Study Guide

The Price of Salt, or Carol Summary

By Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt, or Carol Summary

Nineteen-year-old Therese Belivet works at a swanky New York City department store during the Christmas season. But she's not selling fancy perfumes. No, she's selling dolls that pee themselves. It isn't very glamorous, and she finds the retail job tedious and soul-sucking. After failing to connect with any of her co-workers, lonely Therese finds herself drawn to a beautiful blonde customer, Mrs. Carol Aird, who purchases a doll for her daughter.

Therese sends Mrs. Aird a Christmas card, and the two go out for coffee. Therese is attracted to Carol, but she has no idea how the sometimes-frosty Mrs. Aird feels about her. Carol invites Therese to her home in New Jersey to decorate a Christmas tree. They trim the heck out of that tree, and Therese, exhausted from all the tinsel, spends the night. She meets Carol's friend, Abby, and Carol's soon-to-be-ex-husband, Harge.

Back in the city, Therese's boyfriend, Richard, helps her network her way to a job designing sets for a theatre. You didn't know she had a boyfriend? We forgot to mention him because Therese doesn't really like him. He loves her, but she is aloof toward him. He wants to go on a trip to Europe, but she keeps blowing him off. One day, Abby takes Therese out to lunch and spills the beans that Carol is planning on asking Therese on a trip. Now that's a ride Therese wants to go on.

Therese breaks up with Richard and embarks on a cross-country road trip with Carol. It's like Thelma and Louise but with fewer gunfights and no Brad Pitt. Oh, and more kissing. At a hotel in Waterloo, Iowa, the two women engage in some lip locking and… other activities as the memorable chapter comes to a close.

However, Carol soon discovers that Harge has a detective on their tails. She's afraid he may be secretly recording them. She and Therese continue on their road trip, and soon Therese realizes that a man has been following them. She realizes the sketchy male must be the detective. In their hotel room, Carol finds out they've been recorded. She confronts the detective and buys the secret taps from him. Carol burns the incriminated evidence, but the detective tells her he's already sent other evidence of Carol's affair with Therese back to New York. Curses.

So Carol returns to New York City while Therese stays in the American West, waiting for Carol's return. Carol doesn't return, though. Instead she writes a letter to Therese and tells her that she will fight for custody of her daughter, which means she can never see Therese again.

Upset, Therese returns to New York City and resumes her theatre job. She returns Carol's car, and the reunion between the two lovers is chilly at best. Carol says that she lost custody of her daughter, and she has moved out on her own. She offers for Therese to live with her, but Therese declines.

However, when an actress flirts with Therese at a party, she realizes that Carol is the only dame for her. She finds Carol in a restaurant and heads toward her to start a life together. The end.