And the loneliness, augmented by the fact one saw within the store the same faces day after day, the few faces one might have spoken to and never did, or never could. (1.7)
How much of this loneliness is self-imposed by Therese? What does she mean by "never could"? What's stopping her? Whatever it is, Therese rebels against this thought by sending a Christmas card to Carol, something that isn't socially acceptable but majorly pays off.
Therese had kept the green gloves at the bottom of her tin locker at school. […] Finally, they were too small to wear. (1.12)
These gloves, which have importance to Therese although she never mentions them again, recall the quote about the same faces day after day. Therese has a habit of ignoring things in order to preserve them, but it ends up having the opposite effect—she loses things without being able to enjoy them.
The store was organized so much like a prison, it frightened her now and then to realize she was a part of it. (1.3)
Yeah, this is a discouraging description of a job, isn't it? No one puts "atmosphere like a prison" on a craigslist posting for a job. You find that out after you get there, especially if you're working retail or food service.
She knew what bothered her at the store. […] It was the waste actions, the meaningless chores that seemed to keep her from doing what she wanted to do, might have done. (1.7)
Therese doesn't like busy work. Perhaps that's how she looks at her disappointing relationship with Richard: busy work. It's definitely how she views sex with him.
But it wouldn't last, Therese knew. She would move, and it would be gone. (1.70)
Here is when Therese looks at herself in the mirror and catches a glimpse of a person she wants to be. She could treat this identity like the gloves and never do anything, or she could move and try to get it, risking losing it in the process. That loss could be temporary or permanent. Whatever it is, Therese is dissatisfied with how she is now, and she wants to change.
It was easy, she thought, because she was not really escaping at all. (1.88)
This is a discouraging thought. According to Therese, she's simply going from being trapped in one place to being trapped in another.
Therese stepped out into the street and looked, but the streets were empty with a Sunday morning emptiness. (6.1)
At first glance, the streets mirror Therese's sad isolation. But this could also be seen as pleasant—Therese isn't always disappointed with being alone. Sometimes she prefers it, especially to being with Richard. She has to find the right company.
"I still don't want to go to the concert," she said. (12.141)
Therese has no qualms about letting Richard down, which is a quality we admire in her. She knows she would rather be by herself than be with him, so she says this to avoid setting either of them up for disappointment.
She hated it. Two of the most boring people she had ever met, a shoe clerk and a secretary, and she knew Richard meant to show her an idea life in theirs, to remind her that they might live together the same way one day. (12.60)
Therese knows that if she marries Richard, and perhaps any man, she has a lifetime of one disappointment after another in front of her. Carol probably felt the same way with Harge, but she gritted her teeth and went through with it anyway. The constant disappointment made her the slightly cold woman she is in the book.
"She hasn't taken anything away from you, because you didn't have it in the first place." (13.49)
Therese constantly has to drive home the fact to Richard that she was never happy in their relationship. She never felt the same way about him that he felt about her.
"You just tired, you baby," Mrs. Robichek said, tucking a woolen blanket about her shoulders in the chair. (1.85)
There's a recurring motif of older women putting Therese to sleep because she is young. It's what kids do when they play with dolls.
"Are you old enough to smoke?" [Abby] asked Therese. (7.163)
The older women are condescending toward Therese. We're not sure why she wants to hang out with them because they often say rude things to her.
She hated cleaning up after making something. (7.120)
This is an immature attitude, like wanting to cook dinner but not do the dishes—it's indicative of a person who doesn't want to accept the consequences for their actions. This is what Therese does with Richard. She starts a relationship with him, but she doesn't want to clean it up.
"Child, child, where do you wander—all by yourself?" (7.102)
Carol's paraphrasing a song, but it's still a weird thing for a lover to say to another, although the two aren't lovers yet. Carol seems to be suggesting that Therese needs a mentor so she won't be a child all by herself.
"You're the young generation," Carol said. "And what have you got to say?" (11.84)
Here is another rude thing said to Therese, this time by Carol. Carol eventually listens to Therese in the end, but she acts like a stodgy old broad first before accepting that Therese, although young, still has knowledge.
"You're not used to thinking of other people's feelings." (13.69)
Carol is right here when talking to Therese, and this recalls the earlier quote about Therese not wanting to clean up after herself. She wants to do whatever she wants without any regard for others, and Therese doesn't exactly grow out of that during the book.
