Who is Holly Golightly? Is she a socialite or an opportunist? Perhaps a lost soul? She is often described as a “free bird,” someone who cannot be confined. However, she is more than that – she is an existential rogue. Truman Capote meticulously crafted this character to explore significant existential concepts. Holly Golightly is unquestionably one of Capote’s most complex characters and quite possibly the ultimate embodiment of existentialism in both American literature and classic American cinema. By dissecting her character, we can gain a deeper understanding of the various existential themes she embodies.
“It may be normal darling: but I’d rather be natural”-Golightly. Golightly openly expresses her fears, insecurities, and desires to the narrator. Most conversations between these characters revolve around these themes. Do you ever experience the mean reds? They’re different from the blues, which come from feeling fat or experiencing long periods of rain. The mean reds are much worse. Suddenly, you’re overcome with fear, but you can’t pinpoint what you’re afraid of. Do you ever have that feeling?”-Holly Golightly. According to Golightly, the mean reds are closely connected to theistic existentialism. She feels angst, fear, and worry, only finding relief when she visits Tiffany’s.
“It immediately calms me down, the quietness and proud appearance of it; you can’t imagine anything really bad happening to you there, especially with those kind men in their elegant suits, and the delightful scent of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place like Tiffany’s, I would buy some furniture and give the cat a name,” Golightly muses. The comfort Golightly experiences is not just a result of her materialistic desires being satisfied by the store itself, but primarily because this location offers the kind of comfort that is desperately sought after by theistic existentialists. Tiffany’s is essentially the closest embodiment of stability that Holly encounters, both in the novella and its theatrical adaptation.
The existential mindset and the concept of “lost illusion” play a crucial role in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s perspective. He believes that when individuals become entangled in the material world, they rarely take the time to cultivate literary taste, critically analyze philosophical ideas, and develop a deep understanding of life’s profound and tragic aspects. This viewpoint resonates with Truman Capote’s portrayal of Holly Golightly, shedding light on her motivations and character traits. Holly’s sophisticated appearance, eloquence, and outspoken nature reflect her materialistic desires and manipulative tactics. As she says, “You can always make yourself love someone,” but she also cautions against giving your heart to a wild thing, as it only strengthens them further.
According to Holly Golightly, if you allow yourself to love a wild thing, you will eventually end up looking at the sky. This implies that love is something tangible and can be controlled to suit one’s needs and emotional safety. However, the narrator takes a different perspective on this issue in relation to the concept of “lost illusion”. Holly’s desire for material things seems to surpass her actual needs on a superficial level.
The average personality undergoes frequent reshaping, even our bodies experience a complete overhaul every few years. It is natural for us to change. Mildred Grossman and Holly Golightly have something in common – they are both resistant to change. This is because they acquired their character early on, which can result in a lack of balance, similar to sudden wealth. Grossman becomes a heavily biased realist, while Golightly becomes an imbalanced realist. According to Fitzgerald’s excerpt on existentialism, the narrator believes that the major flaw of both Golightly and Grossman is their tendency towards extremes – an all or nothing mindset. This is influenced by their circumstances (poverty, societal expectations, and naivety), which leads Golightly to develop a distorted perspective on life (lost illusion) that clashes with her fundamental existential beliefs. However, redemption ultimately emerges towards the end of the novella.
Despite any critiques, actions, or obstacles Holly encounters, she firmly believes she is honest. Both sides of this matter are addressed in the novella/film, and even skeptics somewhat agree with her. Oj Berman states, “You’re wrong. She is a phony. But on the other hand you’re right. She’s not a phony because she’s a real phony. She truly believes in all this nonsense. You can’t argue it away from her.” As an existential rebel, Golightly’s personality is complex in various ways. Her honesty partially stems from her atheist perspective on life. The atheistic existentialist believes that things have no inherent meaning, and one’s choices determine their life and outcomes. Holly is presented with opportunities to shape her speech, behavior, appearance, career path, and choice of potential partner according to societal norms. Although these ideas seem relevant to her, she ultimately follows the path deemed worthy by consensus and is truthful about her motivations behind such decisions.
“I desire to be wealthy and famous, not that I would object to it. It is definitely part of my plans, and I will eventually accomplish it. However, if I do achieve this, I want to remain true to myself. I want my ego to accompany me when I wake up one day and have breakfast at Tiffany’s.” – Holly Golightly.
