14th Discussion: Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (21 Oct 2010)

1. Real men talk about their feelings so we started off with how we felt about the book. Isaac liked the book but Raj had mixed feelings, claiming that at some parts, the book gets monotonous, which is because it is too real, describing the daily lives of the lesbians. Aaron questioned if this detailed description is deliberate on the part of the author, to demonstrate that lesbians are humans too, living everyday lives, like everyone else.

2. We talked about <b>the significance of the title</b>. Salt, as Isaac and Raj pointed out, was an expensive commodity for the rich, and so perhaps the love between Carol and Therese is as rare. Isaac and Aaron thought that the salt may come from tears, implying that love is something worth crying over.

3.Characters

a. Carol: Aaron found Carol as an indecipherable, ethereal and mysterious character, impossible to grasp. Raj and Isaac didn’t think so.

b. Abby: Isaac didn’t envy the position Abby is in but Aaron thought that if there is anyone with unconditional love, it’s Abby.

4.

a. <b> Relationship between Carol and Therese</b>: Isaac noted that Carol and Therese are similar and one would become the other. Aaron should have questioned if this is a good thing? What does the author mean? Are lesbians all alike?

They took a long time to consummate their relationship; Isaac said this waiting creates anticipation in the protagonists.

Isaac noticed that Therese grows up only in the absence of Carol, when Carol leaves her. When they are together, Carol only stifles Therese’s development. Raj disagreed with this.

b. Aaron brought up<b> Carol’s decision to choose her daughter over Therese</b>. If this is about happy endings of a lesbian love, Aaron argued, then Carol ought to have chosen Therese instead. Aaron’s point is that by choosing the daughter, Highsmith may be showing that homosexuality isn’t incompatible with family ties, an idea which was against the prevalent mindset at that time (and perhaps this mindset is still prevalent).

On the part of Therese, Raj said that the act of forgiving Carol depicts Therese’s unconditional love. Isaac and Aaron objected to that Therese’s love is unconditional because Raj, Isaac and Aaron have different definitions of “unconditional love.” To Aaron, “unconditional love” should be strong and constant but Therese wavers and is tempted by a beautiful actress. Isaac said that Therese’s love is contingent on Carol loving her in return. A side note that Isaac pointed out is the interaction of Therese between the actress and between Carol is to show the growth of Therese, that she has become confident and possessed a gaydar.

c. There was a fierce discussion on <b>why Carol goes back to Therese in the end</b>. Aaron said that because Carol has already lost her daughter, she goes back to Therese. If she doesn’t, she would have lost two things precious to her. But Isaac and Raj disagreed, saying that the fact that Carol returns to Therese shows it is a conscious choice on Carol’s part. Raj pointed out that by going back to Therese, Carol would lose even that few-days-in-a-year with her daughter. Aaron could not concede this point to Raj and Isaac because he wondered how a few days with the daughter could be compared to years of companionship with Therese; in other words, the trade-off is worth it, and therefore it isn’t a choice at all. How could Carol live in misery for the rest of her life, pining for a few days with the daughter when she can have some form of consolation with Therese? Carol’s motive is important because it shows how she feels for Therese and the basis of their relationship.

On a side note, as someone who comes between Carol and Therese, the daughter doesn’t make an appearance at all, that is, she is always reported in the third person, and we wondered if there is a point to be made. If it were in a movie, the daughter wouldn’t even get a role. (we used “movie” to describe the book because the book’s details are very vivid, as if we were seeing a movie, instead of reading a book.)

d. Aaron wondered if Carol could fall out of love with Abby in two months, what security does Theresa have? Aaron also brought up the question what attracts Carol to Therese and vice versa. He thought that only the beautiful lesbians are together; the ugly one (Abby) ends up alone.

5. <b>Themes</b>

a. <b>Men</b>: In the past few lesbian books we read, men are portrayed negatively but Highsmith does something very different. Richard is the all American Boy, representing the majority of the then-conservative American society’s bias against homosexuality, railing at Therese’s gayness, stating that it is a temporary aberration. Richard is contrasted to Danny who is more rational and accepting of lesbians. Harge is the villian who robs Carol of her daugther. But all the men are treated very sympathetically. Richard’s position is understandable, having lost the love of his life. Even Harge, whose love for his daughter is strong, isn’t at fault; he just wants his daughter with him. Harge gives flowers to Carol on their anniversary, and we hear Carol calling him a hypocrite, which may or may not be true but what is true is that Harge performs a nice gesture towards Carol. Raj added that this is a case of “hate the situation, not the people.” Aaron linked the novel’s sympathetic portrayal to Ali Smith’s novel we read a year ago, since both authors are so sympathetic, showing their humanity and goodness.

b. <b>Money</b>: Two contradicting views appear: (1) Therese longs to become the attractive, glamorous Carol, not woebegone, impoverished Mrs Robichek. (This is obvious in the first meeting of Therese with the two women: both scenes are written in a fairy-like setting, and in both cases, the woman feeds Therese a “potion.”) (2) Therese keeps rejecting Carol’s fiscal assistance. The contradiction is: if Therese wants to be rich, then why does she not accept Carol’s money? Aaron jokingly said that the pittance Carol gives is nothing compared to living a lifetime of luxury with her.

(A sidenote is that all lesbians need to be rich?)

c. Nationalities: Aaron pointed out that all nationalities (of the American immigrants) are presented; Raj pointed out that the social classes are wide-ranging too. We like the all-inclusive representation of different experiences from different perspectives.

6. <b>close-reading</b>

a. “rapport between two men or two women can be perfect,” writes Carol in a letter to Therese. For Raj, it is a beautiful thing to say but it is said in such a way that it doesn’t bring out the full impact. Aaron wondered if writing this in a letter that says that they cannot see each other anymore shows much of Carol’s character. Aaron asked if, seen from the mouth of the author, this passage is didactic? Isaac said that it is not necessary so, since it merely shows the utopian vision of the author.

b. Aaron points out a touching passage that he loves very much: Carol wanted therese with her, and whatever happened they would meet it without running. How was it possible to be afraid and in love, therese thought. The two things did not go together. How was it possible to be afraid, when the two of them grew stronger every day? Together they possessed a miracle.

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2 Comments

Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Classics, Family, Lesbian, Love, Patricia Highsmith, USA

2 responses to “14th Discussion: Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (21 Oct 2010)

  1. Maurice

    I just started reading it and it is beautifully written. Dying to know the significance of the title. Have you read “Friends Like These” by Alex Ferrar? It is a very fast-paced gay/bi book.

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