Truman Capote's short novel Breakfast at Tiffany's displays a
romantic and charming, yet anguishing and heart wrenching drama. Capote
paints characters that the reader can recall as if they are remembering a
dream of someone they once knew. The beauty and witty naivetÚ of Holly
Golightly is balanced only by her extreme sadness. The novel showcases
Capote's talent for writing comedy touched with remorse, and a story the is
charismatic and filled with emotion. Published in 1958, Breakfast at
Tiffany's inspired women to pack their bags and seek their fortunes in New
York all over the country. Holly Golightly has
taken her place as an American fictional icon, and of all his characters,
Capote himself said that she was always his favorite (Clarke 313).
Throughout his writing career critics have been both generous and praising
to Capote but also disfavoring, harsh, and sometimes utterly stingy. Breakfast
at Tiffany's was no exception. Where one critic called it "an
unbelievable melodrama" (Goyen 5) another said "although it is not
free of Capote's faults, seems to me the best thing he has done yet"
(Hyman 148). But these same critics cannot deny the book of it's integrity
for in his same review Stanley Hyman says: "Holly is done in wonderful
brush strokes..." For the most part, the book was given honorable and
praising reviews: "A rare individual voice, cool even when exasperated,
never more sure of itself then when amazed, sounds through every
sentence," said Paul Darcy Boles of the Saturday Review (20). Whatever
the criticism, be it good or bad, Capote shows an undeniable flair for
character, humor, and virtue. Some call him unrealistic, fanciful, and
indifferent to moral issues (Garson 6-7) but no matter what they say, it is
undeniable that Capote remains, and will remain an influential writer long
after his death.
Breakfast at Tiffany's tells the story of Holly Golightly. It is
told by a never named narrator that once knew Holly when he lived above her
in an old brownstone apartment building in New York City.
In the time that they knew each other, they went from strange neighbors to
the closest of confidants. The exposition of the story reveals that it has
been fifteen years since the last time the narrator has seen Holly. In those
fifteen years he says, "It never occurred to me to write about Holly
Golightly, and probably it would not now except for a conversation I had with
Joe Bell that set the whole memory of her in motion again" (3). Joe Bell
is the proprietor of his own bar on Lexington Avenue, the narrator and Holly
used to visit the bar as often as seven times a day, but not always for a
drink: "during the war a private telephone was hard to come by,"
the narrator says (4). The beginning of the story is really the end. It is
fifteen years after the events that the narrator describes have taken place.
The narrator, now an accomplished writer, returns to Joe Bell's bar and his
thoughts are flooded with the bittersweet memories of Holly Golightly.
The narrator is summoned by Joe Bell himself, who he has not heard from in
several years. He and Joe never had a real relationship, their only link was
Holly, who they both more than adored. So the narrator feels some urgency
when he arrives at the bar, even hoping perhaps, that Holly might be there.
But when he arrives, he sees only an excited Joe Bell, ready with information.
Neither of the men have seen or heard from Holly since she left for Brazil,
fifteen years ago. The narrator received only a postcard without a return
address from her several months after she left New York.
Joe Bell shows the narrator a series of photographs that he got from I.Y.
Yunioshi, a Japanese photographer that lived in the studio apartment in the
old brownstone above the narrator and Holly. The photos were from the jungles
of Africa, the image was of a Negro villager holding a
wooden sculpture of a woman. To the narrator's surprise it was a likeness of
Miss Holiday Golightly,
Upon leaving Joe Bell's bar, the narrator is suddenly transfixed by his
own recollections of Holly. He remembers his first impression of her, given
before they even met. On her mailbox was a card that completely typifies her
character: Miss Holiday Golightly, Traveling. Capote first gave his character
the name of Connie Gustafson, obviously inappropriate, he changed it to be
more symbolic of her personality, she makes a holiday of life, but treads
through it lightly (Clarke 313). For Holly is a traveler, ever seeking a
place that she can call home. Holly clearly represents the theme of novel,
"...home is where you feel at home. I'm still looking," she says
(102). This statement of Holly's resonates through out the book, almost
everything she says and does illustrates her outlook on life, and her
inability to accept it settled down. "I'll never get used to anything.
Anybody that does, they might as well be dead" (19).
Holly's background is murky and is something that she doesn't like to
discuss, even after she and the narrator become friends. From the little
revealed, Holly and her older brother Fred (a name incidentally she calls the
narrator due to their physical resemblance) were forced to live with
"different mean people" after both of their parents died of
tuberculosis. The narrator learns about Holly's past from her abandoned
husband, Doc Golightly. Holly and Fred ran away after their parents died and
lived on only what they could find or steal. One day they approached the
Golightly farm and were caught stealing turkey eggs by one of Doc's children.
