Breakfast at Tiffany's Summary

One day, the unnamed narrator learns that his old neighbor, Holly Golightly, was seen in Africa, where a local artist carved her likeness into a piece of wood. He recalls how he met Holly when he first moved to New York City as a struggling writer and rented an apartment in the same building as Holly.

  • Holly is a flighty, mysterious, and often painfully naive character who seems to live off the money given to her by her rich friends and lovers. Once a week, she visits known gangster Sally Tomato in Sing Sing Prison, where she receives cryptic messages she delivers to Sally's lawyer in exchange for $100.
  • Holly's primary goal is to marry rich and live a life of comfort and pleasure. She initially sets her sights on Rusty Trawler, a rich playboy, but when he deserts her she turns her attention to Jose Ybarra-Jaegar, a wealthy Brazilian man with dreams of becoming a politician. Meanwhile, the narrator and Holly become close friends.
  • One day, Doc Golightly, Holly's husband, visits from Texas. He and Holly got married when she was just fourteen years old, and she left him after three years. Shortly after this visit, Holly learns that her brother Fred was killed in the war. Holly is later arrested because of her connection to Sally Tomato, but flees the country, hoping to find happiness in Brazil. Except for one postcard, the narrator never hears from her again.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 951 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a first-person narrative with a young male writer as its single point of view. The narrator relates what he observes of the life and experiences of Holly Golightly, a young Texas woman who has come to New York in the early 1940’s seeking new life, excitement, and glamour, which she feels is in keeping with her freewheeling, sometimes irresponsible, approach to life.

Like Other Voices, Other Rooms, which preceded it, Breakfast at Tiffany’s presents a free-spirited person trying to escape from the tawdry aspects of a past life by finding a lifestyle more compatible with her dreams and fantasies. Capote’s story of Holly develops as a remembrance triggered in the writer-narrator’s memory by an encounter with a Lexington Avenue bar proprietor, Bell, who had known Holly as a frequent and colorful patron of his bar. Bell reports to the narrator that Holly in 1956 may have been seen in East Anglia, in Africa, where a Japanese photographer (who also had known Holly in New York) has encountered a wooden replica of Holly’s face in a remote native village. The writer then recalls his first encounter with Holly when he had rented an apartment in the same building as she (and the photographer) during the early years of World War II.

The writer (whom Holly calls “Fred,” after her brother, who is in the military service) grows more familiar with the irrepressible Holly after their first meeting. He finds that she views life essentially as a continuing party; some noisy parties occur in Holly’s apartment. Holly first met the writer as she slid into his apartment from the fire escape one evening. He soon learns that Holly plays host to a wide assortment of mostly male friends, ranging from soldiers to Hollywood agents to an...

(The entire section is 738 words.)