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Published: 03-10-2019

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The Uncanny and Diagnosis of Mr. Ripley: A Freudian Approach

Patricia Highsmith, the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, portrays a protagonist on the precipice of insanity. Mr. Ripley shows several qualities of a person with borderline character disorder, or more typically called: a psychopath. A book titled, The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, addresses a number of symptoms of borderline personality disorder, numerous of which can be observed in the character of Tom Ripley. These symptoms can assist explain why Tom Ripley is so convincing and such a believable character in the novel. Along with the diagnostic facets in this story, one particular can witness components of the uncanny in this thriller. Employing Sigmund Freud’s write-up, “The Uncanny”, 1 can also see how Highsmith utilizes some key ideas of Freud’s article to produce a sense of uncanniness. In order to far better understand the state of Ripley’s mind, a single have to know the symptoms and behavior traits of a person with borderline character disorder. The lengthy list involves a lot of deceptive qualities such as superficial charm, intelligence, unreliability, untruthfulness, lack of shame, egocentricity, failure to stick to any life strategy, etc. These general characteristics, taken from a multitude of diverse patient cases by Cleckley, provides the reader with the tools essential to diagnose Ripley as a “psychopath”, and, after that is established, one particular can see how Highsmith incorporates his disorder in The Talented Mr. Ripley in order to develop a sense of uncanny feelings.

1 can see almost right away a important characteristic of a psychopath in Ripley’s dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Greenleaf. Cleckley states that, “More typically than not, the standard psychopath will seem particularly agreeable and make a distinctly constructive impression when he is first encountered” (354). This can be seen in the conversation and mannerisms in between Ripley and the Greenleafs. Throughout a lull in the conversation the reader sees Ripley look at himself in the mirror, seeing himself as “the upright, self-respecting young man once again. He was undertaking the correct issue, behaving the proper way” (Highsmith 25) and just a paragraph later pondering, “That had been the only time tonight when he had felt uncomfortable, unreal, the way he may possibly have felt if he had been lying” (Highsmith 25). He acknowledges that he was behaving in the appropriate manner to this upper-class loved ones, ensuring that they would grant him the chance to retrieve Dickie and travel to Europe on their dime. It is also in the course of this noticed that the reader sees two other traits of a psychopath: untruthfulness and a lack of shame. Cleckley states that, “The psychopath shows a outstanding disregard for truth and is to be trusted no far more in his accounts of the past than in his promises for the future or his statement of present intentions” (357). This is seen when Ripley continuously lies when telling his life story to the family, from exactly where he worked “Reddington, Fleming, and Parker” (Highsmith 23), to where he went to school “Princeton for a while… [then] in Denver and went to college there” (Highsmith 23). Neither statement was accurate, yet he felt no shame or regret in saying that they have been.

An additional characteristic Ripley shows all through the novel is his inadequately motivated antisocial behavior. He regularly lies, steals, and commits fraud and murder in order to get his desires and desires. Cleckley states that these deeds, committed by psychopaths are typically committed for “astonishingly modest stakes and below much greater dangers of becoming discovered” (359). This trait of taking fantastic risks for totally no payoff or benefit is noticed early in the novel when the reader is informed of Ripley’s fraudulent check scam exactly where his total reached, “one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three dollars and fourteen cents…A pity he couldn’t cash them” (Highsmith 19). His inability to money them was not due to the fact he wanted to avoid acquiring caught, but only due to the fact the checks have been not addressed to his fake name. Yet, though he knew he couldn’t money them, he continued to run his small scam just for the thrill of it. He puts this very same ability to use later in the novel right after his murder of Dickie when he signed the hotel’s “register with Dickie’s hasty and rather flamboyant signature… [Spending] that evening practicing Dickie’s signature for the bank checks” (Highsmith 116). Whilst the payoff is indeed significantly more considerable as the story progresses, his danger of getting caught is enhanced and his sense of guilt or shame is virtually nonexistent, furthering his qualities of psychopathic behavior.

The intense situations that Ripley faces, like the murders of Dickie and Freddie, would have caused a wholesome and normal particular person to succumb to their feelings. Nonetheless, Ripley is shown to keep calm and collected even in the most excitable situations. This is precisely what Cleckley discusses when speaking about psychopathic behavior regarding the absence of nervousness or psychoneurotic manifestations exactly where, “Even beneath concrete situations that would for the ordinary individual cause embarrassment, confusion, acute insecurity, or visible agitation, his relative serenity is most likely to be noteworthy.” (Cleckley 355). Ripley’s lack of these feelings and capability to keep calm is first manifested soon after Dickie leaves to make amends with Marge. It is then that Ripley, upon approaching the balcony, “had a curious feeling that his brain remained calm and logical and that his physique was out of control” (Highsmith 77). He then proceeds into Dickie’s bedroom, attempting on his clothes even though performing a gruesome imaginary act where he throttles Marge’s neck, when he is caught in the act. Below these circumstances, an ordinary individual would be extremely embarrassed yet, Ripley manages to play it off and is swift to point the blame on Dickie, “Marge had launched her filthy accusations of him at Dickie. And Dickie hadn’t had the guts to stand up and deny it to her!” (Highsmith 79). This scene effectively shows but another symptom of borderline character disorder.

