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Ming’s Biggest Prey Notes

Mings Biggest Prey – Notes

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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, the writer makes the cat look 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

As the story moves forward we realize that Ming, the cat’s suspicions about the man were not totally ill founded. 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 to 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 no 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.

Important Characters -

Ming is a pampered cat whom loves his life of being fed whatever he wants, and getting what he wants whenever he wants it. He enjoys long naps and the company of his owner Elaine. Elaine is his human, and the only human he loves; he hates all others and sees them as a disturbance to his lifestyle. Ming is a good judge of character and quickly realizes that Teddie (Elaine's boyfriend) was no good, though he may not have quite understood why. What he did know was that Teddie hated him as much as he hated Teddie.

Teddie was Elaine's boyfriend, though he was never in love with her. All Teddie was ever interested in was having a good time and stealing Elanes' jewelry. He was very jealous of all of the attention Ming got from Elaine and attempted to kill Ming whenever the opportunity arose. Teddie was not exactly a smooth criminal; he was killed at the end of the story while once again trying to murder the cat, after having a few drinks.

Elaine is Mings' owner and Teddies' girlfriend. Elaine loves Ming with all her heart she treats him as if he was a baby; from wiping his face down with a soft rag, to letting him sleep on the bed. She is wealthy but kindhearted and a bit naive. Elaine has a maternal like protection for her cat and a pet-like affection for her boyfriend. Although it may sen strange, her love priorities end up paying off, as Ming ends up protecting her from the man who would have seen her broke and heart-broken. 

Concha is the Elaine's' maid. She cleans up and feeds Ming. Even though Ming doesn't always agree with the dishes she serves him, he somewhat likes her. Concha is the one that finds Teddie dead after the incident with Ming.

Setting - The story begins on Elaines' boat on a sunny day. Later the story moves us through a small ocean side town filled with colorful houses and beautiful flowers. The story concludes in Elaines' lavish home. The story takes place in the 1970's in Acapulco, Mexico

Point of View - The story is narrated in the 1st person perspective of Ming the cat.

Basic Plot Summary - Ming, Elaine and Teddie are on a boat. While Elaine is below deck and Ming is trying to relax Teddie attacks the cat, attempting to throw him overboard. Luckily Elaine comes up just in time, and Teddie quickly pretends to help the cat off of the edge. Ming tries to nap after the stressful event. Eventually they go back ashore, where Ming is annoyed by the prying hands of children trying to pet him, but Elaine takes him in his basket and the three of them drive in Teddies' car to a shop. Ming naps outside in his basket until Elaine is ready to go home. Once home, Ming is fed by Concha while Teddie and Elaine have drinks on the terrance. Teddie is a bit tipsy when Elaine goes to the bathroom and he sneaks into her bedroom and steals her necklace. He goes back onto the terrance as well as Ming. In a drunken rage, Teddie attacks Ming, but Ming outsmarts him with a well timed doge and jump that results in Teddie falling down the stairs and his death. Concha and Elaine find him and call the police. When Elaine returns from the authorities, she's carrying her necklace and cuddles with Ming as she cries. Ming feels victorious.


The main themes in Ming's Biggest Prey are Greed/trust and jealousy. Throughout the story we see multiple examples of this, for example the way Ming feels about Teddie and Teddie feels about Ming and the jealousy they both feel about having to share Elaine’s love.

An example of greed is when Teddie steals the necklace from Elaine. She trusted him as her lover, but we can see the relationship is insecure as they argue so much and it would appear that Teddie is only with Elaine for what he can get form her sexually and materially.


One final note, Patricia Highsmith did not marry or have children, but did own cats and as anyone who has cats as pets will tell you, cats are a pretty good judge of human nature!

"She was very happy among cats. They gave her a closeness that she could not bear in the long-term from people. She needed cats for her psychological balance,"