Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly
“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” — Truman Capote
For a few brief years we existed at the same time, we breathed the same air and we lived. I didn’t know who Truman Capote was nor did I feel the impact of his death in 1984; I was a toddler. Capote was a brilliant literary figure with limitless talents and he knew himself in a way that most people never would. I’m still in awe that we were on earth at the same time.
Discovering Capote was a bit like uncovering something beautifully flawed, I couldn’t look away and I didn’t want to, the effortless prose and narrative techniques fostered an anticipation to a story that I knew so well; Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a book that has influenced generations of women. Holly Golightly’s unconventional life and independent spirit is unlike most female characters of its time; she is liberated from most social norms. Capote described her as a composite of several socialite friends.
Set in 1943, it’s hard to imagine a someone like Holly. She exists solely in the pages of his book even the film fails to fully capture Holly Golightly. Although Audrey Hepburn’s charm and beauty captivates audiences, the film version creates needy Holly and in the end, it’s a man who saves her. Holly’s flawed existence is what makes her real, she’s never meant to belong to anyone. Does she belong to Fred? In the film the male lead is in love with her, but their relationship is drastically different; Fred is gay and knowing that limits what is possible. Holly names the narrator, Fred, for her brother, who was killed in the war. This almost suggests a mutual friendship rather than a romantic love is looming.
“You can love somebody without it being like that. You keep them a stranger, a stranger who’s a friend.”
Capote describes Holly as a geisha; not quite a call girl, but not exactly innocent. She spent time with wealthy men who supported her carefree lifestyle. I always wondered if Holly loved, if she was capable of being loved. There were conditions on how far her feelings could go, she was married but did she love him or his four children? Holly seemed to be a victim of circumstance and fleeing her marriage may be seen as a flawed decision, she ultimately frees herself from the conventions of a domestic union. It’s unlikely that she would knowingly enter into another marriage, she valued her freedom too much. In many ways, it’s a remarkable statement. Women sought marriage as a means of security, how Capote depicts women and marriage is interesting; he almost imagines equality could exist between men and women. The only problem I see is that Holly married as a teenager to a man 35 years her senior, which means she entered into this marriage as a child so she can’t be fully responsible for it ending. As a reader, I couldn’t hold her partially responsible for her failed marriage and she was a victim yet again.
I began to see Holly is a victim of men; the man who made her a child bride, the men who vied for her affection, and Fred, the man so inspired by her eccentric world that he romanticizes Holly’s life. The narrator frames his muse in such a way that it becomes impossible to see Holly outside his image of her. She doesn’t belong anywhere, it’s one of the most intriguing themes of Capote’s novella. From the beginning, Holly seems to be trying on identities and none of them fit. She is seeking a home: Texas, New York City, Brazil, and Buenos Aires; she couldn’t fit. Her world is lonely, no matter how many wealthy admirers surround her; Holly had to keep moving. She was too damaged and lost to truly belong to any one place. Holly’s evolving character made it impossible to fit, there was never a true self. She hid beneath the jewelry and designer dresses, too frightened to peel back the layers that protected her. I doubt even Holly knew who she was.
“Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell,’ Holly advised him. ‘That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you’ll end up, Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.”
Of course, the very staple of this novella is Tiffany’s; it’s inspired songs, party themes and movies. Young women still inquire whether breakfast at Tiffany’s is even possible and it’s almost a cruel joke. Tiffany’s is never really about Tiffany’s for Holly, it was feeling that “nothing very bad could happen to you there.” She feels protected there. Tiffany’s is quintessential New York City, an institution filled with unattainable luxuries. Holly’s New York self still doesn’t belong among those men in nice suits. I always thought she wanted to live in a dream and perhaps, that makes her a victim of an unrealistic fantasy. She is the perfect contradiction, a delusional character longing for the ideal world; maybe that is why Truman Capote’s Holly is so mesmerising.