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Truman Capote’s masterpiece of American literature, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is a wonderful story about misguided love. The novel is well deserving of a place within any compilation of literature and is epically deserving of a place within a collection of women’s literature, as it presents a snapshot of a very human woman from the 1950’s era United States. Holly is not a woman you might want to frame, or one that you might aspire to become, foremost because her flaws are exposed for all to see. However, she most definitely is defining of a cultured woman of the American 1950’s, a modern debutant, carefree and aloof. Her character is defining of the societal changes which took place during the post World War II 1950’s, when women gained independence they had not previously shared with men before the war, and the growing up period which was inevitable as they learned to walk on their own, free and spirited; women gained independence, but they had not yet gained the ability to support themselves: this was a fault of the society. The novel shows this change beautifully, from the perspective of a man who falls in love with one of these new wild and spirited creatures that he does not completely understand.
The narrator, or “Fred” as he is called by Holly, is captivated by this curious and unique creature who resides in his apartment building. His first meeting, where she comes in through his fire escape to avoid a man who is biting her, seems to catch him off guard. She is brash, seeming not to care to climb into his bed to snuggle, confident in her sexuality. Throughout the novel this is a continuing theme. The women of the pre-WWII era would have been very much offended by this sort of behavior, but it seems to intrigue our narrator. As the story moves on, the narrator develops much more than a passing interest in his neighbor, falling deeply in love with her, but always knowing that she will not have him. Her story to Joe Bell in the bar is the most telling, as it seems to not be directed toward Joe Bell, but rather to “Fred,” although he never seems to connect that it is meant for him. Holly tells Joe “Never love a wild thing… you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get.” (Capote 209) “Fred” never gets the message, already blinded by his love for her. She further warns him that she will fly away if he tries to get too close, a promise she eventually keeps. Holly is a fiercely independent woman, and this makes her attractive to every man she comes into contact with.
Grave mischaracterizations of Holly are sometimes made, including the accusation that she is a whore or prostitute. Granted, her behavior is not something that will ever win her a medal. She uses most everyone she comes into contact with, either for money or simply as her playthings. She does not, however, pressure these people into her company. They rather desire to be around her. Her personality is magnetic throughout most of the novel. She is not a fantastic person, but she most definitely is a wonderful image of the type of woman people desired to be around in the 1950’s era. She also did not use these people out of sheer hatefulness, but out of necessity. She had to survive childhood as a runaway in one of the hardest times in the history of the United States, obviously having no true formal education which would provide a job for her to take care of herself. She was forced to marry at the age of fourteen, again out of necessity, to find a way to provide for both herself and her brother. She later leaves the situation, not because it is unbearable, but because she wants more and she wishes to explore and live her life. These are desires shared by most everyone growing up, and while considering the circumstances most people could not fault her for her actions, it was the fault of her nature. She was a fifteen year old girl, and she was not designed to be caged.
This novel is a great story of human nature, overcoming adversity, and is a very human portrait of the post-WWII era American woman. Holly is not a perfect person, but because her flaws are bared for all to see, she is a much more identifiable and loveable character. Capote’s master work would be a grave omission from any collection of literature about women.
Capote, Truman. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. 1958. New York: Vintage, 1993.
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