Breakfast at Tiffany's Analysis

  • Holly's cat symbolizes freedom. Holly takes the stray in, but never gives it a name, refusing to accept the responsibility of ownership. On her way to the airport, she leaves the cat on the sidewalk, only to come back for the cat, which has already disappeared.
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's is notable for its frank treatment of sexuality. The narrator, a struggling gay writer, befriends the open-minded Holly, who treats him no better or worse because of his sexual orientation. This was rare in the 1940s, when the novel is set, and Truman's depiction of homosexuality marks an important cultural shift in America.
  • Structurally, the novel is told in first-person past tense, with the narrator, a writer, reminiscing about his friendship with Holly Golightly. This perspective allows the reader to see Holly through the narrator's eyes and witness her flightiness, her charms, and her naivete.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a frame narrative. That is, it is a tale told as a recollection years after the narrative’s central events. Inevitably in such narratives, the ostensible subject of the memory—in this case the eccentric, charismatic socialite Holly Golightly—remains an impenetrable mystery, while the character of the narrator—in this case, a struggling writer mesmerized by the dazzling Holly—clearly emerges and becomes the central focus of the narrative.

Perhaps because the narrator is himself so taken by the mesmerizing character of Holly Golightly, many readers initially focus on Holly Golightly as the clear narrative center of the work. This reaction may be heightened by the tremendous impact the novel’s 1961 film adaptation had on popular culture—the film was squarely centered on the elegant flightiness of Audrey Hepburn as Holly. As her allegorical name suggests, Holly embodies the reckless free spirit. Although the free spirit had been celebrated in American literature since Huck Finn, Truman Capote’s creation shattered conventional assumptions. Holly is a woman who is frank about her sexual appetites, who freely uses men to maintain her lifestyle, and who resists the traditional fulfillment of marriage and child-rearing.

A paradox, at once narcissistic and compassionate, willful and vulnerable, Holly Golightly defies imprisonment within social convention and the dreary responsibilities of family and marriage. Her relationship with her nameless pet cat, as well as her cavalier attitude toward her numerous escorts, suggests that loose sense of responsibility. The gifts Holly and the narrator exchange over their only Christmas together underscore this thematic tension: He gives her a medal of St. Christopher, the patron saint of safe traveling; she gives him an ornate bird cage on the condition that he never put anything living inside it.

Indeed, Holly is associated throughout the narrative with wild animals, most notably horses and birds. She disdains zoos. Capote is careful to avoid simplification: If Holly is a free spirit, she is also attracted by the capitalist enterprise. She relishes high living, she entertains men in exchange for money, she plots to marry money, and she is at home in Tiffany’s, the epitome of lavish living. In the end, Holly Golightly’s is a tragic narrative of a free spirit who both hungers for and resists a home, too wild for the humdrum of domestic living, too captivated by the lavish commodities...

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In this novel, as in most of Capote's novels, symbols play a significant role. The first of these is the African statue in the photograph...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Modern readers are likely to consider Breakfast at Tiffany's dated. The outlaws resemble the cast of the musical Guys and Dolls...

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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Written in 1958, Breakfast at Tiffany's reflects the emerging concerns of postwar America and looks forward to the turbulent 1960's....

(The entire section is 295 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Truman Capote. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Brinnin, John Malcolm. Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy. Rev. ed. New York: Delacorte Press, 1986.

Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Dunphy, Jack.“Dear Genius”: A Memoir of My Life with Truman Capote. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989.

Garson, Helen S. Truman Capote: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Plimpton, George. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Rudisill, Marie. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland House, 2000.

Windham, Donald. Lost Friendships: A Memoir of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Others. New York: William Morrow, 1987.

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Holly Golightly seems to belong to the literary tradition of the picaro or appealing nonconformist who considers society's rules simply not...

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Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In technique and tone, Breakfast at Tiffany's resembles several of Capote's other retrospective, nostalgic fiction such as A...

(The entire section is 80 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In 1961 Paramount Pictures released a well-received motion picture loosely based upon Breakfast at Tiffany's. Although Capote...

(The entire section is 186 words.)