television series featuring the sleuth-hero Nicky Campbell, an ordinary young man who keeps running into crime and solving mysteries. Unable to sell any of the Campbell scripts, which are uninspired, Bartleby seems stymied until he hits upon the idea of murder—the imaginary murder of his wife, Alicia, to whom he is rather unhappily married. After all, he thinks, he has already killed her, in his imagination, "at least twenty times." When Alicia, aware of her husband's growing hostility toward her, leaves for a vacation at Brighton, Bartleby is free to act out his murderous plan. Plotting Alicia's murder, he enacts the imaginary crime, pushing Alicia down the stairs, causing her to break her neck as she hits the floor below. Rolling her body up in a carpet, he carries it from the house; savoring the feelings of guilt and fear that his deed has inspired, he drives to some nearby woods where he buries the carpet, Alicia's body still inside.
His imagination by now on fire, Bartleby returns home, scraps the Nicky Campbell scripts and begins a new series featuring a criminal-hero, The Whip, which prove to be far superior to anything he has yet written. Bartleby is further inspired by the fact that he must continue to play-act: as Alicia stays away from home longer and longer, having met a lover in Brighton and as the police begin to suspect Bartleby of having murdered her, he must master the art of plotting, must both protect himself from a murder charge and yet continue to be, for his own purposes, a murderer. It is a schizophrenic existence, but one which has its rewards: the Whip scripts become better and better and Bartleby finally sells them to a producer for a large sum of money. Murder, then, although here only imaginary, would seem to be a necessary part of the creative process at its most inspired.
If murder stimulates Highsmith's writers' imaginations, it can do so because of their peculiar view of reality. For Highsmith's artists, having manipulated reality for so long through the act of writing, masters at turning the real into fiction, live in a fluid world where few things are clearly defined. Sydney Bartleby, for example, often has difficulty distinguishing the real from the imagined and at times thinks that real conversations he is having with real people are imaginary ones, the words being spoken sounding "like lines in a play they were performing." His efforts at creating fiction, of acting out and experiencing the murder of Alicia, are so successful that he convinces himself that she is dead. And at the height of his difficulties with the police, when asked by Inspector Brockway if he did kill his wife, Bartleby can barely answer "no," feels as if his imagined murder of her is real, that he has "only hours more of freedom" before he is arrested for the crime of murder. The line between the real and the imagined becomes so blurred in Bartleby's mind that later, when he commits a real murder, that of Edward Tilbury, the man with whom Alicia had lived while she was at Brighton, he does so with less effort and with fewer feelings of guilt than he experienced when he committed the imaginary murder of Alicia. Indeed, it is his imagined murder that affects him most deeply.
If Highsmith's artists have difficulty distinguishing between the real and the imagined, they do not, like many of her non-artist protagonists, pay for that difficulty with their lives. For Highsmith has a predilection for her artists: all of them, although warped by their experiences, survive, even prosper. Sydney Bartleby may continue to live in the confusing world of his imagination, may have killed a man and thus risked his own life, but he will not be caught, will continue to write and sell his Whip television scripts, will continue, then, to prosper. Tom Ripley, another of Highsmith's artists, may not, like Sydney Bartleby, be able to distinguish between the real and the imagined, may thus live perpetually on the fringes of madness, may before his career is over murder eight men and thus continually risk exposure and ruin, but he is never caught, never ruined, indeed, even gains a good deal of money from his misdeeds. Able to manufacture plots, to manipulate people as if they were fictional characters, three steps ahead of everyone else because they, the authors, know the script, having written it, Highsmith's artists literally get away with murder, even prosper because of it. And it is their art, their ability to manipulate reality, which enables them to succeed.
