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Talented Mr. Ripley discussion guide: Home

Author biography

Highsmith [ˈhī-ˌsmith], Patricia, original name Mary Patricia Plangman [ˈplaŋ-mən] b. Jan. 19, 1921, Fort Worth, Tex., U.S.—died Feb. 4, 1995, Locarno, Switz.

American novelist and short-story writer who was best known for her psychological thrillers in which she delved into the nature of guilt, innocence, goodness, and evil.

Highsmith graduated from Barnard College in 1942. In 1950 she published Strangers on a Train, an intriguing story of two men, one ostensibly good and the other ostensibly evil, who undergo character reversals. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) was the first of several books featuring the adventures of a likeable murderer, Tom RIPLEY, who takes on the identities of his victims. Ripley also appears in Ripley Under Ground (1970), Ripley's Game (1974), The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980), and Ripley Under Water (1991). Highsmith's collections of short stories include The Black House (1981) and Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes (1987).

In her Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1966; revised and enlarged 1981), Highsmith held that “art has nothing to do with morality, convention or moralizing.”

Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition)
"Highsmith, Patricia." Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1995. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 Sep. 2012.


Beautiful Shadow : the life of Patricia Highsmith -- is a full-length 2003 biography by Andrew Wilson

Talented Miss Highsmith -- is a 2009 full-length biography by Joan Schenkar

Criticism, Reviews and more

Discussion questions

1. How does the time period effect the way the book was written?

2.How does The Talented Mr. Ripley make a comment on class?

3.In what way does the author explain Tom's development from petty criminal to cold blooded murder?

4.What does Patricia Highsmith want to teach us from Mr. Ripley sustaining a false identity and lying to his friends and to himself?

5.How is The American Dream presented in The Talented Mr Ripley?

6.Why did Mr Ripley deceive others and himself about his identity?

7.When he has dinner with the Greenleafs in New York, Tom promises them he will do everything he can to convince Dickie Greenleaf to return to the U.S. Does Tom keep his promise?

8. What are some of the factors that made Tom's childhood difficult? In your opinion, do they justify Tom's criminal acts as an adult?

9.Is Tom Ripley genuinely interested in other people, or does he just use them?

10.What is Tom Ripley's attitude towards men? Is he sexually attracted to women?

11. How are Dickie Greenleaf and Tom Ripley's relationships with Marge Sherwood different?

12. After Tom kills Freddie Miles and Dickie Greenleaf, is he wracked with guilt and remorse?

13. Why are Dickie Greenleaf's rings so important to Tom? Why does he keep them, even though he knows it is dangerous to have any of Dickie's possessions with him?

Interview with Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith on film

Other titles by Patricia Highsmith