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breakfast at tiffanys

This year, Truman Capote’s 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s turns 55 years old. And, to celebrate the heroine’s (Holly Golightly) undying attraction among women since her debut first on the pages of Capote’s book, and then on the silver-screen with Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of the quirky, slightly troubled, yet unfailingly original, girl, Broadway opened it’s own version of the tale last week on March 20th. Prior to the opening, the New York Times ran an article attempting to pin down the elusive character of Holly Golightly, seeking to grasp both the identity of the girl herself (was she a call girl, an escort, a common prostitute, or simply a liberated, artistic woman seeking a wild, new life?) as well as why women from the 1950’s, 60’s, 80’s, and now, still adore and identify with her.

It’s a legitimate question, for, because the on-screen version of Capote’s novella toned down the rather risque (for the time) portions of the original story, we never  are explicitly told what Holly Golightly “does” and yet, it’s alluded to, and can be implied by the more insightful viewer, that Holly is something of an escort, a sort of “kept woman” not by one wealthy man but by many. How “far” she goes with these men we are never told, but it is clear that they repay her in clothing, housing, favors etc. And thus the New York Times article then questions, why do generations after generations of women love this portrait of femininity? Why is something of a call girl (a young and seemingly innocent one to be sure but still, the intonations are there) the emblem of what forward-thinking women are, admire, or want to be?

In the 1950’s and 60’s young women loved Holly-Audrey’s aura of liberation (from men, mothers, marriage and middle-class morality)…Today young women embrace the character for the same reasons.

breakfast at tiffanys image via fanpopThe article then goes on to quote a 20-something girl who declares that Holly is “a strong, free woman, and the difference between her and a call girl or prostitute lies in the control she has over her relationships.” Reading these reviews of Holly’s character, if I hadn’t read the book or seen the film, I would immediately conjure up a very happy, confident, brilliant, modern woman, wouldn’t you? I mean, let’s review: the quotes say that Holly is enveloped in an “aura of liberation,” is free of constraints of typical moral compasses, and has “control over her relationships.” Sounds pretty grand, yes? But if you’ve read the novella, or seen the film, you know that beneath Holly’s beauty and “freedom” is a character wracked with sadness, loneliness, and confusion. Scene after scene passes with Holly searching for something to give her life meaning. And, scene after scene passes with Holly almost bi-polarly jumping from champagne-induced joy to a downward, depressing spiral into the moral vacuum she created for herself–an emotion she dubs as the “mean reds,” when “suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.” Throughout the story, Holly constantly refers to her fear of “belonging,” being trapped, and being stuck with just one person. And so, she goes from one man to the next, avoiding love, crushing it when it happens to infiltrate her life, and emerging as an “independent” woman perhaps, but a miserable, hardened one at that.

So, repeating the Times’s query, what about this character do women so admire?breakfast at tiffanys
Of course you could just admire the character for her classic, chic style, and her whimsical apartment decorating ideas. Indeed, many fans of Holly stop at just that aspect of her personality. The Times article mentions the iconic image of Hepburn peering into the Tiffany’s window as a poster so famous you’re sure to find it populating the walls of some dorm room at almost every college campus around the country. It’s true too, a black, white, and pink version of the image accompanied me into the trenches of first-year college life. I happily welcomed Holly into that 10X10 space, never really thinking past the girl’s surface-style. Another devoted Golightly-fan quips in the Times article that though perhaps she is “blinded by (her) love for” Holly, she sees “her (Holly’s) behavior as simply taking control and living life to the fullest.” In other words, she admires Holly’s strength to not give in to one man. To come and go from relationships, taking what she needs but never giving in, refusing to be “put in a cage” by sticking with one person and instead doing as she chooses, seeing through every whimsical fancy, and fulfilling every independent desire. Though the woman quoted in the Times saw and admired Holly for “living life to the fullest” and “taking control,” if you look at the character, I see nothing of a fulfilled woman, nor a powerful and confident one. Instead, just stopping at a fairly superficial character sketch of Golightly reveals she is at times incoherent, always self-conscious and timid when she finds herself in real, meaningful relationships, shies away from responsibility, and lives day-to-day, casually entering and exiting relationships and remaining ever on an elusive, mysterious pedestal to the men she interacts with yet hiding on the inside a heart crushed by an incessant search for belonging. Of course, this may be what is so attractive about her to so many modern women, women who are told that personal fulfillment can’t happen inside a singular, monogamous relationship. Instead, we are urged to “find ourselves” before “belonging” to anyone, take what we can from the many relationships we should pursue and “try on” along the way, call it baggage experience, and head on our own way. But I tend to agree with Holly’s frustrated love interest, Paul: that sometimes being in love with one person is the most powerful and fulfilling thing you could ever do, because it means that you are so confident in yourself that even giving up “half” still makes a whole “you”:

 You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your  chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.” You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.

So, when I read the Cort Theatre’s tagline for attracting Broadway fans to the new Breakfast at Tiffany’s show, proudly saying that the show’s heroine, Holly Golightly,  “is the woman every man wants to be with and every woman wants to be,” I could say quite definitely that yes, I will always love Audrey as Holly, yes, I love her claw-foot-tub-couch, and yes, I love her alligator kitten heels and easy, chic style, but no, actually, I don’t want to be her, and I wouldn’t want to be with a man who would.

images via fanpop |quotes via Breakfast at Tiffanys, New york times, Cort theatre

– ❤ A. 

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