Patricia Highsmith was an American writer of psychological thrillers. Her most famous books are the Tom Ripley novels collectively called Ripliad. Her stories are often macabre ones, touched by black humor and satire. She had a special feeling for animals, cats being her favorites. She is also said to have kept about three hundred snails in her garden.
Relevance of the Title
Ming, the cat, is the protagonist of the story and Teddie is his biggest prey. Till now, Ming had caught only birds and mice, but now he has managed to kill a man using his perfect sense of timing, taking his prey by surprise.
The main themes are greed and jealousy. Teddie is jealous of Ming because of his closeness to Elaine. He is also a thief. Ming surprises Teddie when he is stealing the diamond necklace. Teddie and Ming share poor vibes, each not trusting the other. Ming’s mistrust of Teddie is proved right at the end.
Ming is a consummate cat. He is hedonistic right from the start, enjoying life to the fullest, being fed the choicest morsels by Elaine and Concha. He is aloof like all cats are and does not like it when his life is disturbed by people. He likes only one human, Elaine. Ming is a good judge of character; he knows that Teddie is up to no good. Ming has razor sharp reflexes; he can sense danger before it reaches him. Does Ming plan the attack knowing that Teddie is tipsy and unsteady on his feet or does he make an opportunistic attack? More likely it is the first.
Teddie was never in love with Elaine. He was out to have a good time with Elaine, sailing the White Lark and having fun at parties. He was just a charming thief. He was also jealous of Ming who seemed to receive the bulk of his mistress’s love. Ming did not argue with Elaine unlike Teddie. Teddie was not sure he would find favor with Elaine. When opportunity presented itself, he stole Elaine’s diamond (presumably) necklace. When opportunity presented, Ming charged at Teddie and his ensuing fall killed him. We need not waste our sympathies on Teddie. He tried his best to kill Ming for less honorable reasons.
Ming is the cat that belongs to Elaine and Teddie is her current boy friend. Teddie and Ming detest each other and one tries to outsmart the other. Teddie tries to throw Ming overboard from the boat; he is saved when Elaine unexpectedly arrives on the deck. One night Ming surprises Teddie when he is stealing Elaine’s diamond necklace. Later that night, Ming notices that Teddie is slightly drunk and unsteady on his feet. Elaine isn’t around and he tries to grab Ming. But Ming is smart; he waits his chance and charges Teddie. He loses his balance and falls off from the terrace and dies. At the hospital, Elaine is given the diamond necklace that Teddie had in his pocket. She realizes that Ming has tried to help her.
Ming gets picked by Elaine from a pet shop and then his good fortune begins. He has a pampered existence till the arrival of Teddie on the scene as Elaine’s boy friend. Teddie hates Ming because Elaine dotes on it. Ming hates and fears Teddie because he knows that Teddie may harm him. They have had a few run-ins already. Elaine and Teddie aren’t friendly all the time; frequently Ming hears them argue; Ming knows from the tone of their voices. Teddie ill-treats Ming when Elaine isn’t around. Once he nearly throws it overboard when sailing on Elaine’s boat. Elaine’s timely arrival saves Ming. One night Ming sees Teddie stealing Elaine’s diamond necklace. Later, he narrowly misses being grabbed by Teddie. When the opportunity is right (Teddie is slightly drunk and unsteady on his feet), Ming ambushes him. Teddie falls off the terrace to his death. Elaine calls for the ambulance and Teddie is removed to the hospital. The diamond necklace which is found in his pocket is returned to Elaine. When she is home, Elaine expresses her gratitude to Ming.
The reader is the omniscient presence in this story. Only the reader and Ming know exactly what has happened in the story and both cannot talk. The reader follows the characters around like an invisible presence. Highsmith is a master of a vibrant prose that conveys the danger that lurks for Ming. The story is written by a cat-lover, that’s for sure.
