Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Third Person Narration in The Talented Mr. Ripley (Annotation G2-7/Goddard)

From the opening chapter in a New York bar of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley to the final scene on a pier in Greece the paranoid Tom Ripley is a conman turned psychopath. The chronicled adventures of Tom Ripley from IRS fraud artist to murderer make him more despicable rather than talented. The effective use of Highsmith’s third person narration separates the reader from the inner most of Tom Ripley’s emotional intentions and makes his actions the plot itself.
In this third person narration, which could have easily been written in the first person voice of Tom Ripley, the reader knows Tom’s thoughts. “My God, what did he want? He certainly wasn’t a pervert, Tom thought for a second time,” (Highsmith 4). This example of Highsmith inclusion of many ‘he thoughts’ in the narration, but more often than not the internal thought of Tom Ripley is not specifically stated. In an interview with the police later in Rome, Tom Ripley posing as Dickie Greenleaf has many conversations. In such passages, the narration is overtly objective, merely reporting the conversation as it transpires. However, the interjecting thought leaves the objective third person narration momentary issuing Ripley’s thought. “Could it all be a trick, really? A sly little bastard, that officer,” (Highsmith 173).
Her style is fluid, easy to read, a feat considering the motivations and changes in the Tom Ripley character. Although he is not telling the story outright, leaving the job to the writer herself. The interjecting thoughts of Ripley are sometimes the thoughts of Dickie Greenleaf, as Tom Ripley has assumed his identity. The thoughts between both sides of the Ripley/Greenleaf character are equally as apparent. As the opportunity to travel the world presents itself to Tom Ripley, he knows he would rather see the sights as Dickie Greenleaf rather than himself. “The idea of going to Greece, trudging over the Acropolis as Tom Ripley, American tourist, held no charm for him at all,” (Highsmith 180). In this passage, as narration goes is written simply as statement. Tom in Greece, not good enough, but Dickie in Greece is the preferred way to travel. The narration leaves no room for guesswork. The events are clear: travel to Greece. The innermost thoughts of Tom Ripley are also clear: no good to be a common American tourist. Lastly, the thoughts of the new assumed personality of Dickie, who at this point is already murdered are clear: “he wanted to see Greece as Dickie Greenleaf with Dickie’s money, Dickie’s clothes, Dickie’s way of behaving with strangers,” (Highsmith 180).
This third person narration leads the reader to understand Tom Ripley through his actions, and through his conversations with others with the added bonus of a semi-bias knowledge of Tom Ripley inner workings.

Highsmith, Patricia. The Talented Mr. Ripley. New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992

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