Sreekumar K Facilitator, L’ecole Chempaka International, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Ming’s Biggest Prey by Patricia Highsmith is a story of relationships across species and genders. The story reads like thriller but it has deeper connotations too. The writer creates a special kind of atmosphere like those seen in Film Noir to enhance the chilling effect of the story. The writer has avoided first person point of view but the narration is very close to that. Telling the story from first person point of view wouldn’t’ have been an option since a lot of the story is set aside for descriptions and thoughts that can rise only in a human mind.
The central plot is very clear and transparent, even if it is unbelievable and defies out logical concept about consciousness in animals. Language is the vehicle of scheming and planning and so animals are not supposed to scheme and plan. They act on instinct. But Ming, the central character in the story feels, reacts, plans and executes just like a being endowed with consciousness. Teddie and Ellaine in the story have a very strained relationship which makes the man all the more jealous of her pet cat.
In first two paragraphs itself the writer makes the cat look like more human without being humane. He is depicted as able to foresee things thinking logically about time and space. He even compares his present stature with his past. This might have given the story a fairy tale like atmosphere had it not been for the description of places, the fast life the human beings are living and the subtle way the man and the woman display their emotions. Separated from his family, brought up among hostile animals and sold for a good sum, Ming reminds us of the typical street smart hero in thrillers. Subtle hints can be found all over the story about the potential evil that lurks in the animal. He has climbed trees to get to the nest of birds. The relation between him and Ellaine is proved when we are told that she had dismissed a maid who was not in good terms with Ming. The cat can even understand human language
His mistress kissed his cheek, and said something with the word ‘hungry’ in it. …He was supposed to tell her when he was hungry.
As the story moves forward we realize that Ming, the cat’s suspicions about the man were not totally ill founded. He may kill. The violence that he shows Ming smacks of the violence he shows the woman. The source of his violence is the same. There are other people in Ellaine’s life. They are all moving around her and the man feels left out and he takes it out on the cat. He even tries tot kill it.
As the story moves over to another locale, Teddie has the upper hand. The people there belong to him and he dares to steal a gold necklace that belongs to Ellaine. Ming irritates him and the man gets drunk. He then chases the cat with a chair but he has not idea how evil the cat is. Ming runs up the stairs and waits for the man to come up exactly where the rails are missing and jumps on him. Falling the second storey is not a big thing for a cat but for the man it is fatal. He dies. Ellaine recovers the necklace from the man’s pocket before his body is sent away. She then comes to the cat which is in bed and hugs it calling its name in loving tones. Everyone gets what they deserved and some kind of a poetic justice is served. Only that a murdered gets away with no punishment and is rewarded with love.
The story’s effect comes from the atmosphere created. The story happens partly in the sea and partly on land at night. A lot of the story is left unexplained. For example who are Ellaine and Teddie to each other? Who are the people in their homes? This lack of explanation shrouds the whole story in mystery thereby enhancing it effect.