Psychological Condition of the Protagonist in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith

Published: 2021-09-14 09:40:10
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Nagy’s protagonist represents the contemporary individual who is characterized for “dependence on the vicarious warmth provided by others combined with a fear of dependence, a sense of inner emptiness and boundless repressed raged”. The absence of interpersonal relations and the belief that a luxurious life equates with a happy life are the two fundamental forces that guide Tom’s actions. Thus, Nagy chooses to maintain the setting of the murder, but illuminates the psychological conditions that lead the character to kill in order to implicitly criticize the social milieu.
The actual murder presents Nagy’s perspective changing Highsmith’s structure. The playwright positions Richard as the initial attacker after hearing Tom’s revelations about his identity. His movement is marked through the rise of the violent sound of the motorboat. The character falls from the boat and hangs from the edges with Tom “doing nothing to help him”. While the sound of waves becomes unstable and intense Tom “reaches out his hand towards Richard, their fingers almost touch, and at the last possible moment, Tom raises an oar and brings it down viciously on to Richard’s head”. His uncertainty, till the very last moment, sheds light on the spontaneity of his actions which contradicts the organized steps that Highsmith’s protagonist executes. The different framing of the murder scene signifies Nagy’s attempt to provide the spectators with an alternative that does not view him “as exemplifying supernatural evil”. The fact that Tom hesitates to kill contradicts Highsmith’s character that murders Richard and disposes of his body relatively easy. Nagy, on the other hand, keeps blurring the power relationship between the characters and avoids presenting a clear-cut and definite domination of Tom over Richard. In this way, the playwright offers a prism through which the spectators can see this violent scene, without focusing on violence as a sensory effect which targets to elicit neither a shocking reaction nor an invocation of emotions. Thus, the construction of the play’s first murder scene aims to highlight violence as a necessary, for the protagonist, action which will lead him to gain the life he dreams.The second murder, that of Richard’s friend, Freddie, takes place in order to protect Tom’s secret. While Freddie insists on knowing where Richard is, Tom admits that he killed him. The protagonist sarcastically marks that “[i]t was hard work. But [he]’ll be pleased to know that his brilliant efforts at the wing position during his formative years made it very difficult for Tom to actually, finally kill him. Richard’s lung capacity was truly amazing”. The protagonist’s sardonic comment signifies his lack of remorse at the same time that it prepares the spectators for a fighting scene, since he would not just reveal such information to Freddie if he did not have similar plans for him. Therefore, the playwright prepares the spectators for Tom’s reaction illustrating the character’s certainty and lack of hesitation. In the play, Freddie attempts to attack Tom, but the protagonist reacts quickly grabbing a letter opener and stabbing him “clearly through the chest”. The fact that Tom finds himself in a defensive position, since Freddie is the initial attacker, tilts the scale of violent behavior. The playwright ventures to balance the display of violence deriving from the main character in order not to present him as a killing machine. However, his action seems calculated and without any uncertainty. The main character does not hesitate to even mock Freddie after stabbing him, illustrating that “if he doubted Tom had the guts to murder before, he certainly can’t doubt it now. Because Tom seems to have his guts well in hand”. The character seems to feel satisfied that he is in control of the situation and even laughs after Freddie collapses. His reaction underscores the fact that he enjoys having power over others revealing to the spectators his need to be in control. Therefore, Freddie’s murder allows the spectators to formulate a deeper understanding of the main character.
Nagy depicts the main character’s absence of emotional connection with others through his discourse after killing Freddie. While addressing dead Freddie Tom calls him “pour and dumb” since he “let some misplaced sentimental notion of friendship kill him”. The protagonist illustrates his belief that emotional attachment to others can only harm oneself, signifying his personal emotional emptiness. His comment implicitly unveils Tom’s lack of sentimental ties with others, promoting his narcissistic tendencies and enhancing his lethal decisions. As Christopher Lasch observes about the narcissist’s profile, “his fear of emotional dependence, together with his manipulative, exploitive approach to personal relations, makes these relations bland, superficial and deeply unsatisfying”. Nagy juxtaposes the protagonist’s nonexistent relations with others to his violent action in order to underline the connection between aggression and lack of emotional bonds. Thus, the playwright projects Tom’s sentimental void as one of the reasons that enhances his destructive responses.

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