Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Explained: What Is Her Job?

This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and a character analysis of Holly Golightly. Beware of spoilers.

breakfast at tiffany's holly golightly character analysis

Directed by Blake Edwards, the 1961 comedy-drama is based on a 1958 novella of the same name written by Truman Capote. The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly and George Peppard as Paul Varjak. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novella.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – Plot Summary

An elegantly dressed woman (Holly Golightly) stops by at a Tiffany’s & Co. store. After admiring the jewellery displayed at the store, Holly heads back to her apartment. Unable to find her keys, Holly rings her neighbour Mr. Yunioshi. The man lets her him, but warns her not to bother him the next time. Later on, a man named Paul Varjak rings at Holly’s door. She lets him in to use her phone. During their small talk, Holly dresses up to head out and visit a man named Sally Tomato in prison (Sing Sing). Sally’s lawyer pays Holly 100$ a week to deliver the weather report.

On their way out to catch a taxi, Holly and Paul run into an older woman named Emily. She introduces herself as Paul’s decorator. Holly gets into the taxi and heads to Sing Sing, while Paul stays behind with Emily. That same night, Holly climbs up to Paul’s apartment through the fire escape to run away from one her “dates”. Before sneaking into Paul’s window, Holly sees Emily leaving some money for him. At first, Paul is shocked to see Holly in front of his window, but then, he eventually lets his neighbour stay at his place for the night. Meanwhile, Holly learns that Paul is a writer who hasn’t published anything in the last five years. As for herself, Holly has been trying to save some money to financially support her brother Fred (who’s in the army).


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Later on, Holly throws a big party and invites Paul. At the party, Paul meets Holly’s manager who briefs him about her past. Apparently, Holly grew up in the countryside and then one day, she decided to move to big city (New York). At the party, Paul meets José Pereira (a wealthy Brazilian politician) and Rusty Trawler (one of the richest men in the country). Meanwhile, Mr. Yunioshi calls the police to end Holly’s party.

Emily and Paul meet up again at his apartment. She tells him that there is a man outside following her. As a result, Paul decides to go for walk. Shortly after, the man starts following Paul everywhere. Annoyed, Paul confronts the stranger: the man introduces himself as Doc Golightly (Holly’s husband). During their conversation, Doc briefs Paul about Holly’s past. Actually Holly is not even her real name, that woman was born as Lula Mae and she married Doc when she was fourteen.

After their talk, Paul takes Doc to Holly’s apartment where she welcomes him. Later on, the three head together to the bus station, but Holly informs Doc that she’s not leaving with him. Although Doc is heartbroken, he does not force Holly to come with him. In order to drown her sorrows, Holly and Paul spend their night drinking at a club. Under the influence, Holly tells Paul that she’s going to marry Rusty Trawler for his money.


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Later on, Paul receives a pay for his stories and on his way to tell Holly, he reads on a newspaper that Rusty Trawler had married someone else. Disappointed, Holly goes on a date with Paul where the two do things that they’ve never done before. At Tiffany’s & Co., Paul takes out a ring and asks the store to engrave a message in it as a gift for Holly. After spending the night together, Paul wakes up alone. Meanwhile, Emily arrives at Paul’s place but he rejects her advances. Then, he asks Emily to leave and they stop seeing each other.

Paul tries to find Holly to talk to her, but to no avail. After a while, Paul finds Holly at the public library but she acts completely indifferent to him. Shortly after, Holly begins dating José. During this time, Holly receives a telegram: her brother Fred died in a jeep accident. This news leaves Holly devastated and she trashes her whole apartment. A couple of months later, Holly invites Paul for dinner: she’s leaving the country and heading to Brazil to build a new life with José. However, Holly’s plans do not fall through because that same day the police arrives at her apartment to arrest her (due to Sally Tomato’s case).

Despite of the charges, Holly walks out on bail. Paul gets a taxi for both, and Holly tells the driver to head to the airport. Meanwhile, Holly reads José’s letter to her: he wants to end their relationship to avoid a potential scandal. Angry, Holly tells Paul that she’s going to Brazil anyway. As an act of impulse, Holly dumps her cat in a nearby street. Her actions angry Paul who throws the engraved ring at her and goes looking for the cat. After some careful thinking, Holly goes after Paul. She finds him and her cat too. At the end, the two embrace each other while sharing a deep kiss.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – Ending Explained

Before heading to that overly sweet ending, let’s discuss of one the hot topics of Breakfast at Tiffany’s: what exactly does Holly do for a living? According to film, Holly is not a woman who sells her body in exchange for money but, she’s charging men who want to spend time with her. Having said that, the “powder room” money is essentially an euphemism for Holly’s charging fee.

breakfast at tiffany's 1961 ending explained

So what’s the deal with Holly Golightly? She is someone who is incapable or maybe even unwilling to commit herself (emotionally) to another person. The most important man in Holly’s life is her brother Fred. Every other men that she approaches are just ATM machines, in other words, a fast way to get some money. Now, Paul Varjak doesn’t really fit Holly’s ideal type (wealthy), yet he was able to get close to her more than any other men ever did. However, whenever things get too serious for Holly, she tends to emotionally shutdown and push the other person away.

