Children on Their Birthdays

by Truman Capote

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

Although the setting of the story is realistic, little else is. Miss Bobbit is a fantasy creature, unlike any ten-year-old girl who has ever existed. In her, Truman Capote created a type of child who reflected much of what he believed that children longed to be: beautiful, clever, and loved. Both in statements about his own childhood and in his fiction he brooded over the sadness and disappointments that children suffer. Happiness is evanescent: Most of the children of his stories begin their years in innocence and pleasure. Then the blow falls, usually with the loss of a much-loved person. However, his portrait of Miss Lily Jane Bobbit differs from the others in a very significant way: Like them, she lives with illusions and impossible dreams, but unlike the others, she dies before her hopes are vanquished.

Miss Bobbit is the forerunner of the more famous Holly Golightly of Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958). Miss Bobbit and Holly are restless females, with longings that will never be fulfilled. Each speaks of living in the sky, a metaphor that suggests both freedom and happiness but which also connotes separation from other people. Though the later story contains many of the same themes as the earlier one, it is ultimately more melancholy, for in it the heroine’s dreams are blighted.

Capote portrayed a series of orphan characters, of whom Miss Bobbit is one, even though both of her parents are alive. She never hears from her imprisoned father, and her mother seems to play so small a role in her life that Miss Bobbit gives the impression of being completely responsible for herself. Furthermore, whatever attachments she forms are temporary, because she always plans and longs to move on. Thus, she is seen as a lone—though not lonely—and isolated figure, in spite of her popularity.

Capote often drew these “parentless” children as wanderers, seekers for a world unlike the one that they have known. Miss Bobbit has no home, no place (ironically, in a region that prides itself on place). Without roots, she imagines that she will gain both a home and glory once she crosses Hollywood’s golden threshold.

Capote himself, as a boy, dreamed of becoming a famous tap dancer, a dream never realized, yet never forgotten. In this and other stories he reminds his readers, through his fantasy children, of the longings that all children have to be or do something extraordinary. The recognition that such yearnings cannot be fulfilled is a significant part of the impact of this story on readers, a reminder that all memories of childhood are a mixture of happiness and sadness. Miss Lily Jane Bobbit dies without achieving her desires, but she also dies before the disappointments and disillusionments of adulthood can touch her.

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