The comparative study of texts enables an audience to gain a more profound understanding of the issues, thematic concerns and values shown by texts. In doing this, we become more interested and aware of the ideas and the way texts communicate and display the significance of these ideas in their respective contexts. A comparative study between Donna Tartt’s novel “The Secret History”(1992) and Anthony Minghella’s film “The Talented Mr. Ripley”(1999) displays the ways in which meaning and understanding can be shaped and reshaped by considering the nature of the connections between the texts.
Both texts submerge the reader into the notion of the American Dream and how duplicity leads to a violent world of crime. The comparative study of both texts provides a critique of the corruption of the American Dream. The dream initially was predicated on all individual being able to achieve their potential no matter what their background. However, in the 1950’s context of The Talented Mr. Ripley and the late 1980’s context of The Secret History, the dream has become only about the pursuit of wealth and power to the detriment of other more important values such as integrity and morality.
The protagonists Tom Ripley and Richard Papen are seduced by the dazzling nature of the wealthy people surrounding them and consequently reinvent themselves to play a part in a world that doesn’t necessarily have a place for them. As a result, both individual are faced with the dreadful consequences of their actions. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, it is clear that the idea of the American Dream is corrupted, as the major part of Tom’s success is a result of his violence and sociopathy, ultimately exemplified when Tom murders Dickie.
Earlier in the film, when these two meet at the beach, the use of lighting and colour comparison in the mise-en-scene is utilised to directly accentuate the contrasts between Ripley and Dickie. The colour of Ripley’s bright lime green shorts and his “so pale” body contrast to the tanned bodies and dull swimmers of Dickie, conveying an outsider attempting to weave his way into a social circle. The American Dream is exposed in Ripley’s blind desire for wealth and social status, reflecting his profound disenchantment with his self-image and identity.
Ripley claims “it’d be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody”, emphasising his aspiration to reinvent his character, and exemplifying his immoral method of obtaining wealth and status, but at the same time, demonstrating his deep desire to achieve the American Dream. This is ultimately displayed in the long shot of the boat, with birds in the background, the horizon and the endless azure of the Mediterranean Sea juxtaposing with the violence of Tom beating Dickie to death.
These ideas are also explained in The Secret History, making the study of the two texts more challenging and interesting, as we are able to see a clear link regarding the represented issues. Similarly, The Secret History presents us with Richard Papen, who, like Tom, tries to elevate himself to an elite wealthy group, and ultimately discard all traces of his mediocre and unexciting middle-class upbringing. His aspirations in life drive him to lie, cheat and eventually live by the “greed is good” zeitgeist of the 1980’s.
Much like Tom, Richard desires to escape the humdrum life of the lower middle class and accomplish the American Dream. Ominous speeches such as “We think we have many desires, but in fact we have only one. What is it? ” allow each character to offer their personal reflections about their aspirations. In Richard’s case, his actions show him remaking his identity and living the life of a rich academic. The idea that money would equate to happiness and the achievement of the Dream, acts as a catalyst for both characters to maintain their false identities.
However, Richard realises that his journey to achieving his goal was morally wrong and is exemplified in “it seemed to me that I was “sneaking around somehow, leading a secret life which, pleasant though it was, was bound to catch up with [him] sooner or later. ” Thus the comparative study of the two texts shows how the corruption of the American Dream can lead to dreadful consequences for those who believe it is the only worthwhile aspiration.
Deception and crime are central issues showed by both texts, illuminating the destructive forces faced by the protagonists. Both protagonist’s corrupted method to obtain their desired affluence and position, force them to break the social and moral codes of society. Both individual’s main reason for deception stems from his desire to live the life of someone other than himself. Tom’s character is full of self-loathing and so mimics others to create a new persona as a method to break free of his lowly upbringing.
Likewise, Richard is embarrassed by his lack of financial means and working class social position and thus makes an effort to get close to students of the upper class such as Henry, who represents financial prosperity, and social standing. In response to a derogatory comment aimed at Henry, Richard replies offended, “I kind of like him”, juxtaposing the two characters with contrary characteristics. Once Tom manages to ingratiate himself with Dickie, “You’re the brother I never had.
I’m the brother you never had. I would do anything for you, Dickie. ” he learns how to imitate the way he dresses and speaks, his body language and gestures, so that he can manipulate himself to be Dickie. Thus, Tom is seen to have a “double personality” of sorts, which is represented through the recurring motif of mirrors, acting as a visual metaphor for his deceptive character, and likewise, Richard deceives others for a position in the upper class of the society.
Therefore, the comparative study of the two texts has propelled the understanding of books such as The Secret History and films such as The Talented Mr. Ripley. No doubt, an underlying idea for a story is very important, but if the texts are analysed through complex comparison, we as audiences are able to grasp a more profound understanding of the issues and by doing so, make the texts more interesting.