Transcending Gender Roles: An Analysis of Holly Golightly in Truman Capote’
When Truman Capote fans first think of his novella “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” the image of Holly Golightly wearing the iconic little black dress immediately appears. The character Holly Golightly is known for her positive outlook and sensual appearance.
During the story, she is constantly looking for a way to make her dream of becoming wealthy come true by drawing attention to her good looks. Miss Holly Golightly rejects unworthy men everyday, but she does not lose hope of finding a nice and wealthy man. Along the way, she finds herself in unfortunate situations such as her beloved brother dying and being accused of taking part in a drug-related scandal. The setting of the 1940’s has direct influence over the plot in regards to events and women’s roles relating to World War II. Truman Capote fans may notice in his 1940’s short story “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” that the charming protagonist Holly Golightly lived when women’s roles were changing, but at a closer look, Golightly’s sexuality as portrayed through her clothing and demanding attitude towards men is her subtle way of fighting for gender equality which is significant because Golightly teaches that gaining attention is a way of receiving power.
Many Truman Capote devotees do not recognize Golightly’s secret desire to change the role of women through her persona and choice of clothing when around male peers which is important because she shows that words and appearance hold power to create change. The 1940’s were filled with mid-calf cotton dresses with an accentuated waist. This was a time period that played with silhouettes. As shown in an article in Marie Claire Magazine “1940’s Fashion: The Decade Captured in 40 Beautiful Pictures,” many of the dresses had the waist as the focal point (Rice). The evidence depicts a time period of experimenting with sexuality through the use of clothing, while staying classy.
Holly Golightly was not afraid to join the movement of emerging sexuality. Truman Capote decided to use the little black dress and a pearl chocker to accurately portray the sexuality of the character Holly Golightly and how her appearance stands out for the time period. Even though tighter silhouettes for dresses were starting to emerge in the 1940’s, the little black dress was not a common spectacle. The little black dress is often used for sex appeal, and therefore Golightly’s sexuality comes across too strong for the time period. While some readers may focus on the importance of the black dress, they may fail to notice the significance of the pearl choker.
The pearl choker powerfully represents Golightly’s worth. By juxtaposing the sex appeal of the black dress with the conservative yet classic expensive string of pearls, Golightly is making the statement that men should be dependent on her because of her high value. The desire for men to be dependent on women is equivalent to a desire for a gender role switch. Her clothing choice is parallel to her attitude at the moment. A man is begging for her attention while she is ignoring his pleas.
Her feelings are apparent through her diction. She states, “‘The next time a girl wants a little powder room change…take my advice darling: don’t give her twenty-cents!'” (Capote 9). Golightly is making the bold statement that her date did not give her enough money in order to make himself memorable in her eyes. Her appearance and her demeanor create the interpretation that she believes she is worth more than how men perceive her. She shows superiority by being the unattainable desire of the men she interacts with. Literary Critic, Helen Garson, is in agreement with this interpretation.
She talks about in “Never Love a Wild Thing: Breakfast at Tiffany’s” how Holly not only notices her male following, but she also uses it to her advantage. She states, “Men are kind and generous to Holly, for she provokes deep affection and loyalty in them; yet, they never join the ranks of her many lovers…her childlike unself-consciousness attract them as much as these qualities draw the men who provide for her financially” (Garson). Garson is making the statement that Holly is using the men’s infatuations as a source of financial support. This statement can be inferred as Holly using men since she gives no support in return. Therefore, Holly is showing her superiority to men since she does not feel entitled to reward men for their efforts to impress her. In other words, Miss Golightly shows that she has equal or even higher worth than men by attracting them through her sensual appearance and then rejecting their affection.
Equally important, many Truman Capote fans do not recognize Holly Golightly’s frequent rejection phrase of “no” which is significant since Miss Golightly demonstrates that with being persistent and gaining attention, there is a higher chance of gaining acceptance. In the 1940’s, there were sets of strict social rules. For example, Nunda High School in the 1940’s included the rules, “Dress neatly and correctly” and, “Don’t put on necking exhibitions in front of boys” (“Courtesy Campaign at Nunda High School”). This evidence reflects how strict the social rules were back in the 1940’s since these rules were reserved a page in a high school handbook. If social rules were broken, the offender would be frowned upon and socially judged. Miss Golightly decides to take this risk in order to make a statement.
When the narrator first talks to Holly Golightly, she resists these social rules through her clothing (or lack of) and her interaction with the narrator. In this part of the story, Golightly is standing outside of the narrator’s window on the balcony and is asking to come in. All she is wearing is a bath robe (Capote 12). Golightly is using her sexuality by wearing minimal amounts of clothing to receive her intended result of being let into the apartment. By choosing not to follow the 1940’s social rules, she hopes that others will choose to break other social rules such as women being dependent on men. She wants to win a ‘yes’ after years of her gender being told ‘no’ in certain social areas such as the work force.
Even though women were slowly being accepted male-dominated jobs, there were still disagreements about the subject. Golightly’s words even reflect her secret weapon of using her sexuality for acceptance. She states, “‘I suppose you think I’m very brazen. Or tres fou. Or something.
‘” The narrator responds to her statement shyly, almost embarrassed that she had read his mind: “‘Not at all.'” She responds with confidence: “‘Yes, you do. Everybody does. I don’t mind. It’s useful'” (Capote 12). This quote portrays Holly Golightly as blunt by making the narrator a tad uncomfortable.
The narrator’s reaction shows that he has her undivided attention, even if he feels uncomfortable interacting with her. Many readers may interpret this quote, but they may fail to realize the significance of the combination of her appearance and words. Miss Golightly dresses scandalously not only to catch the male eyes, but also their ears. Once she gets attention from her male peers, she can speak her mind. Similarly, Miss USA contestants are often criticized for using the nation’s attention to their personal advantage when in reality the chosen Miss USA is able to bring attention to her specific social cause while having the title.
Next, Holly Golightly uses her blunt attitude to fight for what she wants. In short, her goal is to be able to make an impact in a male-dominant society by gaining acceptance for her gender one ‘yes’ at a time. Truman Capote depicts Holly Golightly as a warrior fighting for gender equality through her use of sexuality as expressed thorough her clothing choices and diction towards her male peers. Even though the 1940’s were more open to women’s rights as compared to other time periods, there was disagreement when women were starting to take male jobs. Miss Golightly’s secret weapon when fighting for gender equality was her sexuality.
Even though many Americans may believe this strategy is immoral, it is undeniable that Miss Golightly strived for her voice to be heard by her male peers. The question is, “Is it right to use sex as a weapon to get a desired result?” If the goal is to make a beneficial change to society, any effort is appreciated. With that said, the use of sexuality may be considered immoral if it is used for selfish gain or personal enjoyment. Holly Golightly did not overstep these guidelines. As Truman Capote has shown through his description of Miss Holly Golightly, her goal was to improve her life while being trapped in a male-dominant world, not to necessarily act in that demeanor for enjoyment. In conclusion, Miss Holly Golightly uses her sexuality to her advantage when fighting for gender equality.
Works Cited Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). N.d. Photograph. Movie Posters.2038.
net. Web. Capote, Truman. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories. New York: Vintage International, 1993.
8-12. Print. “Courtesy Campaign at Nunda High School.” Courtesy Campaign 1940. Nunda Historical Society, Web. 14 Nov.
“Never Love A Wild Thing: Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Literature Resource Center. Web. Rice, Francesa. “1940s Fashion: The Decade Captured In 40 Beautiful Pictures.” Marie Claire.
28 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.