Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958)

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" is a 20th-century novella that follows a small group of people living in New York City during the early 1940s. None of the characters have immediate family or regular jobs, and for that reason live as they wish on the edge of society. Holly Golightly, the story's protagonist, is described as being a free spirit, one who sets her own course depending on whim and circumstance. She has smoked marijuana, drinks often and sometimes early, and wants to see the world. She likes to shock her friends and feels no remorse when she steals another woman's lover in order to advance her own pleasure in Cuba and the Keys. Holly is a complex character, well written and multi-faceted, and I like her in spite of her many moral shortcomings.

Throughout Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly is alone and without family. She has a brother but he's away in the army and was left behind when Holly escaped Texas. Holly has been on the run since at least age 14 and her background is a mystery. According to Doc, the girl's parents died of tuberculosis when she was young but he has nothing to support this story. Holly paints the most idealistic childhood possible, mentioning summers swimming and pretty parties but her account is thought to be untrue. At no time does she mention her parents and never does she seem to miss them.

Holly is unreliable. She lies to protect and support herself. She tells guests at a party that Mag has a venereal disease when she wants to transfer male attention away from her friend and back to herself. In conversations with the narrator, she calls Mag a prostitute and Rusty a homosexual but neither claim is substantiated. Mag is actually quite shy about sex and Rusty is never shown to be interested in men.

Many readers assume Holly is a prostitute but Truman Capote has insisted in interviews that she's not. Instead, Holly is a companion to older, generally unattractive men with money. She accepts cash gifts, leading her escort to believe she will sleep with them, and then, as often as not, refuses their advances.

Holly suffers from depression, the "mean reds," and it's possible she was sexually abused as a child. Married at 14, Holly is 18 and claims to have had eleven lovers in between. She believes that any sexual activity prior to age 13 should not be included in her list of partners. If Holly speaks the truth, her promiscuity and inability to love others tends to support it.

Capote suggests Holly might have been different given the opportunity. At one point, she is in a relationship, happily making dinner and preparing for motherhood. She is practically the perfect 1950s housewife but subsequent problems with the law make it impossible for Holly's Brazilian lover to continue with their affair. She is destined to live an unconventional life.

Holly takes her failure bravely. She is resilient and continues to thrive, precariously, on the edge of society. At the story's conclusion, she leaves for Rio, writes from Argentina, and fifteen years later is thought to be in Africa where she continues to infatuate men with her charm and fragility.

To find on amazon: Breakfast at Tiffany's


Hariklia said...

Great review Leslie. I must reread. Holly is indeed a very interesting character.

Siobhan said...

This makes me want to read it again - thank you!