Breakfast at Tiffany's

by Truman Capote

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Breakfast at Tiffany's Themes

The main themes in Breakfast at Tiffany's are freedom versus stability, money, and memory.

  • Freedom versus stability: Holly's character is built entirely around the fact that she's always moving, searching for a place to call home. It's unclear whether or not she finds one.
  • Money: Holly's desire to marry rich prioritizes money over love, which isn't a significant factor for Holly when it comes to dating or marriage.
  • Memory: As he reminisces about Holly, and the narrator explores the notion of memory and personal history. Doc Golightly reveals Holly's own tragic past, hinting at the role of memory in shaping people.

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The primary theme of Breakfast at Tiffany's is the search for connections with people and places; the outsider stands with nose pressed against the glass, wanting what is inside. As the narrator—now a New York insider—describes his first New York apartment, it is far from luxurious or elegant, but for him it is associated with personal freedom. Here he began his career as a writer, and here he became acquainted with Holly Golightly. If he considers himself settled in his apartment, Holly is precisely the opposite; she is the perpetual outsider, marginally accepted, but never quite belonging. The card on her door reads "Miss Holiday Golightly, Traveling," and her apartment is furnished with packing crates. She refuses to "own" anything, even her cat, until she believes she is settled. The narrator cannot pinpoint her place of origin, and eventually he learns that she has lived in Texas, California, Brazil, Argentina, and perhaps even Africa. So far as he can determine, years later when he writes about her, she may still be traveling, looking for the place she can make her permanent home. In contrast, the narrator seems to consider himself settled in New York.

Holly's connections with people likewise seem less than permanent. Before she and the narrator become acquainted, she seems to have no friends; a variety of wealthy men visit her, but she keeps all of them at an emotional distance, apparently more interested in the money they can supply than in their company. In the same way, she uses the other residents of the apartment building, ringing their doorbells frequently and at any hour, whenever she loses her door key. The narrator discovers that her only real loyalty is to her brother, Fred; yet she left him behind, too, when she left Doc Golighdy in Tulip, Texas.

Holly has created her own identity, in which personal freedom is an important component. She tells the narrator that she hates cages of any kind, and Doc Golighdy explains that she is actually a "wild thing" named Lulamae Barnes, who appeared at his farm as a starving fourteen- year-old. He took in this waif and her brother, and he soon married her, but she was not content to be a wife and stepmother; he says she kept looking at the sky, until eventually she decided to try to live there. Thus, each day she walked a little farther down the road; then one day she simply did not come back. Even though Doc insists she is still his wife, Holly tells the narrator that such a marriage cannot be legally binding, and she has conveniently ignored it as she has tried out other roles such as Hollywood starlet, New York "escort," and surrogate niece of Sally Tomato. In each of these identities, Holly is looking for her home— the place she belongs—and a family, people with whom she belongs. Briefly she seems to find a surrogate brother in the person of the narrator and a potential husband in Jose Ybarra-Jaegar, whom she pictures as the father of the many children she intends to bear. When this dream fails, Holly reverts to the role of traveler and is thought to have been spotted in a remote African village, no doubt the appropriate destination for a "wild thing."

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