If Sydney Bartleby is an early portrait of Highsmith's artist, Howard Ingham, the writer-protagonist of The Tremor of Forgery (1969), enables her to refine and deepen that concept, taking it into new directions. And here, with Howard Ingham, Highsmith employs one of her favorite themes: the effect of a foreign country on the Americans who live there. Highsmith's artists are always Americans and usually in confrontation with a foreign culture. Sydney Bartleby is the exception: living in England, a stable and still Puritan society, he is not threatened by the culture around him. But continental Europe and the Arab countries south of it, are another matter. For Highsmith uses foreign settings, particularly Europe, in the same way that Henry James does, as a place, steeped in centuries of corruption and evil, which offers the American, naive and as yet untested, possibilities heretofore unknown. For Europe is a place in which all inhibitions can be dropped, a place in which an American, no longer under the moral constraints of his homeland, can experience, if he so desires, new and tempting forms of evil. And Highsmith's Americans so desire.
Howard Ingham is such an American. Going to North Africa in order to work on a film with a friend, Ingham, when his friend fails to show up, stays on, fascinated by the country around him. The attraction soon becomes clear: Africa is a place in which all experiences, however evil, seem permissible. A person can murder another and no questions are asked; bodies with their throats cut lie undisturbed in alleys, people barely noticing them as they pass by. There are no restrictions placed on one's sexual activities: homosexual couples openly hold hands as they walk down the street and if a man wants an Arab street boy, he merely singles out one from the many who are willing, for the price of a cigarette, to engage in such sex. "Africa does turn things upside down," Ingham observes early in his stay there and this fact will prove both Africa's attraction and Ingham's near undoing.
Fascinated by Africa's permissive atmosphere, Ingham, a writer, decides to begin work on a novel there. Renting a beach bungalow at Hammamet, a suburb of Tunisia, he is slowly drawn into a life of dark passions. Engaged to a woman, Ina Pallant, back in the States, he, nevertheless, is attracted to a girl he sees in his hotel and begins an affair with her. Drawn to a homosexual Danish artist, Anders Jensen, who makes a pass at him, Ingham stops just short of an affair with him. He does, however, move into Jensen's dirty, run-down apartment building in order to be closer to him and to experience first hand the bohemian life. One night, feeling both sexually excited and lonely, Ingham comes close to taking a young Arab boy home to bed with him. It is an act which he does not accomplish, but which clearly indicates his sexual desires. And, in the central scene of the novel, while his apartment is being robbed, Ingham throws his typewriter at the thief's head and, in all probability, kills him. All things, then, murder, homosexuality, the pleasure of forbidden desires, have become possible for Howard Ingham in Africa.
If The Tremor of Forgery is about an American confronting a foreign culture, it is also a novel about the nature of identity. For Howard Ingham, like Highsmith's other artists, is a man without a clear identity. Coming to Africa without a fixed set of principles in which he both believes and practices, he is especially vulnerable to the temptations around him. That this is to be Highsmith's theme she makes clear early in her book, by surrounding her protagonist with a number of characters, each of whom bears a definite relationship to the question of identity. There is Francis J. Adams, a retired American businessman in Hammamet, who if he has a definite and fixed identity—he is an arch conservative who lives by a rigid code of morality—is finally less than admirable because of that rigidity. There is Anders Jensen, the young Danish artist who befriends and hopes to seduce Ingham. The opposite of the American, Adams—amoral and unstable—Jensen is also a less than admirable character for just that reason. And there is Ina Pallant, Ingham's American fiancee. The most admirable character in the book, she stands somewhere between Adams and Jensen, moral without being rigid, wise because balanced in her views and responses. And as Ingham interacts with each of these characters in turn, he is slowly defined.
Fluid, unable to commit himself to any consistent course of action or to any one person, moving in his affections from Anders Jensen to Ina Pallant and then finally back to his former wife, Charlotte, who by the end of the book wants to see him again, doomed to repeat the mistake of his marriage over again because he is unable to grow into a new and more mature relationship, Howard Ingham is finally a man without a stable identity. Thinking of his life late in the story, he wonders who he is:
He had the awful feeling that in the months he had been here, his own character or principles had collapsed, or disappeared. What was he? Presumably someone with a set of attitudes on which his conduct was based. They formed a character. But Ingham now felt he couldn't think, if his life depended on it, of one principle by which he lived.