For a moment, Holly seemed very jolly about going to Brazil with José, but did she ever love the man? People like Holly love a certain lifestyle and José was the perfect man to give her what she wanted. That said, Holly wasn’t in love with José, but the lavish life that she could’ve had with him. Although Holly does mention having kids with José, she did not want a family because she loved him. Bearing children are part of the deal (marriage) and Holly understood that. And she didn’t mind, as long she could be rich while doing it.

Now, let’s talk about that kiss in the end: did Holly finally come to senses and changed her ways for Paul? The film ends with a deep kiss between the two leads, hinting that everything is going to be okay. Now, a happy ending is not the same as a good ending. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (film) gave its audience what they wanted, but not what they needed. In Capote’s novella, the writer never sees Holly ever again. So, there are some differences between the book and the film. In this case, Capote’s ending feels more realistic than the film, because people do not change overnight, not even when they are in love.

Holly Golightly – Character Analysis

So who is Holly Golightly? A hot mess. Holly is a very complex character because it’s hard to pin point who she really is.

One thing is for sure, Holly likes money and loves the idea of being rich, hence, her active pursuit of rich men. The woman is well aware of her charms and makes use of them to gain some quick money. Now, does that make her a bad person? No. Holly is not an evil woman taking advantage of innocent men. Everyone that has fallen for Holly, know what they have to give her in order to get her “attention”. That’s her “power” over them.

Despite of being a very charming woman and making good money out of it, Holly is not necessarily a strong and independent woman. Why? Her financially income comes from her looks, which is a very volatile asset. From the moment, she stops looking “nice”, Holly will stop being able to support herself. That’s why she was so eager to marry José and follow him to Brazil.

When José broke up with Holly, she was angry. After Holly’s scandalous arrest, José decided to cut ties with her because coming from an influential family in Brazil, he did not want his name in the mud. When Holly was acting erratic in the car, the source of her anger was not heartbreak. Watching her golden ticket (the chance to marry a rich guy) slip away through her fingers was the trigger that made Holly lose her marbles.

By the way, Holly has some deep mental issues. First of all, the woman is incapable of forming a genuine bond with men, they always have to serve a purpose, otherwise she loses her interest in them. Second, Holly doesn’t know how to respect “boundaries”: she climbed up to Paul’s apartment (a complete stranger at the time) without notice. Third, Holly just threw her cat away into the middle of a random street (and on a heavy rainy day): sane people do not do that.

Everything Wrong With Breakfast at Tiffany’s (The Film)

Although many consider Breakfast at Tiffany’s a classic, there are a couple of things about the film that are quite unsettling.

PROBLEM N#1 – THE FILM IS RACIALLY INSENSITIVE

Remember Mr. Yunioshi? The character is a Japanese man, but the film cast a Caucasian actor (Mickey Rooney) to portray an Asian person. Although people didn’t make a big fuss at the time, current viewers should not view the film and think that doing “yellowface” is okay. Watching a white actor playing an Asian man is just one of the many wrong things with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The way how the film portrayed Mr. Yunioshi is completely unacceptable, because they dehumanized him and made Mr. Yunioshi the butt of the joke.

Personally, I wouldn’t call Breakfast at Tiffany’s a racist film, but it was a racially tone-deaf decision to put a white man playing an Asian man when they could’ve simply hired a real Asian actor to play Mr. Yunioshi. However, the 60s were indeed very different times, and there still a long way to go even nowadays. Having said that, if one evaluated Breakfast at Tiffany’s with today’s “PC” standards, the film would not pass the mark.

PROBLEM N#2 – SUGAR-COATING HOLLY’S “LIFESTYLE

Who doesn’t recognize Holly Golightly in her famous little black dress looking at a Tiffany’s & Co. store? However, Holly is not a real socialite, she pretends to be one in order to get closer to other rich men. This woman is kind of a con artist. During one of her crazy parties, Holly couldn’t get her eyes off of Rusty Trawler not because he’s an attractive man (quite the opposite), but because he’s one the richest men in the country. Although Holly and Rusty went out on a couple of dates, she failed to seal the deal as Rusty married someone else.