"I mean sometime, darling. You've got a lot of years ahead." (16.32)
Carol seems to think that Therese is going through a phase, that her same-sex experience is just an experiment, nothing permanent, and that she might change her mind as she gets older.
"Darling, did you ever think you'll be seventy-one, too, some day?"
"No," Therese said. (18.37-18.38)
As a youngster, Therese is also shortsighted. She still sees older people as an "other," not as a person that she may one day be.
"You look grown up all of a sudden," [Dannie] said. "You changed your hair, didn't you?" (22.70)
Therese matures a bit on her road trip—either that or she just looks tired—as evidenced by the fact that a few people comment on Therese looking "grown up" when she returns. Exactly how does she grow up?
She rolled her eyes. "Incredible. Can anyone still be only twenty-one?" (23.139)
Here we see another old lesbian making a disparaging remark about a young person based purely on their age. Perhaps this is one reason why Therese doesn't go with Genevieve. She's tired of this attitude, so she returns to Carol, who has finally accepted her, despite the age difference.
It was the dress of queens in fairy tales, of a red deeper than blood. […] Herself meeting herself. (1.66)
In this odd scene from the beginning of the book, Therese tries on a red dress and feels like she's seeing her true identity. Nothing like this happens again, but red is a traditional literary symbol of lust and passion, so Therese is seeing an inner passion on the outside.
It was the hopelessness that terrified her and nothing else. […] The hopelessness of herself, of ever being the person she wanted to be and of doing the things that person would do. (1.75)
Therese sees her inner passion when she tries on the dress, but she's unsure what it is. At this point, she can't be the person she wants to be because she's unsure of who that is.
"My name? Carol. Please don't ever call me Carole." […]
"How do you like it pronounced? Therese?"
"Yes. The way you do," she answered. Carol pronounced her name the French way, Terez. (4.45, 4.47-4.48)
This is a weird little exchange, but it shows that Therese and Carol get each other on a certain level. But how does anyone else pronounce Therese's name? She never says.
"The hardest thing to be." (9.80-9.81)
Carol and Richard are the proto-hipsters hipsters of the 1950s, aspiring to be nothing because somehow having no identity counts as having an identity.
"I should think you'd be good for her. Because Carol's so serious." (10.53)
When Abby says this, we understand that Carol isn't a little frosty only toward Therese—she's this way with everyone. It's part of her stone-faced personality.
She complemented Carol's solemnity, she could remind Carol to laugh. (10.41)
Perhaps opposite identities attract, but Therese has to become more than just Carol's amusement before the two of them can have an equal relationship.
Therese hesitated uncomfortably. "I just don't feel in the mood for sitting these days." (12.23)
Therese is talking about sitting while Richard paints her, but her words have a double meaning: Therese is starting to become restless. She understands that in order to find herself, she can't sit still, and she can't let Richard define her either.
"You don't know yourself." (13.37)
This is Therese speaking to Richard after he basically says the same thing to her. They're around the same age, late teens to early twenties. Does anyone really know who they are at that age?
"I HAVE NOT CHANGED. NEITHER HAVE YOU. WRITE TO ME. I LOVE YOU. RICHARD." (14.13)
Richard goes back and forth with saying that Therese has changed, and other people later comment that Therese has changed, too. This is a good thing for her, because Therese wants to change. She wants to mature. Richard, by contrast, wants to keep everything the same.
"All right. Come on. Let's get to Des Moines. How about you driving a while?"
They changed places. (19.174-19.175)
The short three-word sentence at the end here is another line with a double meaning. In the plot, the two ladies are simply switching places in the car. But this is the beginning of the role reversal, where Therese starts to be the one in charge of the relationship and Carol becomes her passenger.
She tried to imagine what it would be like to have worked fifteen years in Frankenberg's department store, and found she was unable to. (1.3)
When Therese meets Mrs. Robichek, she sees a potential fate for herself: working (and probably dying) at Frankenberg's. Those are the choices society gives to young women in this time period—work a dull job until you're married, or don't marry and stay there forever. Yikes.
"At least you're not going to make the same mistake I did, to marry because it was the thing to do when you were about twenty, among the people I knew." (7.76)
Carol probably got married in the 1940s, when it was even more expected for women to marry. Therese is living at the beginning of a new society that's starting to be more accepting of single women. But it's just starting; there's still a long way to go.
"Hear of it? You mean people like that? Of course." (8.71)
Richard is talking about gay and lesbian people. His reaction in the 1950s sounds like people today might talk about yetis or bigfoot. Heard of them? Sure, but we've never seen them in the wild.
