July 1, 2018
Film Review: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a staple movie among many households. Due to the simplistic and lavish lifestyles portrayed in the film, individuals are drawn in. This is the lifestyle that many dream about and long for when reflecting back on the film, but they are naïve to the truth behind the stylized depiction of the times. This was a time of heavily enforced gender roles and inequality against women. This film depicts the symbolic breaking of the barrier—the diminishing of these gender roles by one woman willing to seemingly challenge the norms.
The film Breakfast at Tiffany’s begins in New York City. It can considerably be described as Gesellschaft due to its “transitory and superficial” (Toennies, 191) nature. This is the opening scene where the character Holly Golightly is introduced. She dawns beautiful pearls, a posh up do, and a lavish black gown. In this scene she is seen as the epitome of what a proper woman of the times would be depicted as, but as the film continues it is apparent that it is all a façade. This situation is reminiscent of Charles Horton Cooley’s theory of “the looking glass self.” She “could not experience a meaningful reality unless she could symbolically convey meanings to herself as well as to others. In order to do so, she must think of and act toward herself as if she were someone else (Cooley, 15).” Holly Golightly is not like the upper class women she associates herself with and ultimately tries to be. She cannot live up to the gender roles of these women due to her lacking financially, but that is not all. The women that Holly Golightly so much as dreamed of being did indeed live lavishly, but they were seen as accessories and toys to the men they were engaged with. While Holly Golightly so desperately tried to play the part visually, she would not allow herself to be owned by any man. She describes herself as a wild creature that belongs to no one.
With this attitude, the movie moves on and so does Holly Golightly with all the men she encounters. This was until her new upstairs neighbor; a writer named Paul, moves in. Holly Golightly soon develops a relationship with Paul, but it is strained due to her dreams of being rich and her commitment issues. As their friendship furthers, so does his love for her. He desperately tries to win her love and affection by pouring his heart out to her—he says “I love you. You belong to me (Capote, 1961).” As aforementioned, Holly Golightly is not one that belongs to another, she responds with “No. People do not belong to people…I’ll never let anyone put me in a cage (Capote, 1961).” These themes of harsh gender roles and being owned are also apparent in the book and film Orlando. Orlando; who was once a man, gained ownership of her family’s property. Once she became a woman, that all changed. Now she has to face losing her property due to the fact that women were seen as having to rely on a man because they were weak and unfit. After Orlando is told of the many lawsuits she faces now that she is a woman, the Archduke; similarly, to Paul, desperately tries to win her affection so she may keep her property. He says “You are mine…I adore you (Woolf, 1992).” Orlando ultimately declines. It is apparent that in each story, both writers give their characters the power to challenge these gender norms. They are able to stand up for women and contest the idea that women are objects that can be possessed by men. Sadly, women are still seen as objects that can be owned and overpowered. As said by Anne-Marie Slaughter, “women and men can have it all at the same time. But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured (Slaughter, 2012).”
Women are expected to be content with being a housewife and tending to their families at all times; with being caged and owned by a man. Holly Golightly did not live by these norms. While she looked the part, she did not play it. Holly Golightly was a woman with aspirations, she wanted to be rich and would do anything to get there. She was a bold character, she exuded confidence and fearlessness. She was more than meets the eye—behind all of the makeup and extravagant clothing, was a thoughtful and independent female. She was a Gesellschaft woman in a Gesellschaft society trying to combat the Gemeinshcaft norms for a woman.
Another concept that goes hand in hand with the female gender roles of the time, is appearance. Holly Golightly always seemed very put together. She prided herself in appearance and tried to always look her best—like the rich women she fancied. While Holly Golightly’s well maintained appearance was for her own doing, during that time period it was expected of women to dress well and conservatively. Holly Golightly used her wardrobe to express herself and convey her emotions. She would dress up in gowns with fancy adornments or dress down in a baggy sweater and jeans depending on her current status. Either way, she continued to exude confidence and looked beautiful. She showed that women don’t have to stick to the norms of dressing well to look good. Women were expected to go to great lengths to appear proper and have a lengthy beauty routine. This norm appears in the film and book; Orlando, as well. While Holly Golightly enjoyed dressing up and maintaining her appearance, Orlando did not. She embraced her natural beauty and threw the lengthy beauty routines to the side. Women should not be subject to these restricting norms, and these two women show the true pleasure in finding themselves and rejecting these expected gender roles/norms.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a timeless classic amongst families everywhere. It is praised for its simplistic and lavish lifestyles, yet its sociological aspects are commonly ignored. This film proves to be much more than a funny, romantic tale about a woman finding love in New York City. If all of the glitz and glamour are put to the side, the film shows a young woman willing to put everything on the line to reach what she wants, all while capturing the hearts of many, and challenging the norms and gender roles of the time. Holly Golightly was a vessel to show the symbolic breaking of the barrier; she gave inspiration to women everywhere to have their voices heard, let their identities shine, and to not let any man cage them.