Themes and message


Patricia Highsmith explores two main themes in “The Terrapin”: emotional abuse and insanity. In the story, insanity becomes a consequence of emotional abuse as we see the main character Victor being constantly frustrated by his mother’s abusive behavior. Victor’s psychological crisis is triggered by his mother killing and cooking a terrapin.

The message of the story is that constant abuse from parents can have extreme consequences on children’s psychology.

Emotional abuse

The theme of emotional abuse is explored in the context of parent-child relationships. The story follows 11-year-old Victor who is subjected to abusive treatment by his mother. Throughout the story, Victor’s mother tries to control and belittle the boy. She ignores the boy’s wishes and dresses him in embarrassing clothes, unable to see or not caring that this leads to him being bullied and laughed at by his peers.

At the same time, she expects Victor to act exactly as she wants: to pay attention to her drawings and give his opinion, to learn children’s p...

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