Making the Grades
The iconic image of Audrey Hepburn in a black dress with a tiara and long cigarette holder is what most people remember about Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Some will recall Henry Mancini’s soundtrack and the haunting melody of “Moon River” sung by Hepburn. But what many don’t recollect about Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly is her career.
Holly comes to the big city to reinvent herself from a backwoods hillbilly into a sophisticated New Yorker. However, her employment skills are limited. (Inan early morning scene, Holly, bejeweled and attired in a black evening gown, looks longingly into the window of Tiffany’s. Despite Holly’s elegant dress, the shot epitomizes how much she is an outsider looking in.) Taking advantage of her beautiful looks, Holly begins entertaining men, showing up as a dazzling accessory on their arms at events in exchange for “$50 for the powder room” and sometimes cab fare. She also earns a weekly stipend for visiting incarcerated mobster Sally Tomato (Alan Reed) in Sing Sing prison and giving him an updated weather report.
While her career choice might be problematic for many parents to explain, Hepburn, unfortunately, brings a certain glamour factor to the occupation. What fame or fortune seeking girl doesn’t want beautiful clothes, jewels and socialite friends? Yet although Holly’s seemingly naïve demeanor heavily veils the explicit details of her job, it’s hard to believe she is as innocent as her act suggests.
Holly, however, isn’t the only “kept” character in this story. Her new downstairs neighbor is the boy toy of a wealthy socialite who claims to have an interest in his writing. But since his book was published five years earlier, Paul Varjak’s (George Peppard) writing efforts have been replaced with more amatory activities. Upon meeting, it doesn’t take long for Paul to recognize what Holly is and for her to discern the truth about him. Understanding they stand on equal ground, Holly uses Paul to meet her need for love and attention that the other “rats” and “super rats” in her life fail to give. One night while escaping the ardent affections of her date, Holly crawls along the fire escape and into Paul’s apartment where she secretly watches him deposit a check on his desk and then leave. Before long she has wormed her way into his bed, not for sex but for human contact.
Explaining why the Asian landlord (Mickey Rooney) is so eager to take her “picture” and why other men are so loose with their money around Holly are only a few of the content concerns in this classic film. Holly also has a former husband who she married at age 14. When Doc Golightly (Buddy Ebsen) shows up in New York and begs her to come home to the kids, she insists on staying in the city. She spends the day with Paul, drinking champagne before breakfast and shoplifting at the corner store. A wild party in her sparsely furnished apartment includes heavy drinking, some cigarette use and prowling for potential husbands among the wealthy houseguests.
Like a musical soundtrack that seemingly lessens the severity of a violent gunfight, Hepburn’s classic beauty seems to soften the reality of her occupation. But underneath the exterior trappings is a frightened girl who will do almost anything to find financial security and social acceptance—even if it means selling herself to the highest bidder. That’s hardly the lesson young girls need today, even if it is packaged in pretty clothes.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Tiffany’s jewelry store and Crackerjack’s popcorn both appear in this movie. How do these product placements contribute to the story?
If you had to fill a day with activities that you had never done before, what would they be?
Why does Holly refuse to name her cat? Why is she afraid of being caged by a man? Why does she consider love to be a cage? How is she trying to find acceptance? Is she succeeding? What is the long-term possibility of her achieving her goal to become part of the moneyed group?