Study Guide

The Price of Salt, or Carol Chapter 1

By Patricia Highsmith

Chapter 1

  • Therese is a new hire at Frankenberg's, a massive department store in New York City. It's so big, it has a cafeteria.
  • Today's lunch: "a grayish slice of roast beef" (1.3). Feels like we're back in elementary school. Mmm-mmm…
  • While chewing her mystery meat, Therese sits by herself and reads her new hire manual.
  • She thinks about how much she doesn't like the department store already. There are so many people there, but she imagines they are all so lonely.
  • An old woman who also works at the store sits across from Therese.
  • Therese looks at the woman's hands and, judging by how terrible they look, decides the woman attached to them is so ugly that she can't even look at her.
  • The old crone speaks. "You're a new girl, aren't you?" (1.15)
  • The voice sounds nice, so Therese looks at the woman. She's shocked to discover that the woman isn't a monster. She is even capable of smiling, although it causes "terrible creases under her eyes and around her mouth" (1.17).
  • The wrinkled old bat introduces herself as Mrs. Ruby Robichek, who works in the sweater department on the third floor.
  • After lunch Therese returns to her own department—the doll department, where women purchase dolls that wet themselves.
  • One evening after work Therese sees Mrs. Robichek at the doughnut shop across the street.
  • Wrinkly Robichek invites her to her apartment for dinner.
  • In her apartment, rugged ol' Robichek says she used to own a dress shop in Queens.
  • She has Therese try on one of her old dresses.
  • Therese likes it, but she can't bring herself to admit it so she just stands there silently like a weirdo.
  • She stands there without saying anything for so long that Mrs. Robichek thinks Therese is sick, and she tells her to stay the night.
  • After Mrs. Robichek falls asleep, Therese, without saying a word, sneaks out of the apartment and returns to her own place.