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
Important Characters - Ming:
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:
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
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:
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
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
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
"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,"