Breakfast at Tiffanys
Truman Capote
Contributed by Pearl Vahle
Themes
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Nature vs. Culture

Through the character of Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s explores one of the major themes of Western literature: the opposition of nature and culture. Holly identifies with nature - wild, untamed, and unknowable - over the structured, convention-bound world of human culture. Animals, both wild and domestic, symbolize Holly’s rejection of social convention. As the child bride of Doc Golightly, her freedom from marriage is paralleled by her releasing her tamed pet crow. As a New York socialite, her self-sufficiency is embodied in her unnamed cat, a stray who Holly calls "an independent". The cage, a symbol of the human imprisonment of nature, remains an object of anxiety for Holly throughout the novel, and she refuses to even look at animals in the zoo.

While Holly considers herself a "wild thing", inherently unsuited to the rules that govern human culture, it appears that this is, at least in part, a facade. Holly is more than willing to be domesticated when she is offered the right price, and settles down more or less happily with the wealthy Jose. Her reliance on fine things and entertainment, and her worship of Tiffany’s, a near-universal symbol of New York capitalist excess, indicates that Holly’s appetites are not those of an animal, but a woman remarkably invested in the products of American culture. This ambivalence is suggested by another recurring animal motif: horses.

The horse is a long-established figure for human control over nature and animal instinct; for Holly, horses appear to represent her control over men. Her first boyfriend after running away from Doc is a horse jockey, she keeps volumes of books about horses on her bookshelf as "research" for her involvements with male suitors, and she fantasizes about running off to Mexico, where she plans to train horses with her brother Fred. She marks the end of her friendship with the narrator with a horseback ride, in which she demonstrates her skill as a rider. In each case, Holly has emotional or sexual control over the male character in the episode. When the narrator’s bolts and runs away wildly, it prefigures Holly’s loss of Jose when she is arrested later that day. While Holly associates herself with nature and the "wild things" she identifies with, the novella presents Holly in a more complex relationship with the natural world. In her relationships with men, she acts the part of both wild animal and trainer, achieving emotional and sexual control over her male admirers while evading responsibility and commitment.

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