Study Guide

The Price of Salt, or Carol Dissatisfaction

By Patricia Highsmith


Chapter 1

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.

Chapter 6

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.

Chapter 12

"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.

Chapter 13

"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.