Breakfast at Tiffany's

by Truman Capote

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Breakfast at Tiffany's Summary

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a novella by Truman Capote in which the narrator recalls how he met the enigmatic Holly Golightly.

  • After hearing that his friend Holly Golightly was seen in Africa, the narrator reminisces about how they met.
  • The narrator met the eccentric Holly while they were living in the same building in New York City, and the two became close friends.
  • Holly is a free spirit whose primary goal is to marry rich.
  • Holly is arrested for ferrying messages between a convicted gangster and his lawyer. She flees to Brazil, and aside from one postcard, the narrator never hears from her again.

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The narrator, an established writer, is summoned unexpectedly to a bar, an old haunt, where the bartender, Joe Bell, who shared the narrator’s long-ago fascination with Holly Golightly, has received word about her: She passed through an African village just months earlier. Joe has a photo of an elegant wood carving made by one of the village artisans, and its profile is unmistakably that of Holly Golightly. The photo triggers the narrator’s recollection of the tempestuous year he spent as Holly’s neighbor in a Manhattan brownstone when he first arrived in New York as a struggling writer.

Everything about the young woman intrigued the narrator when he met her. Holly participated in the flamboyant nightlife of New York’s ritziest restaurants and nightclubs, escorted by a variety of rich and influential men. She exhibited an elegant goofiness and a casual sexiness. She was fond of a stray cat that she adopted but never named. Her background was mysterious, involving time spent in Hollywood as a promising starlet, and she would lapse into inexplicable bouts of melancholy. She was devoted to to brother, a soldier stationed overseas.

The narrator was particularly puzzled about Holly’s source of income. She clearly had no problem securing money from the men she dated, but he could not tell whether or not she was a prostitute. She visited Sally Tomato, a notorious gangster, each Thursday in Sing Sing Prison and brought back cryptic messages about the weather to his lawyer in return for one hundred dollars. When Holly read some of the narrator’s fiction, she tried to encourage her Hollywood friends to give his writing their attention, even though she disdained his writing because it lacked story and character and was too atmospheric and experimental.

Although she was a free spirit, marrying a rich man was Holly’s preeminent ambition—she told the narrator that when she felt what she called “red meanies,” a soul-deep anxiety about her life and its evident drift, she loved to roam among the swanky displays at Tiffany’s jewelry store, where she felt safe and at home. She tested the possibility of marrying Rusty Trawler, a gay millionaire looking to secure a wife for appearance’s sake, but when that fell through, she set her sights on José Ybarra-Jaegar, a rich Brazilian with ambitions to become Brazil’s president. As he tells her story, however, it becomes clear that the narrator himself was falling under Holly’s spell. When he received news that he had sold his first story, he shared the news first with Holly and they spent a romantic day celebrating.

In early spring, the writer had a chance encounter with a fiftyish stranger outside the brownstone. The man identified himself as Holly’s husband, Doc Golightly, a veterinarian from Texas, and he told the stunned narrator about Holly’s past: She and her brother had run away from an impoverished life with an abusive foster father in rural Texas. She had married Doc Golightly when she was only fourteen and had helped raise his children from a previous marriage for nearly three years, until one day she simply walked away. Doc had tracked down Holly, whom he knew as Lulamae Barnes, to give her a chance to return home—a chance she refused. She told him that their marriage was invalid because she was under age when it was conducted.

Soon after this encounter, Holly received the devastating news that her brother had been killed in action. Over the next several weeks, she decided in her grief to pursue marriage to José and the promise of a stable life in faraway exotic Brazil. She tried to teach...

(This entire section contains 951 words.)

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herself Portuguese in preparation for such a life. In late September, she told the narrator that she was pregnant and would be leaving within days for Brazil. Seeing how badly he took the news, Holly offered to spend the day in Central Park riding horseback (she had loved horses growing up). When street kids spooked the narrator’s horse, he lost control of the animal; Holly rescued him after a wild ride through Manhattan traffic.

When they returned to the narrator’s apartment to recover, Holly was abruptly arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy. The weather reports she had been bringing back from Sing Sing were coded messages to help Tomato run his organization from behind bars. Within hours, Holly’s photo was splashed across the newspapers. José decided his political ambitions could not withstand such a scandal. He flew to Brazil, leaving only a goodbye letter to Holly. Far more tragically, during the shuffle with the arresting officers and perhaps because of the excitement of riding the horses, Holly suffered a miscarriage.

Holly, however, was determined to go to Brazil and, despite the narrator’s warning that she could face criminal charges, she convinced him to gather her belongings (including her cat) and meet her at Joe’s bar before she was to depart for the airport. On the way to the airport, as they were driving through Spanish Harlem, Holly impulsively stopped the cab, opened the door, and simply left her cat on the street to demonstrate their independence from each other. Within a block, she relented and went back to try to find the cat, but to no avail. She left for the airport and for Rio only after the narrator promised he would find the cat—which he did. Weeks later, he saw the cat comfortably perched in the window of an apartment.

Save for a single postcard, the narrator reveals that he has never heard from Holly again. He can only hope that, like the cat, she has found a home.