Ripley has a lot of of the traits of borderline character disorder. The examples above prove that diagnosing him as obtaining this disorder or labeling a psychopath is not unbelievable, but very fitting. Now that Ripley has been established as obtaining borderline personality disorder with the proof from each Highsmith and Cleckley, one particular can turn to Freud’s essay, “The Uncanny”, and establish the concepts Highsmith uses in her novel to invoke uncanniness in the reader. In certain, Highsmith utilizes Freud’s concepts of creating a mentally unstable character and introducing the theory of a “double”. Freud’s notion of the double coincides with a key symptom of borderline character disorder, that of egocentricity. Cleckley states that, “The psychopath is always distinguished by egocentricity. This is usually of a degree not seen in ordinary people” (362), and Ripley portrays this characteristic throughout the novel. His actions show that everything he does is in order for him to fulfill his own ambitions. Freud addresses this egocentric mentality in his essay stating, “the ‘double’ was originally an insurance against destruction to the ego, an ‘energetic denial of the power of death’” (Freud 162). Ripley’s ego was beginning to deteriorate as Dickie began to grow to be distant, wanting alternatively to be with Marge instead of Ripley. Following a heated argument in between the two about a job chance with a drug dealer, Tom felt “hurt that he said nothing at all, hurt like a youngster who has been sick and possibly a nuisance” (Highsmith 89). Thus it was essential for Ripley to act in a manner to restore his ego and loss of self-respect. That manner involved killing Dickie and taking his identity.

Ripley’s murder of Dickie adds to the sense of uncanniness for two factors. Initial, he irrationally acted on a primal and savage instinct to kill, but in a very rational manner. Coinciding with the instance stated in the above paragraphs involving a psychotic’s symptoms and traits, Ripley’s mental instability causes the reader to really feel uncanny. Freud states that the uncanny effects of “manifestations of insanity…excite in the spectator the impression of automatic, mechanical processes at function behind the ordinary appearance of mental activity” (157). This mental process is observed as Ripley murders Dickie in the boat off San Remo as “he began to really feel cooler, and smooth and methodical” (Highsmith 103) as he prepared to dump the body. His indifference to his not too long ago murdered buddy causes excitement and horror in the reader as 1 realizes that this gruesome activity seemingly has no impact on the thoughts of Ripley. He seems mechanical, like a machine, which leads to the second reason where Freud states, “In telling a story, one particular of the most effective devices for very easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty regardless of whether a distinct figure… is a human being or an automaton” (157-158). Clearly Ripley is not an automaton made of robotic components or machinations, but he does act like one as he disposes the physique. Feeling no emotions and functioning quickly and effectively as if he planned every single detail out, when, in reality, it was far more an impulsive action.

Highsmith makes use of Freud’s concept of a “double” to invoke an uncanny feeling in the reader even though further establishing the ego of Mr. Ripley. Ripley’s intentions of murdering Dickie, in order to take on his persona, are first shown when Ripley states, “he could turn out to be Dickie Greenleaf himself. He could do everything Dickie did” (Highsmith 98) and later, displaying the ease in which he became Dickie, “he had accomplished so small artificially to alter his appearance, but his extremely expression, Tom thought, was like Dickie’s now” (Highsmith 121). It is after he commits the crime and “becomes” Dickie for a while that the reader gains insight on how this new persona is affecting Ripley as he begins to do every thing from smile to brushing his teeth in the identical manner. Freud’s statement that “the ‘double’ was initially an insurance coverage against destruction to the ego, an ‘energetic denial of the power of death’” (Freud 162) represents itself once again when Ripley has to quit acting as Dickie due to the police investigation. The reality that he has to return to getting Tom Ripley weighs heavy on him due to the destruction of his ego, and the self-confidence boost he gained from getting Dickie. Ripley “hated becoming Thomas Ripley once more, hated getting no one, hated putting on his old set of habits again” (Highsmith 181). Freud’s notion of a double is seen all through Highsmith’s novel, the uncanny effect is shown via the ease Ripley has not only acting like Dickie, but looking almost identical also. Uncanny effects can also be seen in the reoccurrence of actions of Tom Ripley. Freud states that although:

“reoccurence of the same conditions, factors and events, will possibly not appeal to every person as a source of uncanny feeling…an involuntary return to the very same circumstance, but which differ radically from it in other respects, also outcome in the same feeling of helplessness and of something uncanny” (163)

Therefore, taking Freud’s statement, one particular can see how Ripley’s murders of Dickie and Freddie can be connected and seen as uncanny. Whilst the conditions differ tremendously, Dickie’s getting less complicated to clean up and planned greater whilst Freddie’s was instant and challenging to cover up, the reader feels helpless in two approaches: a single, if the reader is rooting for Ripley, they merely hope he can get the body out of there two, if the reader was hoping Freddie created it out alive, they need to watch as he is murdered, which, can feel as if they are an accomplice. 1 also feels the uncanny impact caused by Ripley’s luck in evading the police at every turn. From the hidden boat of San Remo, the fraudulent checks and letters, interrogations, both murders, and the fingerprints, all result in the reader to sense that anything uncanny is happening that protects Ripley at all turns from detection.

Freud’s closing comment in “The Uncanny” states that the uncanny is “something which ought to be kept concealed but which has nevertheless come to light” (166). Ripley’s psychopathic behavior was brought to light in this thriller, causing uncanniness and permitting the reader to see into the mind of a psychopath. When Mr. Ripley’s borderline personality disorder is diagnosed employing the symptoms detailed by Hervey Cleckley in, The Mask of Sanity, one can see how mentally unstable this protagonist is, as it supplies insight on the strange behavior and mentality of the character. Patricia Highsmith also utilizes numerous elements of uncanny feeling, as described by Freud’s “The Uncanny”. Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, portrays Tom Ripley as a psychopath who mysteriously gets away with his multitude of crimes. She expertly shows the mentality and characteristics of a individual with borderline character disorder whilst exciting in the reader a feeling of uncanniness in the distinct conditions.
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