Holly's name then was Lulamae Barnes and she was only fourteen years old when
she and Fred came to Doc's farm in bad physical condition: "Rib sticking
out everywhere, legs so puny they can't hardly stand, teeth wobbling so bad
they can't chew mush," Doc tells the narrator. Doc, whose first wife had
died two years earlier took an extreme liking to the young Lulamae and asked
her to marry him. With a true definition of her character Holly said
"Course we'll be married. I've never been married before" (69).
When the narrator first had the opportunity to view the woman he knew only
by the name on her mailbox, he was astounded by the variety in her physical
I went out into the hall and leaned over the
banister, just enough to see without being seen. She was still on the stairs,
now she reached the landing, and the ragbag colors of her boy's hair, tawny
streaks, strands of albino-blond and yellow, caught the hall light. It was a
warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black
sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost
breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink
darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of
dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood, yet this
side of belonging to a woman. I thought her anywhere between sixteen and
thirty; as it turned out, she was shy two months of her nineteenth birthday
One day when Holly and the narrator go for a walk through Fifth
Avenue on a beautiful Autumn day Holly seems
interested in the narrator's childhood without really telling him about her
own, even though talking about herself is something she does quite often.
"...it was elusive, nameless, placeless, an impressionistic recital,
though the impression received was contrary to what one expected, for she
gave an almost voluptuous account of swimming in summer, Christmas trees, pretty
cousins and parties: in short, happy in a way she was not, and never,
certainly, the background of a child who had run away" (54). Holly's
character has such a dramatic flair that the reader nor the narrator never
really know what to expect from her. On some occasions she will openly talk
about outrageous taboos with perfect strangers and on others she will claw
like a cat anyone who gets too close to her: "I asked her how and why
she left home so young. She looked at me blankly, and rubbed her nose, as
though it tickled: a gesture, seeing often repeated, I came to recognize as a
signal that one was trespassing" (20). Holly is not only a physical
paradox of a girl and a woman, but so is her personality, she has an odd
mixture of child-like innocence and street smart sexuality. This is most
apparent in Holly's chosen profession, the one dubbed "the world's
oldest". Holly seems to always have a man banging on her door or passed
out in her apartment asking more for their money or another "appointment".
Holly's first real conversation with the narrator takes place some time after
the midnight hour when she escapes from one of her drunken clients via the
fire escape and knocks on the narrator's window. Much to his surprise, she is
wearing only a robe and asks if she can stay in his apartment until the man
in her's passes out or leaves. "...any gent with the slightest chic will
give you fifty for the girl's john, and I always ask for cab fare too, that's
another fifty," Holly says to the narrator nonchalantly (26). This is do
to the fact that Holly doesn't permit herself to believe that she is a
prostitute. Her idea of love keeps her from that: "I mean, you can't
bang a guy and cash his checks and at least not try to believe you love
him" (82). Holly labels all of the men that she has sleep with as
"rats" but gives that rattiness a certain allure that makes it
acceptable to her. She feels that she has to if she is going to continue to
make a living out of it. And not only that, but she hopes to secure her
financial future just as easily.
While she is in New York,
Holly has an array of lovers, but the ones that she works the hardest for are
ones that are rich. One of these men in particular, Rusty Trawler, shows
Holly's stubborn determination to attract a rich husband and her love of
money over love of integrity. The narrator describes Rutherford
"Rusty" Trawler as "a middle-aged child that never shed its
baby fat" (35). He inherited his father's fortune when he was five years
old, making him a millionaire and a celebrity all at once. Holly treats him
as a kind of pet, asking him to pour her friends drinks and other favors,
which he does unquestionably. When the narrator asks Holly if she really
loves him, she replies: "I told you: you can make yourself love anybody"
(41). Rusty is really a homosexual, who treats himself to woman because he
doesn't want to face that fact. The result is the diaper-wearing personality
he portrays that the narrator christens "retarded".
Another character introduced about the same time is Mag Wildwood, a woman
that in some ways, is similar to Holly. She envies rich men and loves a good
party. She is tall and attractive, but has a nervous stutter that Capote uses
to help the reader identify her as a perfect example of "frightful womanhood"
(Boles 20). Her boyfriend at the time is a handsome Brazilian named Jose
Ybarra-Jaegar, a man that the narrator likes much better than the always
dependent Rusty Trawler. After the two couples take a trip to Key
West, Rusty and Mag end up in the hospital, leaving
time for Holly and Jose to get acquainted. The loss of Jose doesn't jostle
Mag for very long. She gets what she really wanted, a new husband, Mr.