Therese glanced at him. Richard's aversion to the wealthy, to the bourgeois, was automatic. (9.100)
We get a few small tastes of class differences here and there. Richard's family isn't in poverty at all, so we're not sure what his "aversion" is, and it isn't explored. But there is a significant class difference between Carol and Therese that occasionally causes tension, like when Carol offers to pay for things.
"They're not horrid. One's just supposed to conform." (11.74)
Carol, who grew up in the 1930s, doesn't rebel against conformity the way Therese does. Perhaps this is the "courage" Carol sees in Therese and begins to draw from as the novel progresses and Carol rebels herself.
"You're in some kind of trance! It's worse—" (13.19)
Richard believes in weird lesbian magic, it seems. Although he has heard of lesbians in society, he doesn't believe they're a normal part of society, and he clearly thinks Therese has been tricked if she's now a part of the lesbian crew.
"I'll tell you one thing, I think your friend knows what she's doing. I think she's committing a crime against you." (13.29)
It's difficult to tell if Richard says this because Carol is older, because she's a woman, or both. But the same-sex relationship is not acceptable in society. Richard would probably have a different reaction if Carol were a man.
"And you have to live in the world." (16.89)
Once again, we see Carol's conformity. She makes a point, in that she has to live in the world as a wife and as a mother. But once she loses those two roles at the end, she can live in society however she sees fit.
"In the eyes of the world it's an abomination." (16.85)
This is probably the strongest word speaking out against same-sex people in the book. How have attitudes changed since 1950, and in what ways are they the same? Which parts of society still believe that same-sex relationships are an "abomination"?
She thought of people she had seen holding hands in movies, and why shouldn't she and Carol? (16.19)
Again we see a hint of Therese's disregard for societal norms. She wants to hold hands with Carol in public, but Carol won't let her. Therese also doesn't really try, so she only thinks about rebelling but doesn't actually do it.
Georgia might have been one of the girls Richard had had an affair with, Therese supposed. He had once mentioned about five. (2.47)
They're not as prudish in the 1950s as they were in earlier decades, but men are still more open about their sexuality than women are. Richard is more sexually experienced with the opposite gender than Therese is.
It was a strange relationship, she supposed, and who would believe it? Because from what she had seen in New York, everybody slept with everybody they had dates with more than once or twice. (2.62)
Here we see that it's also socially acceptable for young people of both genders to have sex before marriage. This isn't quite the sexual revolution of the 1960s, but it shows the culture leading up to that moment.
She remembered the first night she had let [Richard] stay, and she writhed again inwardly. It had been anything but pleasant. (5.62)
At this point, Therese isn't sure if she is sexually different—the word homosexual is never used—or if it's just Richard who is icky. As she becomes more attracted to Carol, she realizes that it isn't personal with Richard; it's men in general who don't interest her.
"I mean, I think people often try to find through sex, things that are much easier to find in other ways." (7.94)
What is Therese trying to say here? Is she saying that sex is unnecessary? Or is this just her youthful inexperience talking? What are Carol and Therese trying to find through sex?
"I don't mean people like that. I mean two people who fall in love suddenly with each other, out of the blue. Say two men or two girls." (8.73)
This is an example of how the characters talk about sexuality in the book. The words gay or lesbian are never used, yet same-sex relationships are talked about openly. Even if they are still taboo, they're not entirely secret.
And she thought suddenly of the times she had gone to bed with him, of her distance then compared to the closeness that was supposed to be, that everyone talked about. It hadn't mattered to Richard then, she supposed, because of the physical fact they were in bed together. (9.118)
It seems that Therese believes that Richard, as a man, cares only about the physical aspect of sex, whereas she, as a woman, finds it more emotional—and she doesn't feel powerful emotions with Richard.
[Therese] looked at the chunky figures of the two girls at the end of the bar whom she had noticed before, and now that they were leaving, she saw that they were in slacks. One had hair cut like a boy's. Therese looked away, aware that she avoided them, avoided being seen looking at them. (12.60)
This is our first wild lesbian sighting in this book. These two women fit into the lesbian stereotype, wearing men's clothes and men's hairstyle. Why does Therese look away? Is she afraid of being associated with them? Or is she not willing to admit that she feels a kinship with them in some way, so she is turning away from this aspect of her sexual identity?