Contemplating his own feelings of emptiness, he thinks "it was strangely like a religious experience. It was like becoming nothing and realising that one was nothing anyway, ever. It was a basic truth."
Ingham, does, of course, survive and again, like Sydney Bartleby, because of his art. If Howard Ingham is finally anything, he is a writer, a person who defines himself daily through the words that he writes. At one point in the story he sets himself a working schedule: he must write every day, because if he doesn't, he will "go to pieces." The act of writing then, literally holds him together and, spinning out his tale, he takes form himself. The book he is working on while in Tunisia thus bears an intimate relationship to his own life and becomes the means through which he explores not only his own problems, but also attempts to create a self.
A glamorized version of his own life, Ingham's novel, Dennison's Lights, is the story of a man, Dennison, who becomes a bank embezzler, but whose criminality, because his deeds ultimately do more good than harm, he giving away most of the money he steals, is in question. Like his hero, Dennison, Ingham's criminality, his killing of the thief who tried to rob him, is also in doubt. For maybe the typewriter he threw at the thief's head killed him, but, then, maybe it didn't. As he never investigates the consequences of his deed and as no body is ever found, it having been dragged away in the dark by some young Arabs, neither Ingham nor the reader knows for certain what happened to the thief. But both deeds—Dennison's embezzlement and Ingham's possible killing of the thief—force their perpetrators to live in a secret and criminal world, "a world of darkness known only to him." Although Dennison seems, at one point, to be headed downward toward total collapse, as does Ingham himself, Ingham, by making (he crucial decision not to have Dennison collapse, thus saves not only Dennison, but also, by extension, himself. Dennison does pay for his crime, by going to prison, as does Ingham suffer for his deed, through a good deal of mental anguish. But both men survive, Ingham through his art saving Dennison and, Dennison, in turn, giving form to Ingham.
Both men, if survivors, are finally forgers, a term which comes to have special meaning in Highsmith's novels. For a forger is both creator and criminal, one who forges, as in "makes" something, but one who forges, as in "forgery," the attempt to pass off that which is false for that which is real. And that Highsmith's artists are forgers and thus basically dishonest, becomes clear. For Ingham is finally a forger both in his life and his art. Unable to create for himself a genuine identity, drawing his responses from those around him, never sure of what he thinks, refusing to confront the very issues his life raises—his possible killing of another man, his own homosexual desires—Ingham finally can create a self only through the act of writing. Writing itself here becomes a kind of forgery, a means of making a self impossible to achieve in any other way and yet a self which is inauthentic because it is composed of words alone. Ingham finally exists because he is a writer and, defined solely by that which he does, a dealer in artifice, he becomes that in which he traffics, an imitation of the real. And his books, reflections of himself, copies, therefore, of that which is not genuine, can become only that which they imitate, dishonest and second-rate. To be a writer, then, in this kind of world is to be a special kind of criminal, one who evades the real, a forger, then, of life itself.
This theme, the artist as forger, reaches its culmination in Highsmith's novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), the first of the four books which feature her protagonist Tom Ripley. Tom Ripley is Highsmith's ultimate artist, a man who if he does not write, is an actor of immense abilities, gifted in the art of impersonation. As unformed in his identity as Howard Ingham, Ripley can, nevertheless, profit from this very fact, by passing himself off as other men. Like Sydney Bartleby, a master of invention, he can not only think up clever plots, but also turn them into reality. The Talented Mr. Ripley, mirroring Highsmith's other two studies of the artist, A Suspension of Mercy and The Tremor of Forgery, finally surpasses them both in quality and depth, and becomes her most profound study of the artist's personality.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is, on its most immediate level, a suspense story. Like A Suspension of Mercy, it is a novel with an ingenious plot which carries the reader at break-neck speed toward the final question: will the murderer, in spite of his cleverness, get caught? Of course, by now, we know the answer to that question. For Tom Ripley, like Sydney Bartleby, is a master artist and thus a certain survivor. Going to Europe at the request of an acquaintance's father, Mr. Herbert Greenleaf, in order to persuade Mr. Greenleaf's son, Dickie, to come back home to the States and to his responsibilities as the Greenleaf heir, Ripley masterminds a plot by which he, similar in size and looks to Dickie Greenleaf, will become Dickie Greenleaf, wear his clothes, use his passport, live off his money. Ripley must, of course, get rid of the real Dickie Greenleaf first, a task he accomplishes by killing him while they are out in a boat together. The rest of the novel traces the process by which Ripley does, indeed, literally get away with murder, his efforts to impersonate Dickie Greenleaf so successful that he is able to fool even those who know Dickie best—Marge Sherwood, Dickie's best friend; Dickie's father, Mr. Greenleaf—as well as the bank authorities and police officials of two countries, Italy and America. Ripley's scheme is so ingenious that he is finally able to produce a will, forged, of course, by him, in which Dickie leaves all his money to him, thus ensuring his financial security for the rest of his life. Tom Ripley is, indeed, as the title of the novel in which he first appears would suggest, a very clever fellow.