Rutherford Trawler. It is Holly's planned long term relationship with Jose
that will bring the events of the novel to its climax.
Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany's, the jewelry store for which the novel is named, plays an
important part in the life of Holly Golightly. It is the only thing that can
cure her of the "mean reds", a state of anxiety that is worse than
just fear. The narrator first likens Holly's nicknamed depression with the
blues, but Holly assures him that they are not the same thing. "No, the
blues are because you're getting fat or maybe it's been raining too long.
You're sad, that's all. But the mean reds are horrible. You're afraid and you
sweat like hell, but you don't know what you're afraid of. Except something
bad is going to happen, only you don't know what it is" (40). The
narrator, always insightful, calls it angst and says that everyone feels that
ways sometimes. By whatever name he wants to call it, Holly asks the narrator
what he uses as a cure. He says that a drink usually helps him, but Holly
spurns the use of drugs (marijuana is Rusty's suggestion) including aspirin
to cure her of the mean reds. "What I've found does the most good is
just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany's," Holly says. Her sweet
innocence and search for a home are revealed in this early scene which shows
Holly's na´vetÚ about the world. "It calms me down right away, the
quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you
there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver
and alligator wallets" (40).
Holly's goal in life is to find a real place like Tiffany's, a place where
she can belong. Holly mentions that she dreams of settling down, perhaps in Mexico,
with her older brother, Fred. But again, when she feels like she is revealing
too much about her past she pushes up her dark glasses and changes the
subject. Her brother Fred is very important to her, one of the only people
she truly cares for. Yet, when she talks about him it is like the rest of her
past, whitewashed and unclear. She only mentions that he is a soldier,
fighting overseas in the war. On the first night that Holly came to visit the
narrator in his apartment she ends up sleeping beside him, showing that Holly
needs someone who is comforting instead of lusting toward her. Holly fast
falls asleep, but the narrator lies awake, watching her. When the sun begins
to rise Holly grips the narrator's arm: "Poor Fred," she said in
her sleep. "Where are you, Fred? Because it's cold. There's snow in the
wind" (27). When the narrator wakes her because she has tears streaming
down her face, she runs out of his apartment, again throwing up a brick wall.
"Oh, for God's sake," she says having realized that she let some of
her feelings come out. She yells at the narrator before leaving though the
fire escape, "I hate snoops."
Never Love A Wild Thing
Holly's philosophy on life comes forth in a gripping scene when her estranged
husband, Doc Golightly, travels all of way from Tulip, Texas
to find his runaway wife. Doc is an older man in his fifties, a man that is
obviously different compared to Holly's usual jet-set callers, the narrator
thinks of him as "provocative". He is not the New
York type, far from it, he displays the physical
characteristics of a farmer, and his accent easily identifies him as a
Southerner. The man watches Holly's apartment, feels the name on her mailbox,
but he never knocks on her door. The narrator gets sinister suspicions from
the man because of his strange behavior until he hears him whistle a melody
that immediately connects him to Holly's mysterious past. It is a tune that
she often played on the guitar in her window, sometimes long into the night: Don't
wanna sleep, don't wanna die, just wanna go a-travelin' through the pastures
of the sky. The ironic touch here is that Doc taught her the song that
would so much become a part of her being and lead to her abandoning him and
his family. Doc begins to follow the narrator around until they both arrive
at Hamburger Heaven, where Doc takes a seat next to the narrator. The
narrator finally asks the mysterious man why he has been following him,
"Son, I need a friend," Doc tells him. He reveals to the narrator
that he was Holly's husband and then the story of how she and Fred had come
to live on the Golightly farm. "She plain broke our hearts when she ran
off like she done," Doc begins. He recounts how Lulamae (Doc refuses to
call her Holly) had everything she should have ever wanted: housework done by
the other children, her own garden and animals, all the food she could ever
eat, all prepared just for her. "'Twas her home," Doc firmly
states, "Don't tell me that woman wasn't happy!" But as the
narrator already knows, Holly doesn't have a home, she is always "traveling".
Doc claims that all Holly had to do was comb her hair and read magazines.
