47 pages 1 hour read

Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1958

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Summary and Study Guide


Breakfast at Tiffany's is a 1958 novella by Truman Capote. In the story, an unnamed narrator is introduced to a young woman named Holly Golightly and the unique New York world she inhabits. The novella is one of Capote’s most popular works and has been adapted as a musical, a play, and most famously as an Academy Award-winning film in 1961 starring Audrey Hepburn. This guide refers to the eBook version of the 2000 Penguin Classics edition of the novella.

Content Warning: The source material features depictions of abuse, racism, and anti-gay bias.

Plot Summary

The unnamed narrator speaks to his friend, Joe Bell, on the phone. He has not seen Joe for many years, since he and his friend Holly Golightly visited the Upper East Side bar where Joe works. The telephone call makes the narrator think of Holly, whom he has also not seen in many years. The narrator goes to Joe's bar. There, he is shown a picture by a photographer named I. Y. Yunioshi, another old acquaintance. In the photograph, a man in Africa holds up what is clearly a sculpture of Holly's likeness. Joe reveals that Yunioshi took the picture while traveling. According to Yunioshi, the man who sculpted the wooden version of Holly met her unexpectedly. She appeared on a horse, flanked by two tired men, and asked to stay the night in the sculptor's village. The sculptor had a short affair with Holly while her companions recovered. The narrator is not sure whether this story is true. Like Joe, however, he admits to searching for Holly in any place he visits. He has always loved Holly and he wonders where she has gone.

The narrator recalls first meeting Holly. In the 1940s, the narrator moves into a new apartment in a brownstone building on the Upper East Side of New York City. Holly already lives in the building. She has a reputation for returning home late and buzzing her neighbors, asking to be let in because she has forgotten her keys. The narrator falls victim to this ploy and, over the coming weeks, he takes an increased interest in Holly. He finally meets her properly when she appears outside his window and asks to be let in, claiming that a drunk man is annoying her. She brought the man to her house but now she hopes that he will fall asleep. Holly and the narrator pass the time by sharing a drink. The narrator explains that he’s a writer, and Holly asks to hear one of his stories. Her criticism of the story pains the narrator but something about her fascinates him. She lets biographical details slip: She visits a criminal named Sally Tomato every week to deliver coded messages. By dawn, Holly has fallen asleep in the narrator's bed. In her sleep, she calls out to a man named Fred.

When Holly wakes up, she is crying. She avoids answering any of the narrator's questions and exits through the window. A few days later, Holly invites the narrator to share a drink with her. He visits her apartment and, while she is in the shower, he talks to a man named O. J. Berman. O. J. is Holly's friend from California. He is initially suspicious of the narrator but eventually explains that he once tried to help Holly with her acting career. On securing her first audition for a movie, O. J. explains, Holly left California and moved to New York. He admits that Holly is a mystery. O. J. questions just how well the narrator knows Holly. After Holly finishes her shower and prepares for the evening, her apartment begins to fill with guests. A series of men arrive, each surprised to find other guests in the apartment. The narrator observes the men, particularly one well-known, wealthy, divorced man named Rusty Trawler. Rusty is a notorious philanderer and has been accused of being a Nazi-sympathizer by the newspapers. The narrator speaks to Holly about her past. She discusses her attempts to be an actress and her feeling of not knowing what she wants to do with her life. She is so uncommitted to anything that she hardly has any furniture and has not named her cat. The only solution she knows for this feeling of existential angst is to go to the Tiffany's jewelry story and gaze in wonder at the expensive items. The store is the only place in the world that makes her feel calm and she wishes she could find some way to replicate that sensation.

Rusty and Holly bicker and flirt. A woman named Mag Wildwood arrives at the party. Holly mentions to the guests that Mag may have a venereal disease, so the guests ignore her. Mag responds by drinking heavily and the narrator is forced to take care of her. When the other guests leave, the narrator allows Mag to fall asleep on the floor of Holly's apartment. In the following days, Mag moves in with Holly. She is visited often by a Brazilian politician named Jose and she insists that she will marry him. During this time, a literary magazine offers to publish one of the narrator's pieces and he and Holly go to lunch to celebrate. They spend the afternoon strolling around the city and looking in shop windows. They see a birdcage in one shop window and, that Christmas, Holly buys the birdcage as a gift for the narrator. Their relationship becomes strained, however, when Holly mentions that she believes the narrator is wasting his time writing stories about uninteresting subjects. The narrator is insulted.

Over the coming days, the narrator notices a stranger lingering outside the building. He confronts the man in a café and discovers that he is Doc Golightly, Holly's estranged husband who is many years her senior. The narrator and Doc Golightly talk. Doc explains that he met Holly when she was a teenage runaway who escaped from abusive foster parents with Fred, her brother. He adopted both Holly and Fred and, when Holly turned 14, he married her. He believed that she was happy but she ran away from him. Holly meets with Doc but refuses to return to Texas with him. Several days later, a newspaper article about Rusty Trawler;s marriage makes the narrator realize that he is in love with Holly but only in a platonic fashion. When he returns home, he discovers that Rusty has married Mag, not Holly (as he originally suspected). After learning that her brother Fred has died in World War II, Holly responds with despair and a doctor gives her a sedative to prevent her from destroying her apartment. She tells the narrator that she plans to marry Jose and move with him to Brazil.

On the narrator's birthday, he and Holly go horse-riding in Central Park. He is upset when she announces that she plans to leave New York. Holly is forced to save the narrator when his horse is spooked. That night, Holly is arrested due to her connections to Sally Tomato. The arrest destroys any hope Holly has for marrying Jose. She now plans to move to Brazil anyway to escape the accusations against her. The narrator brings Holly's suitcase and her cat to Joe Bell's bar. She takes a limo to the airport and, on the way, releases her cat into the city. The narrator promises to find it. Holly leaves America. Later, the narrator receives a message from Holly. She is living in Buenos Aires. She promises to follow up her message but never does. The narrator regrets that he cannot tell her that her cat has found a loving new home.