Breakfast at Tiffany’s

by

Truman Capote

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s Summary

The unnamed narrator receives a call from a bartender named Joe Bell, who used to serve the narrator and his friend Holly Golightly when they lived in a brownstone on the Upper East Side. It has been a long time since the narrator has seen Joe—almost as long as it has been since he last saw Holly Golightly. When the narrator arrives, Joe makes him a drink and shows him a picture taken by I. Y. Yunioshi, a photographer who used to live in the same brownstone as the narrator and Holly. The picture is of a man in Africa holding a wooden sculpture of a woman’s face. Right away, the narrator recognizes it as Holly’s face, and Joe Bell tells him that Yunioshi was traveling in Africa when he saw this piece of art. Apparently, Holly had emerged on horseback with two exhausted men and asked for shelter in the sculptor’s village. While the two men rested for several weeks, Holly became romantic with the woodcarver, who made the sculpture of her. The narrator wonders aloud whether or not the story is true. Joe Bell, for his part, admits that he looks for Holly wherever he goes, revealing that he always loved her. Thinking about this, the narrator leaves, wondering where Holly is now.

The narrator thinks about his first impressions of Holly. It’s the early 1940s when he moves into the brownstone on the Upper East Side and sees Holly’s name on one of the mailboxes. Holly’s mailbox indicates that she’s traveling, but the narrator knows this isn’t true because Holly often comes home very late and buzzes neighbors to let her in because she lost her key. She soon starts doing this to the narrator, getting him up at all hours. Over the next few weeks, the narrator keeps tabs on Holly, letting her in each night but never interacting with her. Finally, though, the narrator formally meets Holly one night: she appears at his window while he’s lying in bed. The narrator spills his whiskey but quickly calms himself enough to let Holly in, and she tells him she’s trying to avoid a drunk man she brought home. She’s hoping to avoid the man until he falls asleep, so she walks around the narrator’s room and speaks rapidly, saying that the narrator looks like her brother Fred, and therefore deciding to call him by this name.

Holly and the narrator have a drink, and the narrator tells her that he’s a writer. Holly says she’ll help him become well-known and asks him to read a story aloud. When he does, she critiques it. This deeply hurts the narrator, but he still finds Holly appealing and she endears herself to him once more. As someone used to sharing personal information, Holly tells the narrator that she visits a mobster named Sally Tomato in prison every Thursday, explaining that Sally’s lawyer approached her and asked if she would keep Sally company. Holly agreed, she tells the narrator, so she goes to see Sally each week, delivering coded messages, though she mainly enjoys the man’s company and doesn’t think too much about whatever information she’s communicating.

The sun comes up and Sally crawls into the narrator’s bed and sleeps next to him. As she snoozes, she calls out, “Where are you, Fred?” Upon waking, Holly is crying. She evades the narrator’s questions and climbs back out the window. Over the next few days, the narrator thinks constantly about Holly and is quite pleased when she invites him over for drinks one evening. When he arrives, a man named O.J. Berman lets him in. Holly is in the shower, and O.J. suspiciously asks why the narrator has come, adding that Holly often has men barging into her apartment. Soon enough, O.J. relaxes and starts rambling about how crazy Holly is, saying she’s a “phony” and explaining that he met her in California and helped her get rid of her strange accent. He still doesn’t know where Holly is from, and suspects he’ll never find out. Nevertheless, O.J. continues, he focused on helping Holly become an actress, since he’s an agent. When he finally got her an audition to be in a big movie, though, Holly suddenly gave up acting and moved to New York City. Since then, she’s been spending time with rich people like Rusty Trawler, whom she might marry. The narrator notes that he has never heard of Rusty, which causes O.J. to speculate that the narrator must not know Holly very well.

Finally, Holly emerges and tells O.J. that the narrator is a writer, though O.J. is uninterested. Gradually, the living room fills with men who all seem surprised by the crowd, each one having thought Holly invited him exclusively. The narrator identifies the most boisterous and confident person in the room as Rusty Trawler, who gregariously makes martinis while the narrator stands by the wall and pretends to read the books on Holly’s shelves. As he does so, he finds a newspaper clipping about Rusty, which explains that his parents died when he was a boy, turning Rusty into a highly-publicized millionaire orphan. Ever since then, Rusty has gotten a scandalous divorce and gone through legal battles that have appeared in the tabloids. He is also a widely-suspected Nazi-sympathizer. As the narrator reads these things, Holly approaches, deflecting the narrator when he asks about her visit to Sally Tomato that week.

Holly talks to the narrator about why she left O.J. behind in California, saying she doesn’t feel guilty even though she knows she should. Still, she says that she was only thinking of becoming an actress because she didn’t know what else to do. She then tells the narrator that fame would be too much for her at the moment—after all, she’s not yet attached to her own life. That’s why her apartment is so sparsely furnished and why her cat doesn’t have a name. Going on, Holly says she sometimes gets “the mean reds,” which is different than having the blues. The mean reds, she says, is a kind of “angst,” and the only way she knows how to deal with it is by taking a cab to Tiffany’s jewelry store and gazing at its beauty. This makes her feel calm, she says, because it feels like nothing bad could ever happen at Tiffany’s. Holly claims that if she could find a place in real life that made her feel like this, she would settle down immediately.