"Acquired tastes are always more pleasant—and hard to get rid of." (14.87)
This is an interesting way of putting Therese's same-sex desires. Carol makes it seem like Therese wasn't "born that way," as many LGBTQ people think of it today. Carol acts like it's something she and Therese learned. Can a same-sex desire be an "acquired taste"?
"Don't you think you'd better try some others?" (16.30)
Again, we see a casual attitude toward sexuality: Carol wants Therese to experiment with more people. Therese has only been with Richard and Carol, and Carol wants to make sure she isn't just a phase.
Carol's phrase "come out" had made her think of being born, and it embarrassed her. (23.46)
Aside from the weird metaphor that makes it seem like Carol gave birth to Therese, the term "come out" is interesting here. "Come out of the closet" wasn't used until the 1960s (source). The way Carol uses it here, it's more like a debutante—a coming of age for Therese, not a "coming out" as a lesbian.
The feeling bore no resemblance to what she had read about love. Love was supposed to be a kind of blissful insanity. (2.67)
There are two ways to learn about love—to read about it and to feel it. Therese has only read about it, but are books an accurate way to depict love? Or do they make it more dramatic than it is? What about this book? Is it accurate or dramatic?
It would be almost like love, what she felt for Carol, except that Carol was a woman. It was not quite insanity, but it was certainly blissful. (5.14)
Therese recognizes that her feelings for Carol are atypical, or at least unlike the male-female relationships she's read about in books. But she doesn't let this scare her away or gross her out. She not only accepts her feelings, she pursues them.
Yet the simple fact that she wasn't in love with [Richard] made Therese feel guilty, guilty about accepting anything from him. (5.54)
Therese feels guilty, but she isn't leading Richard on. She lets him know flat out that she doesn't love him, but he says he loves her, so he sticks with her.
"I don't love you, but I like you." (5.60)
This is Therese to Richard, and it seems like Richard is the opposite—he loves Therese but doesn't actually like her, which makes us wonder if he understands what love is. If he liked Therese as a friend, he might be a little more understanding about what she's going through.
Was it love or wasn't it that she felt for Carol? And how absurd it was that she didn't even know. (8.77)
How does a person know when they're in love? It's a difficult emotion to define, which is why entire books are written about it. The only thing Therese can know for sure is that Carol makes her feel really good.
"Do people always fall in love with things they can't have?" (9.41)
A forbidden aspect almost always enhances the feelings of love. See: Romeo and Juliet. Carol and Therese also have a forbidden-love aspect to their relationship because being a lesbian isn't socially acceptable.
"What real reason have you to think he's not in love with you?" Carol asked. (13.70)
As someone who hasn't been in love, Therese isn't qualified to judge whether or not Richard is in love with her. But the way he acts as their relationship falls apart makes us think that he doesn't love her.
What was it to love someone, what was love exactly, and why did it end or not end? Those were the real questions, and who could answer them. (16.61)
We present this quote with no comment. Are there answers to these questions? Are you the one who can answer them? There is no question mark at the end of that line, perhaps because Therese believes there is no answer.
"After that, I knew I was in love with Abby. I don't know why not call it love, it had all the earmarks. But it lasted only two months, like a disease that came and went." (16.52)
Would Carol call love a "disease" if she experienced the same feelings with a man?
How was it possible to be afraid and in love, Therese thought. The two things did not go together. (18.7)
This is a good point, and one reason why Therese is in love with Carol but believes Richard doesn't love her. Therese feels safe with Carol, whereas with Richard she feels afraid and insecure.
It was easy for Richard, living at home with a family to keep him cheerful. (2.6)
It seems that Therese resents Richard for his happy family, something she has never had.
And the husband? Therese could not see him at all. (4.30)
This is a telling statement on a few levels. One, Therese picks up that Carol is in an unhappy marriage. And two, Therese doesn't care about Carol's marriage at all—she has no qualms about pursuing Carol, even though Carol already has a family.
Then when graduation came, when she was seventeen, the school had asked her mother for two hundred dollars. Therese hadn't wanted any money from her, had half believed her mother wouldn't give her any, but she had, and Therese had taken it. (6.82)
Therese has no desire to have a relationship with her own mother. Family just isn't important to her.
"Disappeared! I like that. And how lucky you are to be able to do it. You're free. Do you realize that?" (6.97)
Carol believes that Therese is free because Therese has no family, yet Carol is tied down to a husband and a daughter.
Her mother was not dead. But Therese had not seen her since she was fourteen. (6.81)
We get a little background on Therese's family, but it never comes into play with the plot. How does it affect Therese's behavior, though? Does she see Carol as a mother figure?
