Realism Versus Romanticism A Comparison Of Breakfast At Tiffany’s The Book Versus The Movie

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The scene opens with a single car driving down a completely desolate street. It is early morning, and a 1960’s yellow taxicab is coasting to a stop in front of Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue. From the cab emerges an elegant young woman, dressed in formal evening attire. Standing outside the shop, she looks into the windows, nibbling on pastry and drinking a coffee she brought with her before strolling home to go to bed. The instrumental version of Moon River plays and all is peaceful and quiet.

This is the beginning of the 1961 movie, Breakfast At Tiffany’s. It is the beginning of a love story between the flighty Holly Golightly — the call girl, the lost lonely child, desperate for security and determined to make a love connection with a wealthy man who will support her for the rest of her life — and the writer — the kept man Paul Varjak who is desperate for literary success. This is a movie of struggle, love, devotion, friendship, family, mystery and loneliness, culminating in a romantic union of Holly and Paul and a passionate ending kiss. However, this was not the story Truman Capote originally intended to tell.

In the original book, the scene opens with an unnamed narrator reminiscing about a run-down building he once lived in in New York. The unnamed narrator is remembering the past because he has recently run into an old neighbor, who has lately been to Africa and has found a wood carving of the long lost Holly Golightly. There is no love story, the narrator is unnamed, and most importantly, there is no romantic ending. The narrator and Holly were never even romantically involved, he admired her from afar, and the most they ever were was friends — at times close friends, at other times estranged. Our narrator infers much about Holly and learns truths about her mostly through observation: eavesdropping and being in the correct place at the correct time.

In the movie, there is no mention of Holly’s pregnancy, her love for horseback riding, her heroism in saving the narrator’s life. The unexpected and sudden friendship with Mage Wildwood does not exist, and in the end she doesn’t take the romanticized Hollywood way out. She stays true to herself, she stays true to her nature and beliefs and doesn’t give up on her dreams just to please a man.

In the movie, Paul tries to own Holly, claiming that because he loves her, she belongs to him. He makes her feel guilty for wanting to travel the world and run away from her problems and even goes as far as to hand her a check for fifty dollars in insult for supposedly leading him on.  He is bitter and controlling attempting to force Holly to love him, and he rarely actually cares whether or not she loves him back or if being with each other is the healthiest option for both of them. After an impassioned speech from Paul in which he reprimands her for being the person she is, Holly proceeds to abandon her plans and her dreams of wealth and adventure to be with Paul. She runs through the rain to catch up to Paul and share a passionate kiss. This is the romantic 1960’s Hollywood fairytale version of the story. I love this movie, and though I had a few issues with Paul’s superior and possessive attitude, I enjoyed the film portrayal overall. Audrey Hepburn is a wonderful actress, and George Peppard is wonderful as her opposite. I typically love happy endings and particularly appreciated Holly’s reunion with her abandoned cat.

Nevertheless, I prefer the novella. The novella is more detailed, it has a completely different perspective, and it has a realistic ending. In the end of the novella, Holly stays true to who she is and ends up leaving New York and the narrator behind. She vanishes, leaving nothing but her memory and the sight of her abandoned cat newly adopted by a family unknown to her. She follows her nature and her dreams. She travels, she continues to have affairs with wealthy men and she remains the mysterious, adventurous girl that the narrator, and everyone around her, loved. There is no happy ending because the fact is that, in life, things aren’t simple. People don’t always get a happy storybook romantic ending that people want them to have. You can’t be one type of person and when you wake up in the morning simply decide to be a completely different person. Just because Holly loved Paul doesn’t mean she would suddenly be rid of that restless part of herself that pushed her to keep moving in order to become a happy homemaker and wife. Her changing so rapidly is the same as a pear choosing to be an apple simply because it no longer wishes to be a pear — it is impossible.

The novella is a quest for happiness, and the movie is a quest for love. The novella portrays Holly from an outsider’s point of view, and the reader learns about her as the narrator does, viewing her in a biased form through the narrator’s adoring eyes. The movie is mostly through the view of Paul, the narrator, but at moments we get an insight into Holly’s life, seeing private moments hidden from other people’s eyes. The movie is the view of a third-party, uninvolved with either character. The movie is romantic. The novella is realistic. Both are well done, both are entertaining, and I highly recommend them both. But with the loss of key details, we lose part of Holly, making the movie, in my opinion, tremendously less meaningful. So I encourage you to read and watch both versions of this story, and decide for yourself which ending is better for the protagonist Miss Holiday Golightly. Decide what makes you happiest: the romantic version or the realistic version — the quest for love or happiness. Whatever you choose, I hope you find a version you genuinely enjoy, a version that makes you inspired and helps you find happiness. “African hut or whatever, I hope Holly has, too.” (Truman Capote p. 25)