The Terrapin

This study guide will help you analyze the text “The Terrapin” by Patricia Highsmith. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, theme and message.

Presentation of the text

Title: “The Terrapin”
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Published in: The Snail-Watcher and other Stories
Date of Publication: 1970
Genre: Short story

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was an American writer of novels and short stories. Today she is primarily known for her novel series featuring the character of Tom Ripley, which was adapted into a popular film in 1995, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Highsmith wrote psychological thrillers which often questioned the concepts of identity and morality.


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The title of Patricia Highsmith's story, “The Terrapin”, refers to the small turtle Victor’s mother brings home and cooks, to Victor’s disappointment and horror. The title is a reference to the element of intrigue in the story, which triggers the main event: the killing of the mother.

At a symbolical level, the terrapin becomes a symbol of Victor, as the little boy identifies with it. Victor perceives the terrapin being tortured by his mother, echoing the way in which he feels abused by her: “He saw the terrapins face very large, its moth open, its eyes wide and full of pain. Victor wished he could walk out the window (…) He imagined his mother’s hands on his shoulders jerking him back.”


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The Terrapin

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