"Ask me, that's what done it. Looking at show-off pictures. Reading
dreams. That's what started her walking down the road," Doc says. Little
Lulamae Barnes walked a little father everyday, until one day, she never came
Capote uses some of his best dramatic irony in the novel with the
characterization of Doc Golightly. Up until the last minute when he is ready
to board a bus bound for Tulip, he truly believes that he has convinced
Lulamae to come home with him. But as the reader and the narrator both know,
she can't, it would be a total contradiction to everything she believes in.
Doc reluctantly is forced to go home with only some new memories of the woman
that he loved so much. "Never love a wild, Mr. Bell," Holly says in
Joe's bar after she once again leaves Doc.
That was Doc's mistake. He was always lugging
home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full grown
bobcat with a broken leg. But you can't give your heart to a wild thing: the
more you do, the stronger they get. Until they're strong enough to run into
the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then the sky. That's how you'll end up, Mr.
Bell. If you end let yourself love a wild thing. You'll just end up looking
at the sky (74).
Joe Bell responds with the cynical remark: "She's drunk," but we
know that what Holly says is true. Capote makes it evident for us even before
Holly utters those words, for in the beginning of the novel the narrator
makes Joe Bell realize his feelings for Holly, even years after she has been
gone. Joe Bell remained a bachelor throughout his life, never trying to love
a wild thing like he loved Holly. Holly's advise unfortunately goes unheeded
to almost everyone she meets, Joe Bell, the narrator, Doc, I.Y. Yunioshi,
they were all infatuated with her. The narrator's crisp account of events
that happened over fifteen years ago are evidence of that. He grew to love
Holly, and yet they were never lovers. When the narrator first thinks that
Holly had actually married Rusty Trawler (instead in was her friend Mag
Wildwood) his feelings for her come to the surface: "...was my outrage a
little the result of being in love with Holly myself? A little. For I was
in love with her. Just as I'd once been in love with my mother's elderly
colored cook and a postman who let me follow him on his rounds and a whole
family named McKendrick. That category of love generates jealousy, too"
Holly's distaste for the captivity of wild things reverberates through the
entire novel, binding it, tying the history of her life into a kind of loop.
When Doc had taken Lulamae to be his wife he tamed a wild crow for her.
Capote again shows his skill at dramatic and sorrowful irony when after
Lulamae runs away, the crow also goes free. "All summer you could hear
him," Doc says. "In the garden. In the woods. All summer that
damned bird was calling: Lulamae, Lulamae" (70). On the sunny afternoons
that the narrator and Holly would spend together, they would walk all around New
York (a place Holly says she loves even though it
isn't hers), always make sure to avoid the zoo. For Christmas, Holly bought
the narrator an expensive but beautiful birdcage that he had once told her he
admired when they were window shopping one day. "Promise me,
though," Holly says to him, "Promise me you'll never put a living
thing in it" (59).
Doc wasn't the only person that Holly had left because she herself is a
wild thing. And neither are the narrator and Joe Bell. Another character from
Holly's past that makes a notable appearance is one Mr. O.J. Berman. He was a
Hollywood agent who saw in Holly the makings of a
movie star. He had her take French lessons in hopes that it would help her
speak English, because as he tells the narrator, "...even when she opens
her mouth and you don't know if she's a hillbilly or an Okie or what"
(32). But on the day of her big screen test, O.J. gets a phone call from
Holly, she was in New York when
she was supposed to be in California.
Holly's explanation? "I've never been to New York"
(32). Holly says that she could never accept the life of a movie star because
it would be essential that she give up her ego. "I don't mean I'd mind
being rich and famous. That's very much on my schedule, and someday I'll try
to get around to it; but if it happens, I'd like to have my ego tagging
along. I want to still be me when I wake up one fine morning and have
breakfast at Tiffany's" (39). This early scene from the novel shows how
Capote beautifully ties together the title with his heroine's philosophy of
life and thus the theme of the story.
Bon Voyage Oompahpah
The end of Holly's story is developed in a remembrance of her last day in New
York. She had been planning for months to go with
Jose to Brazil,
in hopes of becoming his wife. The two had been living together for quite
some time when Jose finally plans to go back to Brazil
in hopes of a future political career. Holly is changed by Jose in the time
they spend together. She calls him her first "non-rat romance" (82)
and is six weeks pregnant by the time chance intervenes and destroys Holly's
hopes for an ideal Tiffany-like life with Jose. It involved her relationship
with Sally Tomato, a Mafia fuhrer who is locked away in Sing Sing for tax
evasion. His "lawyer", Mr. O'Shaughnessy, had been paying Holly a
hundred dollars an hour if she would visit Sally at the prison once a week
just to chat and give the "weather report" to Mr. O'Shaughnessy
from Sally. In reality, it was a clever scheme that allowed Sally to operate
his narcotics operations from behind bars, using Holly as his courier. Even
though Holly had no idea of what she was actually doing, she was arrested
nonetheless and in a scuffle with the police, she lost her baby.
