Study Guide

The Price of Salt, or Carol

By Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt, or Carol Introduction

The Price of Salt has a long history of identity crises. 

When she first published the book in 1952 as The Price of Salt, author Patricia Highsmith used a pseudonym: Claire Morgan. She'd published one book prior, Strangers on a Train, and her new novel's content was on a totally different track from that thriller. The Price of Salt tells the story of a young shop girl named Therese who falls in with an older married woman named Salt. 

Wait, no, her name is Carol. 

The two women go on a cross-country road trip and explore a relationship that is off the beaten path. 

The Price of Salt was revolutionary in the 1950s for its happy ending—this was a time when most lesbian love stories were written as tragic instead of portrayed in the same cheesy light as heterosexual romances. In and out of print over the years, the novel's strong cult following kept it alive. The book's had a couple different titles over the years, though none have been very colorful. It's been known as The Price of Salt, or Carol, or The Price of Salt, or Carol all in one big bulky title, but never The Price of Carol or Salt. For a book with characters who are so secure in their sexuality, it's ironic the book has changed its identity so many times.

After The Price of Salt, Highsmith wrote five novels about a dude name Tom Ripley, who you know better as Matt Damon in a funny suit. Ripley's popularity overshadowed this small book, but the 2015 film version—which landed six Oscar noms—put it back in the spotlight (source). As always, though, we say to start with the book.

What is The Price of Salt, or Carol About and Why Should I Care?

On June 26, 2015, over sixty years after The Price of Salt was published, same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States. People took to Facebook and Twitter to celebrate with the hashtag #lovewins. These days, almost everyone knows someone in who is gay (or is gay themselves), and gay and lesbian characters, while still underrepresented in movies and on TV, are featured in a variety of roles.

It wasn't always this way, though. The 1950s were a time without gay rights, Facebook, or pithy hashtags to express your distaste with society without getting out of bed. And when you could find gay characters in books, TV, and movies, they were usually villainous, devious, or otherwise diabolical.

Lesbian pulp fiction is infamous for having its characters either turn straight in the end or, failing to be "cured" of their gayness, die in some horrible fashion, like hanging themselves or being crushed by a falling tree. (Source.)

The Price of Salt tells a different story, though. While it explores a young lesbian trying to find her place in a heterosexual-male dominated world, Therese never feels obligated to conform. She wants to find her own identity and her own life, while remaining true to herself and her sexuality.

Patricia Highsmith didn't write her book as an expressly political text, and she didn't intend to bring about great social change, but by portraying her characters as normal people and giving them a happy ending, she went against the norm. That's how change begins.

The Price of Salt, or Carol Resources

Websites

Choose Your Own Adventure
This website does the thinking for you, and picks a Patricia Highsmith book based on a few simple questions. Or you can rig the system and make it choose The Price of Salt for you (just select United States, all over the place, avoid a murder altogether).

Movie or TV Productions

Singing Carol's Praises
The film adaptation, titled Carol, is more geared for Oscar season than the Christmas season, if this pre-release buzz is to be believed.

Articles and Interviews

Love at First Sight
Author Justine Larbalestier seems to have fallen in love at first sight with the book. But Carol? Not so much, in Larbalestier's opinion.

A Salty Book Club
The AfterEllen.com book club worked their way through the book, the character of Carol, and tried to figure out what's up with the title. (Hey ladies, we can help.)

Cate on Carol Action
Like Carol, Cate Blanchett doesn't feel the need to label her own sexual orientation.

Lo and Behold
Malinda Lo, author of a Sapphic Cinderella novel, also read The Price of Salt and added her own opinion to the salty stew.

Video

Salty Language
Karen, who reads books and things on YouTube, talks about Carol and things.

A Challenging Read
This vlogger read the book as part of her Book to Film Challenge

A Russian Job
The Bolshoi Ballet performs Petrushka, which Thereshka (that's Russian-ish for Therese) wants to design sets for in the book.

Audio

Tickling the Ivories
Therese plays Scarlatti's Sonata in C Major like this man, but without the moustache.

Easy Living
Living as a lesbian in the 1950s isn't easy, making Therese's favorite song, "Easy Living" by Billie Holliday, an ironic choice.

Not a Christmas Carol, but Still a Holliday
Therese also likes Holliday's "Embraceable You," because she finds Carol embraceable, irreplaceable, etc.

Images

On the Hunt
We didn't know you could see constellations from within New York City, but maybe it was darker in the 1950s when Therese gazes at Orion.

Spilled Salt
Someone should throw this book over their left shoulder for luck.

Pulp Fiction
All that scandal for only thirty-five cents.