If The Talented Mr. Ripley is, like A Suspension of Mercy, a means through which Highsmith can display the ingenuity of her artists, it is also, like The Tremor of Forgery, a way in which she can explore one of her favorite themes: the effect of a foreign country on the Americans who travel there. And that she intends to use, in this case, Europe, in the same way that Henry James does, as a liberating and yet corrupting influence on the lives that are exposed to it, she makes clear early in her novel. As Mr. Greenleaf is seeing Ripley off for Europe, he asks him if he has ever read Henry James' novel, The Ambassadors? Ripley has not, but the question remains as a reminder of what Highsmith is up to in her novel. For The Ambassadors, like The Talented Mr. Ripley, is a book about an American who, at the request of another, goes to Europe in order to bring back home an errant and recalcitrant son. And Tom Ripley's journey, like Lambert Strether's before him, will be one that will expose him to all that Europe can offer the American: liberation from a Puritan upbringing and outlook; exposure to a culture rich in artistic accomplishments and to countries full of romantic places; and an atmosphere in which all actions, however immoral, seem if not actually sanctioned, then certainly accepted. And Tom Ripley, like Lambert Strether, will find the lure of Europe so enticing that he will be unable not only to persuade his quarry to come back to America, but also to return there himself.
The effect of Europe upon Tom Ripley is immediate and lasting. Arriving in Mongibello, Italy, where Dickie Greenleaf has been living for the past few years, Ripley is at once charmed by all that he sees: the town; Dickie's house; the two original Picasso drawings that hang in Dickie's hallway; Dickie Greenleaf himself. But by far the most charming thing that Ripley sees is Dickie's way of life, Dickie pursuing the life of an artist, painting in the mornings, sailing in his boat at sundown, drinking aperitifs in the evening in one of the cafes on the beach, taking trips to such cities as Naples, Rome, Paris whenever the mood strikes, answerable to no one for the way he spends his time or money. Ripley, comparing his life to Dickie's, is overcome by feelings of envy and self-pity and vows that he will devote all his efforts to becoming Dickie's best friend and thus a part of his life.
If Europe offers the ideal way of life, it also provides the moral atmosphere in which to attain it. Non-Puritan, seemingly indifferent to questions of morality, thousands of miles from the United States, it can offer the American there—cut off from family and social ties and thus from moral accountability—liberation, release from inhibitions. Tom Ripley was, to be sure, a petty crook in America, but in Europe he is free, if he is so inclined, to become a killer. Successful with Dickie at first, Ripley's hopes for becoming his friend are shattered by Marge Sherwood, an American living in Mongibello and Dickie's best friend. Becoming suspicious of Ripley, warning Dickie that Tom may be a homosexual with designs on him—a charge to which there may be some truth—Marge effectively drives the two men apart. On a trip to San Remo with Dickie, Ripley, sensing Dickie's growing indifference to him, realizing that he has lost his friendship forever, feeling humiliated and rejected, kills Dickie while they are out in a boat together, hitting him in the head with an oar and then weighing his body down in the water with a cement anchor. Dickie's death, however, is not without its practical side. For if Ripley cannot share in Dickie's life, by becoming his friend, he can, once Dickie is dead, become Dickie himself, assuming his very identity.