Unfortunately, that is not all that Holly lost that day. While she is
recovering in the hospital, the narrator goes to Holly's apartment and discovers
Jose's cousin packing his things. The man leaves with Jose's possessions
giving the narrator only a letter, from Jose to Holly. Holly is public
displayed on the front page of every newspaper: "PLAYGIRL ARRESTED IN
NARCOTICS SCANDAL" was just one of the headlines. This was too much for
Jose, whose entire life was strictly more dedicated to his public career than
to a wife and a family. He fled for Brazil
saying in his letter to Holly: "But conceive of my despair upon
discovering in such a brutal and public style how very different you are from
the manner of woman a man of my faith and career could hope to make his
wife" (99). Holly puts up a barrier, fortifying her emotions after she
reads the letter, and then to the narrator's surprise, says that she is going
regardless. "It's the only way," she says, "why should I waste
a perfectly fine plane ticket? Already paid for? Besides, I've never been to Brazil"
O.J. Berman provides the bond money for Holly's bail and she is quick to
ask the narrator to bring her things, along with a list of the fifty richest
men in Brazil,
to Joe Bell's bar so she can leave immediately for the airport. "...once
I walked from New Orleans to Nancy's Landing, Mississippi, just under five
hundred miles," the narrator says on Holly's last day in New York,
"It was a light-hearted lark compared to the journey to Joe Bell's
bar" (105). Joe Bell refused to drink to Holly's departure and as she
got up to leave he threw one of his flower arrangements to her, but they
instead scattered on the floor. "Good-bye" was all he said and then
locked himself in the bathroom. The narrator accompanied Holly on her ride to
the airport, where Capote's novel reaches its climax. Halfway there, Holly
tells the driver to stop along a street in Spanish Harlem. She gets out of
the car, cradling her unnamed cat in her arms. "It's a little
inconvenient, his not having a name," Holly told the narrator when they
first met, "But I haven't any right to give him one: he'll have to wait
until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one
day, we don't belong to each other: he's an independent, and so am I"
(39). She drops the cat onto the street saying "This ought to be the
right kind of place for a tough guy like you. Garbage cans. Rats galore.
Plenty of cat-bums to gang around with. So scram. I said beat it!"
(108). She then jumped back in the car and told the driver to go. The
narrator is shocked at Holly's treatment of her cat, an obvious reaction to
Jose's treatment of her. But at the next stop, Holly flings open the door and
runs back for the cat, except he is nowhere to be found. "Oh, Jesus
God," she says, "We did belong to each other" (109).
The narrator makes Holly a promise that he will come back and find her cat
and take care of him. Holly accepts and then gets back into the car on her
way to the airport. We get a sense that Holly has come to some kind of
greater realization of what she wants when she says, "I'm very scared,
Buster. Yes, at last. Because it could go on forever. Not knowing what's
yours until you've thrown it away" (109). If Holly ever did find a home,
the narrator never learns. But when he finds her cat one day, in a cozy
apartment window, he is sure that it has a name and if it can find a home
perhaps Holly can as well. Capote's writing gives the reader a romantic fever
of remembrance, of things that are gone and a future that is unknown. The
story of Holly Golightly is in a way a part of Capote's life and perhaps a
part of us all. The part that is constantly wandering, roaming, searching for
a place to belong. Holly is the epitome of wild things, for what place does a
wild thing belong but in the wild? It puts forth the question but not the
answer of where a wild thing belongs when there is no wilderness left. But
the cat, a wanderer who found a home, gives us some hope, that a wild thing
can find a place to belong, and not be caged. It is a motif that Capote
exposes with a charming tale and a truly unforgettable character.
Boles, Paul Darcy. "Legend of Holiday
and the Lost."
Saturday Review Nov. 1958: 20.
Capote, Truman. Breakfast At Tiffany's. New York:
Vintage Books-A Division of Random House,
Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography. New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Garson, Helen S. Truman Capote. New York:
Ungar Publishing, 1980.
Goyan, William. "That Old Valentine Maker." New
York Times Book Review Nov. 1958: 5,38.
Hyman, Stanley Edgar. "Fruitcake at Tiffany's."
Standards: A Chronicle of Books of Our Time.
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