Breakfast at Tiffany's | Study Guide

Truman Capote

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Breakfast at Tiffany's | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Breakfast at Tiffany's is told as a flashback from the point of view of an unnamed, first-person narrator. It begins in 1957, when the narrator gets a surprise phone call from an old acquaintance who has received news about one of their mutual friends, Holly Golightly. The narrator hasn't seen or heard from Holly in nearly 12 years, and being back in New York's East Side neighborhoods evokes memories of when they first met.

The narrator had moved into his shabby apartment in the spring of 1943. He knows of his downstairs neighbor, the 18-year-old Miss Holiday—Holly—Golightly, only from the calling card affixed to her mailbox in the lobby. They have their first real conversation that September, when Holly climbs up the fire escape and through the narrator's window to escape a drunken guest in her apartment. She immediately names him "Fred," after her brother who is fighting in World War II, and they spend the rest of the night talking. He tells her about his fledgling writing career and reads her one of his stories, and she describes how she earns her living by going out with wealthy men. The narrator is fascinated by men who think nothing of giving her $50 for the powder room or for a cab ride home. He's even more taken with the story of Sally Tomato, the older man Holly visits in prison once a week in exchange for $100. The narrator voices his concern that such an arrangement could be illegal, but Holly insists she can take care of herself.

The narrator attends a cocktail party at Holly's apartment the following week. He meets her friends, including her agent, O.J. Berman, her rich, man-child boyfriend, Rusty Trawler, and her cordial rival, Mag Wildwood. He also meets Holly's cat, which she refuses to name on the grounds that she and the cat don't belong to one another. After giving the narrator a somewhat surly greeting, Berman fills him in about Holly's past. He discovered her in California when she was 15, then spent a year grooming her for Hollywood, which included French lessons to smooth out her lower-class rural accent. The day before her first screen test, she called and told him she moved to New York. That was three years ago, and Berman is still upset about it. He tells the narrator Holly is a "real phony" (emphasis on the "real"), yet it's clear he still adores her. The party ends with an inebriated Mag insulting everyone in the room, then passing out cold.

Mag moves in with Holly the next day. Holly is glad to have a roommate who is a "perfect fool," although she would prefer a lesbian—the tidiest of roommates in Holly's opinion. The two keep different hours, and Mag has a fiancé, a Brazilian diplomat named José Ybarra-Jaegar, to keep her occupied in the evenings. While Mag hates the idea of moving to Brazil, Holly seems quite interested—in José and in leaving the country.

The first big fight between the narrator and Holly happens the following spring. Holly belittles his short stories, which are mostly about children and minorities. She argues his writing doesn't "mean" anything, especially because he's not making a dime from it. The criticism hurts, and he retaliates by suggesting she's a prostitute. They don't speak for two months. Their silence is finally broken with the arrival of Doc, a man in his 50s whom the narrator assumes is Holly's father. Doc refers to Holly as Lulamae and reveals that he isn't her parent—he is her husband. They married when she was 13 "going on 14," and she ran away the following year. Holly has had the marriage annulled, but Doc wants to bring "Lulamae" back home to Texas. Holly, insisting she isn't Lulamae anymore, stays in New York.

Not long after, Holly receives news her brother, Fred, has died in the war. This sends her into a fit of grief-stricken destructive rage, which worries José who has begun a relationship with her. José doesn't want anything scandalous associated with his name, and the narrator assures him it's perfectly legal to wreck your own apartment.

José moves in soon after that, and Holly transforms from Café Society party girl to happy housewife. José hasn't proposed yet, but Holly is sure he will because he knows she's pregnant. She chatters to the narrator about her plans for the future, which include moving to Brazil. The narrator alternates between jealousy and happiness. He doesn't want her to leave, and he doesn't think this relationship will work out better than any of the others, but her enthusiasm is infectious. A few days before she and José are to leave New York, she and the narrator go horseback riding in Central Park. An inexperienced rider, the narrator is startled when his mount takes off on a frenzied gallop through the city streets. It takes Holly and a mounted police officer to finally bring the horse to a stop. The narrator, badly shaken, falls off.

Holly is arrested later that night. Her friend Sally Tomato has been running his international drug smuggling ring from jail, and Holly has been an unwitting accomplice. The narrator visits her a few days later, but she's in the hospital, not in jail. She had a miscarriage after the arrest, which was most likely caused by the horse race through the city. The narrator has the unfortunate job of giving her a letter from José, which politely states he is ending their relationship to protect his reputation.

Holly insists she's still going to Brazil, even though she's wanted by the police. She asks the narrator to get a list of the 50 richest men in Brazil and to pack her things, including her cat. He accompanies her to the airport. On the way there, Holly dumps the cat on the street. She realizes too late that she's made a mistake, but when she and the narrator go back to look for him, he's gone. The narrator promises to find the cat and take care of him for Holly. When the narrator finally gets a postcard from Holly months later, she sends no forwarding address. The narrator is disappointed. He finds the cat, who is living happily in a new home. From what the narrator can tell, the cat has a name.

Breakfast at Tiffany's Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 The narrator moves into Holly Golightly's brownstone.

Rising Action

2 Mag Wildwood crashes Holly's party.

3 Holly criticizes the narrator's writing.

4 Holly learns about her brother's death.

5 The narrator rides a runaway horse through New York City.

6 Holly is arrested and has a miscarriage.


7 Holly abandons her cat in Spanish Harlem.

Falling Action

8 The narrator locates the cat, who has a new home.


9 The narrator receives a postcard from Holly.

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