Interrupting, Rusty approaches and says he’s hungry, complaining that Holly doesn’t love him enough to feed him. They argue for a moment, but it’s clear that Rusty enjoys the attention. When Rusty turns away, Holly heavily insinuates that Rusty is gay and that she would only marry him for his money. Around this time, a tall woman named Mag Wildwood enters and takes command of the party, though Holly spreads a rumor that Mag has a venereal disease when the woman is in the bathroom. When Mag returns, none of the men want to talk to her anymore, so she gets extremely drunk. The narrator is then left to care for her when Holly, Rusty, and everyone else decide to leave—though he simply lets Mag fall asleep on the floor before going back to his own apartment.

The narrator becomes increasingly interested in what happens in Holly’s apartment. Mag moves in, and she intends to marry a Brazilian politician named José starts coming to see her. Mag intends to marry him. At one point, the narrator learns that a small literary magazine has accepted one of his stories, and he rushes to show the letter to Holly, who insists that they go to lunch to celebrate. They spend the afternoon walking around together. The narrator shows Holly a large birdcage in a shop window that he has been admiring for quite some time. She admits it’s beautiful, but hates the idea of restricting a bird’s freedom. That Christmas, Holly gives the narrator the birdcage.

One day, Holly tells the narrator that she gave his story to O.J., who liked it but thinks he’s wasting his time writing about things nobody cares about. Holly says she agrees, which creates a nasty falling out between her and the narrator. Over the next few days, the narrator keeps his distance, but he soon notices a strange man lingering outside Holly’s apartment. One day, the man follows him to a café, and when the narrator finally confronts him, he learns that the suspicious man is Doc Golightly—Holly’s much older husband. Sitting at a diner counter, Doc Golightly explains that Holly—whose real name is Lulamae—wandered onto his property in Texas when she was still a girl, having run away from nasty foster parents with her brother Fred. Doc caught both Holly and Fred stealing from his farm, so he took them in. When Holly turned 14, he married her, and she eventually ran away despite seeming happy.

Doc Golightly convinces the narrator to warn Holly that he’s downstairs. The narrator doesn’t manage to specify who’s there to see her, so Holly bounds downstairs thinking it’s Fred. She pauses when she sees Doc but then fondly embraces him. The next morning, Holly and the narrator go to Joe Bell’s and drink martinis while Holly explains that she spent the night with Doc, even accompanying him to the train station but refusing to go back with him. Several days later, the narrator is on the train when he notices a newspaper article indicating that Rusty Trawler has gotten married. He feels jealous, suddenly realizing that he loves Holly. But he loves her, he notes, in the same way that he loved his mother’s cook or his childhood mailman. Rushing home, he finds José in Holly’s apartment and learns that Rusty married Mag Wildwood, not Holly.

Holly, for her part, has trashed her apartment and is in a frenzy, which a doctor quells by administering a sedative. As Holly sleeps, José tells the narrator that Holly isn’t upset about Rusty, but because she received a telegram from Doc saying that Fred was killed in the war. After this point, Holly avoids talking about Fred and instead talks to the narrator about how happy she is with José and about how she’s going to marry him and move to Brazil. She also says she’s pregnant. These comments throw the narrator into a funk. Then, on the narrator’s birthday, Holly takes him horseback riding in Central Park and tells him she’s moving in a week. This upsets the narrator, but Holly hardly notices. As they ride their horses, a group of teenagers jump out and one of them injures the narrator’s horse, sending it careening away at top speed while he holds on for his life. Blocks away, Holly finally catches up to him and gets his horse to slow down.

That evening, Holly is arrested because of her associations with Sally Tomato, who used her to run a drug ring from inside prison. O.J. who posts her bail. When the narrator goes to get Holly some clothes, he finds a man in Holly’s apartment. The man gives the narrator a letter from José, in which he explains that he can’t be with Holly because it would ruin his political career. The narrator delivers this letter to Holly, and she tells him she lost her baby while riding after him that day in the park. She then says she plans to go to Brazil when they let her out; not to chase José, but to avoid a prison sentence. The narrator hates this idea, but he brings her suitcase and cat to Joe Bell’s bar as instructed. There, Joe calls a limo to take Holly to the airport. On the way, Holly tells the driver to stop in Harlem, where she lets out the cat. After doing this, though, she screams at the driver to stop and frantically tries in vain to find the cat. The narrator promises to keep looking for the cat after she’s gone, so Holly leaves.

The narrator receives only one telegram from Holly saying that she’s living in Buenos Aires and will send him a permanent address when she has one, though she never does. This disappoints the narrator because he wants to tell her that he found her cat. He now hopes that Holly, like the cat, has found somewhere she belongs.