Study Guide

The Price of Salt, or Carol Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By Patricia Highsmith

Sexuality and Sexual Identity

The word lesbian is derived from the island of Lesbos, the birthplace of Sappho, who wrote poetry celebrating the beauty of female relationships. That's where the word "sapphic" comes from, too. But attitudes toward sexuality fluctuate over the years. Sometimes being a homosexual is more acceptable at certain times, and in certain cultures, than it is at others. Even on the island of Lesbos, there is anti-homosexual sentiment (source).

In the 1950s United States, when The Price of Salt is set, it's an awkward time to be gay (to put it mildly). It's definitely taboo, but the heart wants what it wants, and nothing truly breaks Therese and Carol's stride.

Questions About Sexuality and Sexual Identity

  1. When does Therese realize she's attracted to Carol? Does she ever think her attraction is strange or weird? Does she ever try to fight it?
  2. How would Carol define herself? Would she ever call herself a lesbian?
  3. How do other characters react to Therese's new sexual identity? Compare how Richard reacts with how Dannie reacts. Why do these two men treat Therese differently after her affair with Carol?
  4. How is the characters' sexuality explored differently in this time period—the 1950s—as opposed to how it would be depicted today?

Chew on This

Neither Carol nor Therese uses the word lesbian because they don't want to be defined by their sexuality.

The book downplays the taboo nature of Carol and Therese's relationship because Highsmith hopes to normalize their relationship—as well as the relationships of women like them—through fiction.