Breakfast at Tiffanys
Truman Capote
Contributed by Pearl Vahle
Discussion Questions

In his book The Worlds of Truman Capote, critic William L. Nance suggests that Holly Golightly belongs to a generation of "Capote heroines who have learned to preserve their integrity by safeguarding their uniqueness." Do you feel that Holly’s unorthodox behavior is a way of protecting her uniqueness from the conformist demands of American society, or is it a symptom of her inability to achieve stability and maturity in her personal life? Discuss Holly’s unconventional personality using at least three specific examples from the novel.


Names and naming are central concerns of the novel. Holly changes her name, her cat is unnamed, and the reader never learns the narrator’s name. Moreover, many names in the novella have special or symbolic meaning. Focusing on at least two characters, discuss the significance of names and naming in the text. What do their names, or lack thereof, tell us about the characters, and about Capote’s own thoughts about personal identity and belonging?


One of the most significant lines in the novel is O.J. Berman’s claim that Holly is "isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony...[she] believes all this crap she believes." What does Berman mean? Explore Berman’s claim by examining at least three examples of Holly’s "phony" behavior towards others and/or herself within the text.


Animals, both wild and domestic, are significant motifs in the novel. For Holly, animals often represent the kind of untamed freedom she has adopted as her own lifestyle. Horses and birds also recur in the narrative. Choosing at least one of these animals, discuss its significance to Holly’s personal development. For example, you could discuss Holly’s relationship with her cat as it dramatizes her journey towards finding a place in which she feels at home, or trace the different forms in which horses appear as figures for Holly’s need for control over her environment.


Holly characterizes the narrator as having his "nose pressed against a glass": he is someone who "wants awfully to be on the inside staring out". How does Capote demonstrate that the narrator is an "outsider"? What, if anything, is he "outside" of? Discuss, making sure to explore the relationship between the narrator’s "outsider" status and his vocation as a writer.


Critic Paul Levine has argued that the major theme of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is love. He writes: "’Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ is a love story - of a different nature. It is concerned with all forms of love: sexual, homosexual, asexual, perhaps even spiritual." Explore Levine’s claim by examining the different expressions of love in the novella, paying particular attention to the relationship between the narrator and Holly Golightly.


Much recent criticism on Breakfast at Tiffany’s has excavated the novella’s many allusions to homosexuality and the underground gay communities of mid-century New York City. Moreover, the novella contains several references to sexual identities and practices that do not clearly fit into a gay/straight binary. Exploring the novella’s treatment of dynamic and unorthodox sexualities, explain why you think Capote would have made sexual "otherness" such an important subtext in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Be sure to examine how the queer setting communicates key details about Holly and the narrator’s characters.


For Holly, the jewelry store "Tiffany’s" represents home and a sense of belonging. Yet, these are the very things that Holly fears. Trace the motif of Tiffany’s as both "home" and "fear of home" throughout the text, including an extended discussion of the novella’s title.


Much of the novella is concerned with the importance of storytelling and the (im)possibility of objective information. Is there any such thing as a "true" story in this novella? How do stories shape and transform how the characters view each other and themselves? For what purposes do characters lie, exaggerate, or omit information? Discuss with reference to at least two of the following: Holly’s lying, the narrator’s writing, the layered frame narratives of the first section, and the newspaper coverage of Holly’s arrest. Be sure to explore how the novella’s skeptical attitude toward "objective" information colors our reception of the story.


What attracts Holly and the narrator to one another? How are the two characters different, and how are they similar? Compare and contrast Holly and the narrator with specific reference to at least three episodes that you feel illustrate the dynamic of their friendship.


The film "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" is in some ways similar to the novella, and in other ways, quite different. Discuss the ways in which the film departs from the novella, and explain why you believe the producers would have introduced such changes. Explain which version you feel is stronger, and why.

Have study documents to share about Breakfast at Tiffanys? Upload them to earn free Studypool credits!