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Course Hero, "Breakfast at Tiffany's Study Guide," June 29, 2017, accessed February 25, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Breakfast-at-Tiffanys/.

Breakfast at Tiffany's | Themes

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Identity

Who is Holly Golightly? That's the overarching question the narrator wrestles with in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and it's something Holly questions herself. Is she a semifamous socialite, a humble housewife, or rural orphan on the run? More importantly, which does she want to be? The answer depends on the day. Over a few shorts years, Holly has constructed several personas she can call up at will for whatever the situation demands. She's a game party girl with soldiers on leave, a dutiful homemaker for José Ybarra-Jaegar, and a stern taskmistress for Rusty Trawler. Each of these personalities is a mask that covers who Holly really is: a scared young woman trying to survive on her own.

Holly goes to great lengths to hide the "Lulamae" part of herself. Lulamae is young, vulnerable, and ashamed of where she comes from. There is nothing glamorous or, she feels, anything enviable about her country lifestyle. Occasional hints—abusive relatives, sexual partners prior to the age of 13—indicate a past filled with pain. Wanting to forget all that, she flees to California at 15 and reinvents herself as Holly. Holly is a confident, independent architect of her own future. Yet the longer she is Holly, the more she realizes changing her exterior has no effect on her inner self. Years after leaving Texas, she is "still stealing turkey eggs and running through a brier patch." No matter how much she reinvents herself, she will always be that girl. Through Holly, Truman Capote shows how easy it is to change the public's perception of a person, but how difficult it is to change that person's perception of herself.

Freedom Versus Security

Holly craves two things: the freedom to live her life the way she wants and the feeling of security that comes from financial and emotional stability. These two ideas aren't mutually exclusive, but Holly finds it difficult to achieve both at the same time. She wants to see things and do things beyond the limits of her Texas upbringing, but past relationships, particularly her marriage to Doc, prevented her from experiencing everything the world has to offer. Relationships, even platonic ones, come with a certain amount of responsibility for another person, which Holly thinks inhibits her ability to make truly independent decisions. She dislikes the feeling of being tied down so much that she even refuses to give her cat a name, a practice that in her eyes only makes one more attached. Yet freedom is difficult to attain while simultaneously seeking the income needed for survival. Because Holly has no interest in getting a traditional job, she has to rely on the gifts of others. She can't be financially secure unless she ties herself to someone else, which automatically hinders her freedom. Her pursuit of freedom and security results in neither.

The narrator has the opposite experience. His idea of freedom is to escape from his hometown and pursue his dream of becoming a published author. His approach differs from Holly's in key ways. He is willing to build a financial cushion by taking on a tedious day job. He pursues his passion in his free time, honing his skills and allowing his work to be published without compensation. He isn't banking on overnight success or a huge windfall to drop in his lap. Holly, on the other hand, is always looking for the quickest road to personal and financial freedom, and she makes bad choices along the way. Like Holly, the narrator has left his oppressive hometown—but he isn't attempting to free himself from who he really is. He can be himself in the big city. Holly, on the other hand, feels she has to hide her true self behind a perfectly styled facade. She will never be free until she can accept herself for who she is.

Home

Holly perpetually searches for a real-life "place where "[she] and things belong together." Her quest takes her to California, New York City, Brazil, and Africa, yet it doesn't seem as if she's found what she's looking for. That's because her definition of home—"where you feel at home"—isn't a physical place, but a sense of emotional stability and personal safety. She experiences this sensation when she visits Tiffany's, where she lets the store's "quietness and proud look" soothe away any anxieties she's feeling. She also finds this peace of mind in the company of two individuals—her brother, Fred, and her cat. She knows Fred is her "home," which is why her future plans for a horse ranch in Mexico are all contingent on his presence. She doesn't realize the identical need for her cat's company until she has abandoned him on the streets of New York, and it becomes too late to retrieve him.

Love

Breakfast at Tiffany's explores nearly every type of love except sexual romance. There is familial love, such as the love between Holly and her brother Fred. There is platonic love, such as the love the narrator and Joe Bell independently have for Holly, as well as the love Holly has for Doc and the narrator. There is also romantic love, which is the love Doc feels for Holly and the love Holly forces herself to feel for her many suitors.

Familial Love

Familial love proves to be the most unbreakable type of bond in the novella. Holly has little difficulty walking away from Doc and her other former lovers, but she is heartbroken upon hearing of Fred's death. Her connection to Fred is both that of a sister and a mother—his "slowness" stirred something maternal inside Holly, which is why she is compelled to search the city for peanut butter to send to him overseas. Fred is the only real family Holly has, and he's the only person she truly trusts. He has seen her at her very worst, and there is the sense she feels free to be herself around him. His death signals the loss of the only unconditional love Holly has ever experienced and reciprocated.

Platonic Love

Platonic love is the next strongest type of affection. It manifests itself in a few different ways. In Joe Bell, it is shown as a paternal desire to protect. Even though Joe has no interest in "touching" Holly, he would do anything for her. The narrator, too, would do anything for Holly, but he shows his love by supporting her desires instead of protecting her from them. Though Joe and the narrator are willing to give Holly everything, they expect nothing in return. Holly basks in the narrator's affection and returns it in kind, with thoughtful acts and gifts.

Romantic Love

Romantic love in Breakfast at Tiffany's is fragile and oftentimes forced. Holly tries to believe she loves the men she dates so she doesn't feel like a "whore" like Mag Wildwood and Honey Tucker, and any success just leads to more heartbreak when the relationships end. She is truly saddened when José Ybarra-Jaegar leaves, but she also isn't surprised. In Holly's world, romantic love has very little to do with actual affection.

Homosexuality

Though Holly herself doesn't identify as gay, the topic of homosexuality comes up again and again in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Author Truman Capote implies through narration and dialogue that several of the characters are gay, and Holly often brings up the topic of sexual orientation. In contrast to the popular public opinion of the 1940s, Holly thinks everyone should be free to love whomever they like. This is in line with Holly's desire for personal freedom. She doesn't believe in restricting experiences simply because society deems certain behaviors improper or immoral. An outsider at heart, she naturally gravitates to other outsiders, including implied gay men like the narrator and Joe Bell. She is an ally to them in every sense of the word.

The Gay Rights Movement was in its infancy when Breakfast at Tiffany's was published, and Capote used Holly to share his own thoughts on the subject. As a gay man himself, he supported equal rights for homosexual couples, an idea which many straitlaced Americans found shocking or distasteful at the time. By positioning an endearing character as an advocate for love of all sorts, Capote prompts readers to reevaluate their own beliefs on the subject through Holly's liberal eyes.

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Flashcards for Themes

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Term:

Southern rape complex

Definition:

white man's fear that his daughter/wife will be raped by black man

Term:

tragic mulatta

Definition:

a character who, usually a mix of white and black, loses a sense of belonging because she is isolated from both races as she doesn’t fit completely in the “white world” or the “black world.” Special sympathy is afforded because she is “almost white” but not quite. Significant to Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Term:

miscegenation

Definition:

the mixing of racial groups. Can be used to refer to interracial marriage/sex. Most often found in the phrase “miscegenation laws,” which ban such relationships. Miscegenation features heavily in most of our stories. pick an appropriate one. Desiree’s Baby

Term:

Bildungsroman

Definition:

a coming of age story. Follows a character from childhood to adulthood. Seen in Richard Wright’s Black Boy. Bildungsroman stories guide the character’s story to optimize the readers understanding and empathy for the decisions made by the character. Edna in The Awakening is also the focal point of a Bildungsroman.

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