Ripley is, of course, a man eminently qualified for such a task. Like Howard Ingham in The Tremor of Forgery, Tom Ripley is a man without a self. Having no clear identity, he is a man who has rejected himself and all that he is: his unhappy childhood; his upbringing by a cruel and somewhat sadistic aunt; his impoverished emotional life. And in finding Dickie Greenleaf he finds for the first time in his life an identity he can accept, that he would even like for his own.
This transformation, this process by which Ripley absorbs Dickie into his own being, begins slowly. At first it is on a superficial level, Ripley merely copying Dickie's bodily movements, the way he walks, the way he parts his lips when he is out of breath from swimming. Then his efforts become more serious and far more encompassing. Mastering Dickie's voice, the little growl in his throat at the end of phrases, he begins to impersonate the whole man Dickie and in one of the most striking scenes in the book, attempts for the first time literally to become Dickie. Standing in front of a mirror, his hair parted and fashioned as Dickie wears his, dressed in Dickie's clothes, even wearing Dickie's rings, Ripley acts out a scenario in which he, as Dickie, confronts an imaginary Marge Sherwood, first telling her that he, Dickie, does not love her and then strangling her with his bare hands because she threatens to come between Tom and himself. It is a chilling scene in itself, made all the more so because it reveals not only the depth of Ripley's feelings for Dickie, but also the nature of his madness. Identity has become a deadly game, one mat he would kill for.
This is, of course, exactly what he does. Wanting a complete union with Dickie—in this sense Ripley is a homosexual—but unable to accomplish it physically—no one can become another person—Ripley accomplishes it, like the artist he is, through his imagination. Dickie's body, his physical substance, is, of course, the obstacle. But by removing that obstacle, by destroying Dickie's body, Ripley is then free to incorporate the idea of Dickie into his own being—through his mind. Murder, then, makes the process of attaining an identity complete and Ripley, with Dickie's physical presence removed, can become that which he thinks Dickie is.
There are, of course, several ironies here. For Dickie himself did not have much of an identity himself. Having rejected much of his own background, living off his father, refusing to do any kind of meaningful work, Dickie was a man who had yet to find himself. And Ripley, in modeling himself after Dickie, becomes that which had little substance to begin with. This irony underscores yet another one: Ripley, even after he thinks he has become Dickie, continues to act as Ripley, doing things, his murder of Dickie's friend, Freddie Miles, for example, when Freddie seems about to expose him, that Dickie himself would never have done. But in Ripley's world, where thinking something makes it so, Tom Ripley, thinking he is Dickie Greenleaf, becomes Dickie Greenleaf. Going to Paris, walking the streets, sightseeing, he delights in his new identity: "Wonderful to sit in a famous cafe and to think of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow being Dickie Greenleaf!… It was impossible ever to be lonely or bored, he thought, so long as he was Dickie Greenleaf!"
Ripley's joy at being Dickie is short-lived, however, for as Ripley, who is now Dickie, continues to act as Ripley, murdering Freddie Miles, for example, he begins to threaten Dickie's identity as well. Furthermore, the boat in which Ripley and Dickie had last been seen together in San Remo is found scuttled, blood stains on its bottom. And as the police cannot find Tom Ripley, who is now Dickie Greenleaf, they suspect Dickie of having murdered Ripley as well as Freddie Miles. Realizing that the time has come when it is more dangerous to be Dickie Greenleaf than to be Tom Ripley, that he must now kill Dickie again, this time for good, Ripley becomes despondent: "This was the end of Dickie Greenleaf, he knew. He hated becoming Thomas Ripley again, hated being nobody, hated putting on his old set of habits again. He hated going back to himself as he would have hated putting on a shabby suit of clothes." Ripley's confusion here—of identity with clothes—is characteristic and will provide the idea by which he gets rid of Dickie once and for all. Packing up Dickie's clothes, storing them in the American Express in Venice under the name of Robert Fanshaw, Ripley, in effect, kills Dickie for a second and final time. For if a person is the clothes he wears, then by disposing of Dickie's clothes, Ripley not only disposes of Dickie, but also makes it impossible for himself to become Dickie again.
