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The Book Look: Free-spirited woman dominates novella

Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote.

Lauren Melendez, The Book Look columnist

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Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s has been widely revered ever since its release in 1958, and for good reason. The novel tells the story of the dazzling Holly Golightly, who brings new meaning to the phrase “free-spirited,” and will never be satisfied living a routine life. The only things constant in her life are spontaneity and adventure. Most of those who have had the good fortune to meet Miss Holly Golightly become infatuated by her, and the nameless narrator  of this story is no different. For the sake of convenience, he will henceforth be referred to as Fred, as Holly affectionately dubbed him.

Fred lived a comfortable life as a writer in his small brownstone apartment. When Holly moved into the apartment below his, she ensnared him with her piquancy and naivete, and his life was forever different. Capote was rather strategic in his framing of Fred’s character in contrast to Holly’s. Though the story is told from Fred’s perspective, the focus of the story is primarily on Holly, and as a result, Fred can be easily overlooked- as is the case with most people in her presence. It is for this reason that he sits down to write about his mysterious neighbor; so begins the story of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

In many ways, the novella was wildly ahead of its time. Holly is extremely liberal, and her actions, though commonplace today, would have evoked the uttermost controversy in that era. Holly was a call-girl, to put in nicely, and lived lavishly off of the cash given to her by the rich men of New York City. When Capote was asked about this aspect of her character, he described her, and those like her, as a “whole breed of girls who live off men but are not prostitutes. They’re our version of the geisha girl.”

Her liberal views are further expressed through the novel both by her dialogue and actions. Consider, for example, her views on homosexuality. In some circles, the topic is still considered taboo, even today. The novel took place in the 1940’s, and Holly was open and comfortable with the topic. She even went as far as saying “of course people couldn’t help but think I must be a bit of a [lesbian] myself. And of course I am. Everyone is: a bit.” This is a testament to her open mindedness and progressive way of thinking.

Another quality of Holly’s that makes her one of the most talked-about characters among literary professionals, is her apathy. At first glance, she seems to be distant and rather self-absorbed. Though she is an inspiration to others in many ways, everything she does is in her best interest. She travels the world seemingly aimlessly, causing people to marvel at her independence. She has little furniture, many of her possessions are in boxes, and she refuses to name her cat, as “we don’t belong to each other. He’s an independent and so am I.”  In other words, Holly is always ready to leave at a moment’s notice, and will likely never settle down.

However, upon further inspection, one can find that Miss Holly Golightly has substance aplenty. She had a troubled past, and as a result, steeled herself from the most common emotions. Nevertheless, Fred was able to break through the walls she put up, thus giving the readers an inside look at her more compassionate side. One can assume that a part of her (albeit a very small part) longed to make a home for herself, if the circumstances were just right. The closest she ever came to having a home was the feeling she got when she was at Tiffany’s. She found that a trip to the jewelry store was the only cure for “the mean reds,” a name she gave to the angsty feeling people call the blues, only more intense.

At one point in the story, when Holly reveals a softer side of her personality, she says “if I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s does, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.” Although fleeting, the moment was profoundly touching.

Capote expertly wove light-hearted humor with darker themes, eventually leading to an impactful, yet heart-wrenching, ending so be sure to arm yourself with tissues. For more insight, you’ll just have to pick up the book–and you will not be sorry. Breakfast at Tiffany’s epitomizes all things wit and whimsy, and has rightly been deemed a timeless literary classic. This book is a definite page-turner; the type of book that lingers the mind and ensnares the senses for days after it is read.

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The Book Look: Free-spirited woman dominates novella