Ming’s Biggest Prey by Patricia Highsmith
In Ming’s Biggest Prey by Patricia Highsmith we have the theme of connection, jealousy, conflict, trust, acceptance, vulnerability and independence. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Highsmith may be exploring the theme of connection. Ming and Elaine on several occasions in the story show each other affection. Also Elaine never forgets Ming while she is with Teddie. It is as though both Elaine and Ming have an unspoken connection. A connection which does not exist between any of the other characters in the story. It may also be a case that Teddie is jealous of Ming’s connection with Elaine. This may be the reason as to why there is a conflict between Teddie and Ming with neither trusting nor liking the other. How Teddie feels about Ming is noticeable when he attempts to push him overboard. Though Ming has done nothing to provoke Teddie. Teddie wants to kill Ming. What is also noticeable in the story is that Ming has a comfortable life with very little or no pressure. It is possible that Teddie too is looking for the same kind of life with Elaine and as such considers Ming to be a threat. It is as though Teddie is vying for the same type of comforts with Elaine that Ming has.
It also appears to be a case that Elaine is subsiding Teddie. Teddie does after all rob Elaine’s necklace which may suggest firstly that he cannot be trusted and secondly that he either does not have an income that will support him or he has no income at all. The fact that Teddie tells Elaine that he assumed Ming was in the cabin. Even though he put Ming on the deck would further suggest that Teddie can’t be trusted. He lies with ease. Something that should raise suspicions with the reader. Though some critics might suggest that Ming wants all of Elaine’s attention and affections. This may not necessarily be the case. Ming throughout the story accepts that there are other people in Elaine’s life. Though he may not like it. He accepts it and does nothing to deter Elaine from having a relationship with anybody. Including with Teddie. There is also a vulnerable side to Ming which is interesting. On several occasions some of the local boys have tried to rob him and on one particular occasion a boy managed to put Ming in a sack before Elaine discovered what was happening.
This vulnerability may be important as it shows how dependent Ming is on Elaine. His life would be totally different if it was not for the support given to him by Elaine. In reality Ming does not have the independence needed to survive on his own. Which may mirror Teddie’s position in life. He too may lack the independence needed to survive on his own and this may be the reason as to why he steals from Elaine. Teddie and Ming are both dependent on Elaine. It might also be a case that Elaine’s relationship with Teddie is only temporary. It may not last. Something that is clearer to the reader by the fact that both Elaine and Teddie quarrel on the boat. Similarly Teddie is referred to as the ‘man’ on several occasions in the story which may further suggest that he is only a temporary fixture. If anything the reader suspects that it is Elaine who is dictating the course of the relationship.
The end of the story is also interesting particularly the lack of concern that Ming has when it comes to Teddie dying. It is as though the main threat in Ming’s life has been removed. Though the reader does not expect Ming to have any sympathy for Teddie it is a surprise at just how comfortable Ming is about Teddie’s death. After he struggles with Teddie. Ming returns to Elaine’s bed. Symbolically this may be important as Highsmith could be suggesting that there is only one man in Elaine’s life and that man is Ming. It is also interesting that Elaine is remarkably calm when she returns home. After placing her necklace back in her jewellery box she lies beside Ming and calls out his name. It may be a case that Elaine has put the jigsaw together and realises that Teddie had robbed the necklace from her. Any sympathy that Elaine might have had for Teddie has dissolved. There is no sense of grief. Just as Ming accepted quickly that Teddie was dead. So too does Elaine. Her focus is back on Ming and they are together again. Something that the reader suspects pleases Ming. He has had to endure attacks from Teddie because of Teddie’s dislike for him. Now he can relax again knowing that he is the only man in Elaine’s life. That is for the time being.