1. People! Ming detested people. In all the world, he liked only Elaine. Elaine loved him and understood him.
Elaine had picked up Ming from a pet shop. She loved Ming and pampered him. Ming was from New York but now he lived with Elaine in Acapulco. Elaine had a shop there and Ming loved lazing about there or sleeping in his basket. People were not Ming’s favorite creatures. People rubbed him on the wrong side often. They did not bother to find out what he liked unlike Elaine who knew him well. The only human Ming loved was Elaine.
2. ‘Ming!’ Elaine came over to him. ‘Aren’t you getting cooked, Darling? I thought you were in!’ “So did I!’ said Teddie.
Ming hated people. But of all them, Ming hated Teddie the most. Teddie was Elaine’s current boy friend. Teddie resented the cat and Ming returned the compliment. He considered Teddie an intruder who kept Ming away from his mistress. Just now, when Elaine had not been looking, he had flung him out of the cabin in the boat. On the deck, the sun was blazing. Ming had made himself comfortable when Elaine comes out and rescues him from the heat. Teddie pretends that he did not have anything to do with Ming being out on the deck.
3. But Ming sensed that Teddie took it as a hostile gesture of some kind, which was why Ming did it deliberately to Teddie, whereas among other people, it was often an accident when Ming’s tongue slid out.
Ming liked to aggravate Teddie with his mannerisms. He let his tongue slide out of his mouth as though he was actually sticking his tongue out in a rude gesture. With other people, it happened accidentally but when Teddie was looking at him, he did it on purpose.
4. Ming did not move at all. Ming heard the soft rattle of the white necklace which belonged to the mistress. The man put it into his pocket, then moved to Ming’s right, out the door that went to the big living room.
Ming walks into the bedroom and surprises Teddie who is looking through the contents of a box on Elaine’s dressing table. Ming lets out a low growl to show his anger. He watches Teddie take out the white necklace, dropping it into his pocket. All the while Ming remains immobile but ready for action. Ming was right in mistrusting Teddie; he is just a thief.
5. There was a great deal of talk below, noises of feet, breaking of bushes, and the smell of all of them mounted the steps, the smell of tobacco, sweat, and the familiar smell of blood. The man’s blood. Ming was pleased as he was pleased when he killed a bird and created this smell of blood under his own teeth.
After stealing Elaine’s necklace, Teddie drinks. When he comes out onto the terrace, he is a little tipsy and unsteady on his feet. He made for Ming, may be to pick him up and throw him down from the terrace. Teddie suddenly grabbed a chair and smacked Ming with it. In spite of the pain, Ming dashed up the steps and bided his time. As Teddie came up the steps, Ming sprang at him and both fell down on to the garden below. Ming, being a cat, absorbed the fall but it probably broke Teddie’s neck. Later he watches Elaine searching for Teddie. But Ming gloats, confident that the man has died. He feels the same kind of satisfaction that he had when he had killed a bird.
6. ‘Oh Ming – Ming,’ she said.
Ming recognized the tones of love.
Elaine comes back, presumably from a hospital, after Teddie has been borne away. Ming sleeps off his exertions of the night. No doubt, he felt satisfied by the turn of events. He does not have to watch out for the man at every turn. Soon Elaine and Concha come back. Elaine has got back her white necklace which would have been found in Teddie’s pocket. Elaine realizes that Ming has played a part in its discovery and the exposure of Teddie as a thief. She is grateful to him.
1. Ming’s early life was spent in New York. How did he reach Acapulco?
2. Ming tolerated people badly. What did he have against them?
3. Teddie and Ming shared poor vibes. Describe two instances where Teddie caused harm to Ming when Elaine was not watching.
4. Ming has razor sharp reflexes. How does it help him survive?
5. Ming is a domestic cat. But he could well have been in the wild stalking prey. How he manage to get his biggest prey?
6. At the end of the story, Elaine says “Oh Ming – Ming,” What does she mean by that?