On a surface level, Holly might seem like a free-spirit woman who does whatever the heck she wants, but deep inside, Holly is a troubled woman. First of all, she’s not that financially independent. Here’s the thing, Holly can support herself at the moment by charging men a “fee” for her time. However, can she live off that “lifestyle” forever? Of course not and Holly knows that pretty well, hence, her desire to marry a really wealthy man. Second, Holly is not capable of developing any real feelings for any men. She only loves her brother Fred and the rest are just means to make some fast cash.

PROBLEM N#3 – THE IDEA THAT LOVE “FIXES” EVERYTHING

The film likes to perpetuate the idea that all a person needs is to find love, because that will fix all the problems in their life. Not true and definitely not a healthy mindset to adopt. Why can’t Holly become a more wholesome person just by loving herself a little more?

Do you really think that Holly Golightly’s inner demons are going to simply disappear just by dating Paul? I don’t think so. Realistically, Holly loves money and Paul is a writer, who sometimes makes money off of his writing. In addition, Holly does not need a boyfriend to fix her, she needs a therapist. What kind of person throws their own cat in the middle of the street?

PROBLEM N#4 – HOLLY’S FORMER HUSBAND “DOC” GOLIGHTLY

Why is no one talking about Holly’s marriage to “Doc”? The film paints “Doc” as a sweet old man looking for his long lost wife, which is so wrong on so many levels. I’m not saying that “Doc” is the most terrible human being on this planet, but it’s really wrong of him to have married a fourteen year-old. Holly was only a minor at the time, so the adult (Doc) should’ve known better.

PROBLEM N#5 – MAKING HOLLY LOOK LIKE A “DAMSEL IN DISTRESS”

A lot of these romantic comedies tend to paint their female lead as a “damsel in distress”, in other words, a feeble woman who needs a man to save her from whatever her problem is. However, Holly is not really a damsel in distress. Yes, she is a hot mess and bit obsessed with rich men but that alone, does not mean that Holly needs someone to save her or “fix” her.

By the way, who is Paul Varjak to save Holly Golightly? The man has his own share of problems too. Paul wasn’t sleeping with Emily because he was having an affair with that older woman: he was providing his company to her, as a service, just like Holly does with her “suitors”. In addition, of all the women in the world why did Paul fall for a troubled woman? Maybe because, the man is a hot mess himself. That said, none of them, are in a good position to be in a relationship.

Final Thoughts

Breakfast at Tiffany’s has its own set of problems, but that doesn’t mean the film is not an enjoyable to watch. As a matter of fact, the visuals and the pace of the film were both on point. Therefore, despite of being a long film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s goes by really fast, which is good.

Is Breakfast at Tiffany’s a classic? I believe it is. If one chooses to judge Breakfast at Tiffany’s based on today’s standards, the film might look silly or inadequate to many. However, if one puts the 1960s glasses on, the film was actually quite ahead of its time. Think about it, the 60s were way more conservative times than now, and somehow the story of young woman who charges men for her time manages get into the silver screen. Huge deal. In addition, I’m almost sure that during the 60s very few even dared to imagine a young man having an affair with an older woman.

Although Holly Golightly belongs now to pop culture, viewers should be aware that there’s nothing really glamorous about her story: Lula Mae married an old man when she was only fourteen years old and then, she ran away to the big city. In order to survive and make a decent living for herself, Holly charges men a “fee” to spend time with her, whatever that means. Her biggest ambition is to marry a rich man and “retire”. As one can see Holly Golightly is not exactly what you would call a poster child for female empowerment.

Holly makes questionable life decisions because she never had anyone to teach her better. The woman did not marry Doc because she loved him, it was more of a survival thing, hence her distress, when Doc said he would no longer support her brother Fred if she didn’t come back with him. And yes, Holly is a phoney and an habitual liar, but that’s how she learned to navigate in the world. If Holly didn’t paint herself as this mysterious and fun upper class socialite how could she ever come close to her dream man (someone with lots of money)?

Now, why is the film so popular? First, the visuals: Breakfast at Tiffany’s is pure eye candy. Audrey Hepburn looks beautiful and her wardrobe is beyond impeccable. In addition, everything about the film just looks clean and pretty. Second, the story is quite intriguing: even after watching the film, no one can really grasp who Holly Golightly really is. Third, there was nothing like the film at the time, society was generally conservative so watching on the silver screen a woman charging her multiple suitors money for her time, must have caused quite an uproar.