Study Guide

The Price of Salt, or Carol Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By Patricia Highsmith

Sexuality and Sexual Identity

Chapter 2

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.

Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 7

"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?

Chapter 8

"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.

Chapter 9

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.

Chapter 12

[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?

Chapter 14

"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"?

Chapter 16

"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.

Chapter 23

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.