“I would rather be anything other than a coward, a pretender, or a deceitful person; a prostitute. I would prefer having cancer over having a dishonest heart. This is not about being religious, but about being pragmatic. Cancer may cool you down, but the other option is certain to destroy you.” – Holly Golightly.
Golightly had various opportunities to achieve success and escape compromising situations. Fame, success, and even legal absolution were within her reach. However, in each of these situations, she chose to rely on her wit and true nature. When faced with the chance to travel to New York and potentially become a successful actress, she could have testified against Sally Tomato and avoided jail time. But she opted for what she believed she could achieve on her own terms and what aligned with her intrinsic nature. Once again, in agreement with the atheistic existentialist perspective on existence, she chose to confront her “angst” instead of succumbing to a false existence and yielding to the absurdity of societal conventions.
The primary evidence of Golightly’s existence lies in her connection with her cat. The cat is a nameless slob, and in the theater version, there is also a relationship with Varjack. Golightly states, “Poor slob without a name.” It can be a bit inconvenient, him not having a name. However, I don’t have the right to name him; he will have to wait until he belongs to someone. We simply met by the river one day; we don’t belong to each other. He’s independent, and so am I. I don’t want to possess anything until I find the place where everything comes together.” Despite this declaration, Golightly’s most significant relationship is with her cat. It is the only living being she shares her space with, the only one she would consider bringing along when she discovers the true meaning of “home” (If I could find a real place like Tiffany’s, I would buy some furniture and give the cat a name.)
She refuses to give her cat a name because she believes that doing so would imply ownership, which goes against the general existential understanding of the relationship between living beings and the universe. The cat, however, serves as her guide towards redemption. Holly reaches a point where she realizes she must let go of everything she once held onto as hers. At this pivotal moment, the cat – referred to as the “no name slob” – is revealed to be the one being she can truly rely on. Through this realization, she finds her redemption and acknowledges that they belonged to each other.
“You consider yourself a “free bird, a wild thing. And you’re fearful that someone will confine you in that cage. Well, darling, you’re already enclosed in that cage. You have already constructed it yourself. And it is not limited in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somiland. It exists wherever you go. Because no matter where you escape to, you constantly encounter yourself”- Paul Varjack. In accordance with Hemingway’s existential philosophy, Golightly embodies the characteristics of a learner, with ample opportunity for growth, indirectly passive, and life affects her more than she influences it. Contrastingly, Varjack is closely associated with the ideal exemplar of existentialism. Competent, professional, and captivating, he acts as a counterbalance to Holly.
Throughout Golightly’s trials and tribulations in her existential existence, Varjack is constantly by her side, helping her recover from each setback. Whether it’s her failed parties, the arrival of Doc Golightly in town, Fred’s death, the scandal that follows her arrest, or the inevitable abandonment by Jose Ybarra, Varjack is always there for her. As an atheistic existentialist, Varjack offers Golightly the chance to find redemption by confronting her anxiety and responsibilities, and by embracing the absurdity of societal conventions, which he believes is the essence of their shared love. His atheistic perspective aligns with Fitzgerald’s, where true redemption can only be attained by severing ties with materialistic desires.
So, rather than attempting to determine Holly Golightly’s true identity, the true question becomes: which existentialist persona does she embody? Is she the absurdist, who uses dark humor and grotesque jokes to rationalize the complexities of her life? This includes dealing with drunken suitors harassing her at her doorstep, swindling money out of dates for her personal needs, and being too unstable and fearful to name her cat or purchase furniture. Alternatively, could she be more of a definite theistic existentialist? In this case, her unconventional remarks about her personality and universe are justified by her quest for the meaning of all things inherent. This entails finding a place she can truly call home, acknowledging her cat’s identity when the time comes, and discovering the suitable suitor for a fulfilling marriage.
As an apprentice, she subconsciously desires to grow and is highly influenced by the events happening around her: Doc Golightly’s visit, the passing of her brother Fred, and the termination of her engagement with Ybarra, all symbolizing the existentialist perspective on death. The answer, of course, is all of the mentioned incidents. Similar to the absence of a fixed interpretation of existential philosophy on life, Golightly’s character is also extremely complex to be assigned one precise existentialist classification. She embodies the existentialist mantra in Capote’s works and represents the glorification of this ideology in both English literature and American cinema.