The Struggle of the Mind
The Psychoanalytic Theory is a means of literary critique which provides a framework for insightful character analysis. Its tenet is based on Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche which identifies the id, the ego and the superego as the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. According to such model, the irrational, instinctual trends of the mind are the id; the rational, realistic part of the psyche is the ego; and its critical and moralizing function is the superego. By applying such Freudian concepts to Tom Ripley, the protagonist in Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, the reader is better able to understand the forces that guide his actions and the inevitable repercussions he must face. It is clear that the uncoordinated and instinctual trends of Ripley’s id, ego and superego are the reason for his downfall into a life of crime and isolation.
Tom Ripley’s id is the dark, inaccessible part of his personality which he cannot control and which urges him to consider murder as his only option to satisy his overriding desire to belong to a higher, richer social class. Although he has been hired by Herbert Greenleaf to travel to Italy to convince his son, Dickie, to return home, Tom murders Dickie in order that he may assume his identity and insinuate himself into Dickie’s enjoyable lifestyle. That Tom’s id is of a negative nature and in contrast to his ego is evident when Dickie “…knew that he was going to do it, that he would not stop himself now, maybe couldn’t stop himself…” (Highsmith 100) Tom’s id is subject to the observance of the pleasure principle and strives to bring about the satisfaction he craves to become someone like Dickie, making Tom feel entirely justified in adopting whatever means he deems necessary to pursue his goal. That Tom is unable to control his id is also apparent when he kills Freddie Miles, Dickie’s friend, for stumbling across Tom’s impersonation of Dickie. Although Tom’s id battles with his ego, his id ultimately encourages him to kill Freddie rather than find another way out. The struggle between these two parts of Tom’s psyche is in full force as, “He tried to think just for two seconds more: wasn’t there another way out? What would he do with the body? He couldn’t think.” (Highsmith 137) but it is clear that his id wins the battle when Tom decides that, “This was the only way out.” (Highsmith 137) Although the ego tries to negotiate with the id, Tom’s id is driven by its overriding ambition to become somebody and overcome resistance, which propels Tom to kill again to maintain the lifestyle he has acquired. Although Tom has already killed twice, his id continues to make him act irrationally, which is most evident when he contemplates murdering Dickie’s friend, Marge, when she becomes suspicious of Tom’s involvement in Dickie’s disappearance. Given that Tom is unable to control his id and see that what he is doing is villainous, he falls into a life of crime and “…the murders he commits are best understood as exaggerated attempts to flesh out the empty core that lies at the heart of [him].” (Whiting, n. pag.)
While Tom’s id controls much of his life, his ego occasionally surfaces to make him realize that he cannot always have what he wants, resulting in feelings of isolation and drift. When Tom recognizes that the best method of covering the murders is to revert back to his own identity, he does so with a sense of sadness. His conscious decision to readopt his own identity is his ego acting reasonably yet, “…he felt that identifying himself as Thomas Phelps Ripley was going to be one of the saddest things he had ever done in his life.” (Highsmith 189) Tom’s ego acts with its own strength and makes him be truthful, but because Tom does so only to protect himself, and his self-dislike makes him want to remain Dickie Greenleaf, he experiences feelings of...
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