The Truth About Holly Golightly from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’

I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the glow of candlelight, blissfully submerged in a hot bath. Seemed fitting, considering the glamorous lifestyle of Holly Golightly herself.  The only thing missing was a cocktail, a tawny cat, and a handful of millionaire playboys and/or gangsters waiting on me hand and foot (thank God because I hate cats and feel much the same way about playboys and/or gangsters). 

I found the movie far more enjoyable than the book.  Perhaps because the movie shows us a filtered version of Holly’s character.  And I understand why: a glamorous, charming socialite with a sad, mysterious past is someone we can sympathize with. (Exhibit A: old sport Jay Gatsby.) Plus, it’s hard not to like a character, even a vain one, when she’s played by the ever-endearing Audrey Hepburn. 

The Holly we meet on the page, however, is a lot darker than the one we see on screen and decidedly less likeable.  Capote’s real Holly (whose hair is supposed to be blonde, by the way), is racist, foul-mouthed and egotistical, with few redeeming qualities.  I actually found Holly to be quite a toxic person.  She manipulates people to her own advantage, shows selfish disregard for everybody’s feelings but her own, and is such a phony that Holden Caufield would probably throw up if he met her.  (Her real name isn’t even Holly Golightly – it’s Lulamae Barne.) 

Still, as much as I don’t necessarily like Holly, I found myself drawn to her all the same, much like Fred and all the other characters in her life.  That’s the charm of Holly: it’s hard not to be enchanted by her.  She’s an enigma: a strange mixture of childlike naivety and sophisticated sensuality; shallow on the surface, but deeply complex within.  A self-proclaimed “wild thing,” she’s terrified of being a caged animal but at the same time, wary of being alone.  So she simply floats through life, avoiding responsibility at all costs and drinking martinis along the way. 

‘Never love a wild thing … 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.’

More than anything, I feel sorry for Holly.  I find myself wanting to forgive some of her selfish behaviour because she’s young (she’s only 19 in the book) and has had very little guidance for most of her life.  She’s not a bad person: she’s just troubled…or is that simply the excuse we tell ourselves when we desperately want to like somebody despite them consistently showing us the true nature of their character? 

With her fashionable airs and the eccentric lifestyle she leads, it’s clear that Holly is a sad, lost, and terribly lonely person.  The emptiness of her life is hidden behind the lavish parties she throws in her brownstone apartment.  The sadness in her eyes is masked behind those iconic dark sunglasses she always dons.  In her own words, she wants to find a real life place like Tiffany’s that makes her feel at home.  And who can blame her for that?  Isn’t that what we all want?

In the end, I guess you could say there are a lot of Hollys in this world.  Some create glamorous images of themselves while struggling to feel fulfilled; others push people away because they’re terrified of being hurt. The heart wrenching thing is that while Holly’s out there chasing this dazzling lifestyle that’s always just out of her reach, she doesn’t realize the things around her that could actually make her happy – things like a tawny cat and a real friend. 

While the fairytale ending of the movie made me feel happy, I finished the book and blew out the candles with a tinge of sadness.  I don’t know if Holly will ever outgrow her restless ways.  I don’t know if she’ll ever learn to love.  And in my head, all I see is the image of a young girl, wandering from party to party, constantly in search of happiness and belonging.  

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