Style of writing
The language of “The Terrapin” is fairly complex and descriptive, but it poses no major challenges in understanding the plot.
Patricia Highsmith uses language formatting to show how the characters speak. For example, misspelled words are used to suggest Victor’s mother doesn’t speak English very well and that she has a strong accent: “ ‘Hello Vee-ctor-r!’ ”, “ ‘Ugh! That stee-enk!” , “ ‘You are seeck. Psychologically seeck.’ ”. The fact that she accentuates the word “sick” (“seeck”) subtle suggests that this is an important issue in the story (as Victor eventually has a psychotic episode and murders his mother).
Sentences in italic suggest a memory Victor has of another boy’s insulting words: “They make you wear your kid brother’s pants on something?” .
Italicized words mark which words Victor emphasizes when talking or thinking: “ ‘I’m thinking about not-thinking.’ ” .
Occasionally, French is used to convey the character’s background: “ ‘Ç'est une terrapene! Pour un ragoût!’ ”. Additionally, the mother often uses French when she does not want to be contradicted by Victor. As such, the author’s use of French in the text is also character-building.
Choice of words and imagery
Highsmith uses numerous descriptive words which create mental images for the readers in connection with setting elements or the characters. Some examples of words which describe the setting are: “big brown paper bag” , “little bags” , “toast-colored apartment building” , “tomato-red sofa pillow”, “a large old building” , “dull, black and white drawing” , etc.
Descriptive words related to Victor mostly focus on the way he is dressed: “his short, to small shorts” , “heavy scuffed shoes” , “silly short shorts”, “dopey shirts with round collars” , “gray woolen jacket” , “long knobby-kneeled legs” .
The mother’s physical appearance is also conveyed using descriptive words: “black curly head” , “mascar...