Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Knowing Holly Golightly

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 7, 2010

Some books are essentially about the characters that populate them. The greater purpose of the author’s writing effort, storyline, narrative context and style, metaphors and language inexplicably fade into relative insignificance. The character gets so overpowering that even the author has to compete with his own creation for a  place in reading public’s collective conscience.Truman Capote’s, Holly Golightly in  “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is one such character that I have come across in my recent reading who belongs to this community of powerful characters

Holly is a complex person with multiple facets. She is fascinating, a natural at curiosity rousing, irreverant and effortlessly sporting a “devil may care” attitude on her sleeve. It is this that prompts one of her admirers O.J.Berman to say ”

You can beat your brains out for her, and she’ll hand you horseshit on a platter” or “Even when she is wearing glasses this thick; even when when she opens her mouth and you don’t know if she is a hillybilly or an Okie or what. I still don’t. My guess, nobody will ever know where she came from. She is such a goddamn liar, maybe she don’t know herself any more.”

 But Berman appears to have a superficial understanding of Holly. On the contrary, Holly knows herself very well and has a strong self reflective streak which is unsparing and in some sense unerring and full of clarity. This is so very evident when Holly in a roundabout way describes herself as a wild thing

 “Never love a wild thing Mr.Bell“, Holly advised him. “That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging wild things home. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was full grown bobcat  with a broken leg. But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do the stronger they get. Until they are strong enough to run into woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you will end up Mr.Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky

and Doc is her husband from whom she had run away

Yet for all the wildness that she attributes to herself, Holly is troubled, insecure and in some sense enveloped in a thin layer of vulnerability. This is evident when she says

 “No, the blues are because you are getting fat or maybe it is raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you dont know what you are afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is. You’ve had that feeling?”

It is Tiffany’s with all its material glamour, richness and polish that drives the mean reds away for Holly and hence occupies a central place in Holly’s world as a comfort provider. Holly is well aware of her insecurity and the uncertain place she inherits. Consequently, she has a very evaluating eye towards the relationships she maintains and it is this that prompts her to say about her cat

poor slob without a name. It’s a little inconvenient his not having a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other. He’s independent and so am I. I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet

There is a sense of abandon with which Holly lives her life. It is at times risky, daring and almost bordering on recklessness. It is this that allows Holly to have associations with the likes of Rusty Trawler – a playboy, Sally Tomato – a convicted and sentence serving mafia leader and Jose – a highly placed bureauacrat. Despite these wild associations, Holly carries with her a very distinct view of men which is brilliantly expressed when she says

Oh, he is not my idea of absolute finito. He tells little lies and he worries what people think and he takes about fifty baths a day; men ought to smell somewhat. He is prim, too cautious to be my guy ideal; he always turns his back to get undressed and he makes too much noise when he eats and I don’t like to see him run because there is something funny looking when he is runs. If I were free to choose from everybody alive, just snap my fingers and say come here you, I would’nt pick Jose. Nehru, he is nearer the mark. Wendell Wilke.. I’d settle for Garbo anyday. Why not? A person ought to be able to marry men or woman

 (I’m not sure if Nehru would have been flattered to hear this from Holly)

Under the veneer of this happy go lucky, irreverant and maverick lives a person with an uncontaminated heart and it is this that prompts Holly to say at one point

 ” …but the answer is good things only happen to you if you are good. Good? Honest is more what I mean. Not law type honest – I’d rob a grave, I’d steal two-bits of a dead man’s eyes if I thought it would contribute to a day’s enjoyment – but unto thyself type honest. Be anything but a coward, a pretender, an emotional crook, a whore: I’d rather have cancer than a dishonest heart. Which isn’t being pious. Just practical. Cancer may cool you. But the other’s sure to

As I read through Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I could not but feel sorry for Holly, for she gave me a sense of running away from herself – where to and what for remains an enigma – as enigmatic as the old prairie song that she plays so well on her guitar: Don’t wanna sleep. Don’t wanna die, Just wanna go a-travelin through the pastures of the sky

Capote’s genius in creating an outstandingly endearing, enigmatic, endurable and iconic character of twentieth century literature is truly remarkable. Holly is as sparkling and as everlasting as the diamonds she disdained

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