Study Guide

The Price of Salt, or Carol What's Up With the Ending?

By Patricia Highsmith

What's Up With the Ending?

Movin' On Up

Most road trips end with the road trippers reaching their destination, whether it's Walley World in National Lampoon's Vacation or the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Thelma and Louise. But in The Price of Salt, our two heroines simply return home. How anticlimactic is that?

It depends on whose perspective you're looking at. The characters may return to New York, but they are not the same. There's a bit of a role reversal involved, too. For most of the trip, Carol is in charge—she is older, she has the money, she drives the car, and she has the map. Therese is along for the ride.

However, Carol envies Therese's freedom. Therese has no family, but Carol is caught in a bitter divorce and custody battle. Her husband is like a long chain that eventually drags her back to the city, while Therese has the freedom to stay out West.

Therese does a lot of soul searching, and after looking at a weird painting that reminds her of Carol, she realizes that she doesn't have to let Carol lead the way all the time. Therese can make decisions for herself. She returns to New York, and it's Therese who decides when to see Carol again, not Carol. In fact, Therese almost doesn't see her. This small action is a revelation for Therese: "When had she ever refused Carol when Carol wanted to see her?" (23.27). The answer, dear Shmoopers, is never before.

Back in New York, everyone says that Therese has changed, that she looks older, more adult. But the one thing Therese is really known for is that she changes her mind a lot. Richard remarks on it, and so does Carol. And what does Therese do at the end? She changes her mind. When Carol asks Therese to live with her, she says no—but within a few pages, and only a couple of hours in book-time, Therese changes her mind and says yes. It's romantic for Therese: "It was Carol she loved and would always love" (23.156).

What about Carol, though? She seems happy. She smiles at Therese when she enters the restaurant. But has Therese changed at all? And even though she agrees to live with Carol, how long before Therese changes her mind again?