This post contains a character analysis of Holly Golightly, the protagonist of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961).
Directed by Blake Edwards, the 1961 comedy drama stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. Today’s opinion is solely based on the film, not the novel. Beware of spoilers.
What happens in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly is a socialite who spends most of her time in the company of rich men. As a matter of fact, she is making a living out of them. Holly charges a “powder room fee” to her suitors whenever they choose to spend time with her.
One day, she meets her new neighbour (Paul Varjak), an aspiring writer. Despite feeling attracted to Paul, Holly prefers to chase wealthier men. Her latest target is Rusty Trawler, a successful businessman. Meanwhile, Holly’s ex-husband “Doc” came to New York City looking for her. After some thought, both decide to ask to annul their marriage, given that Holly was underage when she married him.
When her short-lived romance with Rusty Trawler fails, Holly seeks comfort in Paul’s arms and they spend a night together. Instead of growing closer after their romantic encounter, Holly starts avoiding Paul. Shortly after, Holly moves on to a new man, José Pereira, a Brazilian politician from a wealthy family.
The romance runs smoothly until Holly is arrested by the police due to her connection to a famous mobster (Sally Tomato). After the scandal, José decides to break up with Holly. Angry at the situation, Holly throws her cat in the middle of the street. Paul witnesses it all and goes looking for the cat. After coming to her senses, Holly finds them both (Paul and the cat). The story ends with a heartfelt kiss between Holly and Paul.
Note: For those who are interested, here is an article containing a more in-depth analysis about the ending of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
So who is Holly Golightly? Is she a gold digger? Or just a former country girl who is trying to make it in the big city? Maybe she is both. Holly Golightly is a complex character because it’s hard to pinpoint who she really is.
Holly Golightly Character Analysis in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
Breakfast at Tiffany’s presents Holly Golightly as a young free-spirited woman, who charges men for her company. Lula Mae Barnes (Holly’s real name) grew up poor in the countryside. At fourteen years old, she married “Doc”, a man who is much older than her. One day, Holly decides to leave everything she knows behind and move to New York City.
In terms of personality, Holly Golightly is outgoing, charming and ambitious. Despite her lively persona, there is a side of Holly that is not so pretty. Underneath her carefree lifestyle, Holly’s troubled past and secrets keep her from finding true happiness. The socialite has a lot of suitors, but she loves none of them. Most of the time, Holly Golightly is only after their money. Her phobia of commitment is reflected even in her relationship with her cat, which has no name.
On the surface, Holly Golightly is a very social person. In many ways, everybody knows her, and she is the life of the party. She often organizes gatherings at her place as an excuse to meet new people.
Due to her charming personality, it’s very easy for Holly to have men wrapped around her finger. Although the socialite has a lot of men after her, there is only one type of man that she is really interested in: an affluent man. Not every man who pays her “powder room fee” is filthy rich. She discards the ones after they serve their purpose: to get some fast cash.
One thing is certain: Holly Golightly is a money-lover. This woman likes money and she loves the idea of being rich, hence, her active pursuit of rich men. Holly 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 who has fallen for Holly knows what they have to give her in order to get her “attention”. That’s her “power” over them.
Despite being a very charming woman and making good money out of it, Holly is not necessarily a strong and independent woman. Why? Her financial income comes from her looks, which are 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.
The social butterfly has some deep mental issues hidden beneath her party-girl persona. First of all, Holly is incapable of forming genuine relationships with men, they always have to serve a purpose. Otherwise, she will lose interest in her suitor. The only man that she has ever loved was her brother (Fred). His death definitely left a deep emotional scar on Holly’s mental health.
Second, Holly has a hard time understanding the concept of “boundaries”. Shortly after meeting her new neighbour (Paul), she climbed up to his apartment. By the way, it was not only a privacy invasion for Paul but also a safety disregard for Holly herself. Does she even know what type of person Paul is? What if he is a sick and dangerous individual hiding behind the facade of a struggling writer? Maybe not. Still, there are a lot of risks associated with entering a stranger’s apartment.
Third, Holly’s cat has no name. As said before, Holly has commitment issues. She actively avoids forming an emotional connection with people. Therefore, it is no surprise that she refused to name her cat too. The glamorous life that Holly likes to project outwardly is just a coping mechanism to hide her true self: a deeply broken individual. Let’s not forget that Holly threw her cat away in the middle of a random street on a rainy day. What type of sane person does that?
The film ends on a sweet note for Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak. But realistically speaking, stories like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” don’t usually have a happy ending. In real life, people like Holly Golightly are deeply broken, sometimes beyond repair. What they really need is to work on their issues, romance and “love” are not going to solve their problems.
Although Holly Golightly’s image is deeply cemented in popular culture through films and literature, there is nothing about her that one should emulate. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (the film) paints her as a socialite who likes to move around affluent circles. But the reality is much darker, Holly Golightly is an “escort”, she charges men for her “company”.