"One sister. I suppose you want to know all about her, too? Her name is Elaine, she as three children and she lives in Virginia. She's older than I am, and I don't know if you'd like her. You'd think she was dull." (14.103)
Like Therese, Carol also isn't that close to her biological family—this is something Carol and Therese have in common. Carol's only family is one by marriage, and this is a bond that can (and will) be broken.
"My little orphan," Carol said. (15.52)
Is there a mother/daughter dynamic between Carol and Therese even though they are lovers? Carol says this line as if she wants to be Therese's caretaker more than her romantic partner.
"My child is my property!"
A crease twitched in his cheek. "A human being is not property, Mrs. Aird." (19.45-19.46)
The detective is a voice of reason here. Carol resents her husband because he wants to own her, but it appears that Carol feels the same way about her own daughter. She doesn't really love her; she just wants to possess her.
Yes, she understood why Carol had sent the letter. Because Carol loved her child more than her. (21.42)
We're unsure how Therese feels about this. It would be selfish if Therese resented Carol for choosing her own daughter over her, but it's understandable that Therese is hurt by her choice, too. Losing Carol would hurt regardless of the reason.
"When you have a husband and child it's a little different." (22.47)
We see Carol's family one last time as more of a burden than a source of love and affection. Her divorce and loss of custody seem more like she's freed from a ball and chain than an experience of painful loss.
Therese did not even see any special lights. "Who's Abby?" (7.55)
This sentence has a layered meaning. The mention of Abby's name clouds Therese's vision—she should be enjoying this special time with Carol, but she's immediately jealous that another woman has entered the picture.
Therese thought with sudden envy, she could not make Carol laugh like that, but Abby could. (7.157)
We think Therese is being insecure here since people comment multiple times that Therese makes Carol laugh. Or maybe they're being sarcastic, and Therese is terrible at making Carol laugh—we never actually see Carol laugh with Therese, so maybe Therese is right to be jealous of Abby.
How well they must know each other, Therese though, so well that nothing either of them said or did to the other could ever surprise, ever be misunderstood. (7.186)
Again, Therese is jealous of Abby, here because she and Carol have a history that Therese and Carol do not. However, Therese will learn that history isn't everything.
Perhaps [Abby] was in love with Carol, too. It put Therese on guard with her. It created a tacit rivalry that gave her a curious exhilaration, a sense of certain superiority over Abby—emotions that Therese had never known before, never dared to dream of, emotions consequently revolutionary in themselves. (10.24)
The jealousy drives a competition between Therese and Abby, in a friendly way, and it also encourages Therese. If Carol can be close with Abby, it gives Therese hope that she can grow close to Carol, too.
"I think I understand better now."
"Just—that you win."
"What," Abby echoed with her head up, looking up at the corner of a building, at the sky, and Therese suddenly felt furiously impatient. (10.95-10.99)
Therese stops being jealous of Abby, both because Abby says she "won," and because she realizes how insecure and immature Abby is. Therese has no reason to be jealous of her because she is no kind of competition.
"I don't think Abby likes me," Therese remarked. "I don't think she wants me to see you." (11.11)
This is partly true, but Therese, who's young, doesn't yet understand Abby's complicated emotions. As Carol's friend, she wants her to be happy—but Abby also wishes that she could be with Carol, so she's torn about Therese.
Richard nodded his long head, still smiling the downward, disgruntled smile. "And you were alone with him, just the two of you." (12.43)
Richard is jealous of Phil, another man, when he should be jealous of Carol. But Richard doesn't suspect that Therese is in such a relationship with Carol. He'll be jealous of her later, though, when he finds out.
She envied [Richard]. She envied him his faith there would always be a place, a home, a job, someone else for him. She envied him that attitude. She almost resented his having it. (12.143)
This attitude isn't just toward Richard; it's toward all heterosexual people, who enjoy a security and complacency that a homosexual will never have in 1950's America.
"What really makes me sore is that you act like I'm not worth anything, that I'm completely ineffectual. It isn't fair to me, Terry. I can't compete!" (13.48)
Richard only feels jealous of Carol when he feels emasculated by her.
For an instant there came the fantastic realization that Carol had devoted only a fraction of herself to her. […] Yet the fact remained, she had chosen her child. (21.42)
Is Therese jealous of Carol's child? Would that be an immature attitude to have, or would her feelings be valid?