If Ripley cannot be Dickie, he must become someone and it is at this point in the novel that Highsmith begins her deepest exploration into the question of identity. For as Tom Ripley begins to put together a new self, Highsmith lets the reader know what a genuine identity is not. For Tom Ripley, as artist, will base his ultimate creation, himself, on a lesson he has learned while posing as Dickie Greenleaf: that the important thing about an identity is not who you are, but who you think you are. Acting out something makes it so: "If you wanted to be cheerful, or melancholic, or wistful, or thoughtful, or courteous," all you had to do was "simply act those things with every gesture." Gestures then, have become personality; acting, being; appearance, reality. And Ripley, in creating a self based on such principles, will, like Highsmith's other artists, become a forger, passing off that which is false, a sham-self, for that which is real, a genuine identity.
The fact that he is an American in Europe again aids Ripley's enterprise. Without any family or friends nearby, without any job to define him, with the money to travel and thus the means to escape any fixed existence, he can make himself into anyone he wishes. In such a fluid world, geography can become character; a person, the sum of the places he has been Going to Paris, Ripley begins to absorb that city into himself; walking the streets, he learns the names of its famous places; sitting in a well-known sidewalk cafe, he begins to have a new sense of who he is. It is a practice he will repeat in a number of cities—Rome, Venice, Athens—each place he's visiting adding further to his concept of himself. Sightseeing, then, literally becomes a way of life, the places one has been, the things one has seen, becoming one's self.
What one owns can also help to define one and Ripley sets out to associate himself with those things which best represent that which he would like to become. Ripley, of course, never owns anything; to own something would be to possess something of substance and value, an accomplishment he is at present incapable of. But he does rent. Moving to Venice, he leases a two-story house overlooking San Marco, with a garden "slightly run down," but with an interior which suggests all the splendor and wealth he would like for his own. There is a checkerboard black-and-white marble floor downstairs that extends from the foyer into each of the rooms, pink and white marble floors upstairs and carved wooden furniture so eloquent that it does not resemble furniture at all but rather "an embodiment of cinquecento music played on haut-boys, recorders and violas da gamba." He spends some time—Highsmith slyly points out "at least two weeks"—decorating the house and it reflects his growing good taste: "There was a sureness in his taste now that he had not felt in Rome, that his Rome apartment had not hinted at. "Indeed, Ripley's near-possessions, the house he rents, the way he has decorated it, all give him a new sense of himself: "He felt surer of himself now in every way."
If things can give one an identity, so can the media. The newspaper stories which begin to appear in the Italian press about the "sensational" Dickie Greenleaf case also help to define Ripley. In these stories he is described in some detail, as the friend of the now missing Dickie Greenleaf, as "a young well-to-do American" now living in a "Palazzo" in Venice. Ripley had never thought of his house as being a "palace" before, but seeing it called such in print must make it so and he immediately feels a new sense of pride. Going to a party, he becomes the center of attention. Recognized immediately, because of the newspaper stories, as being Tom Ripley, his identity is further confirmed; he must be someone because other people know who he is.
Slowly, then, Ripley puts together a self made up of the gestures he affects, the places he has been, the things he is associated with, the newspaper stories which confirm that he does, indeed, exist. A patchwork creation made possible by Dickie Greenleaf's money and held together by his own art—his ability to think up new plots, to act out new roles—Tom Ripley is, then, at the end of The Talented Mr. Ripley, the perfect hero for further adventures. Highsmith will, in the three Ripley novels which follow, Ripley under Ground (1970), Ripley's Game (1974) and The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980), modify her concept of her hero somewhat, even suggest that as Ripley beings to lose his powers of invention—as he does in these novels—as he becomes, then, less of an artist, he becomes more of a human being, even moves toward acquiring a genuine self. But at the end of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Ripley is Highsmith's ultimate artist, a man who because he has no real identity, can become all things.
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