Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's Summary and Analysis of Sections 17 & 18


On Friday, it is raining so heavily the narrator is convinced Holly's flight will be cancelled. Ignoring his warning, she escapes the hospital and waits for the narrator at Joe Bell's bar, where he has agreed to meet her after recovering some possessions from her apartment, including her jewelry, guitar, and cat. Joe advises the narrator against helping Holly, but he does so anyway, lugging her struggling cat down the block in the pouring rain.

At the bar, Joe, Holly and the narrator share a bottle of brandy. While Joe claims that he is unwilling to help her in her foolishness, he arranges a limousine for her trip to the airport, and awkwardly offers her a bouquet of flowers upon her departure. The narrator agrees to ride with Holly to the airport. In the back of the limousine, Holly changes from the riding clothes in which she had been arrested and into a dress. Due to the tension between them, the narrator and Holly don't talk, but rather peer out the car windows and drink brandy in silence.

In Spanish Harlem, a "savage, a garish, a moody neighborhood", Holly suddenly asks the driver to pull up to the curb. She steps out of the car, taking the cat with her. Telling the cat that this was the "right kind of place for a tough guy like you," she drops him on the curb and gets back in the car, ordering the driver to keep going. The narrator is stunned, and calls her a bitch.

Holly repeats the story of how she and the cat never belonged to each other, they "just met by the river one day." She explains again that they were both independent and never made each other any promises. Suddenly, however, she is overcome with grief, and when the limousine stops at a traffic light, she bolts out of the car and onto the street. The narrator follows her.

The cat is not on the corner where Holly dropped him. They search the neighborhood, but find only shady neighborhood residents, including a little boy selling a different cat for a dollar. Convinced that her cat is gone, Holly realizes that they "did belong to each other. He was mine." The narrator promises Holly he would return to the neighborhood, find her cat, and take care of it himself. She tells him that she is sad for herself, and that it was tragic to "not know what's yours until you've thrown it away." She admits that all the grief she had experienced was nothing compared to how she felt after abandoning her cat.

The next day, Holly's escape makes the headlines of the newspapers. However, when the authorities find her in Rio, there is no attempt to recover her. The narrator watches the coverage of Holly diminish, revived only once when Sally Tomato dies in Sing Sing on Christmas day of that year. In the absence of any word from Holly, the owner of the brownstone sells her possessions, and her apartment is rented out to a young man named Quaintance Smith. While he entertains as many "gentleman callers" as Holly did, Sapphia Spanella is infatuated with the young man and does not object to his disruptive behavior.

In the spring, the narrator receives a postcard from Holly informing him that she has moved on from Brazil to Buenos Aires, which she deems "not Tiffany's, but almost." She admits that she has become involved with a wealthy married man and writes that she will send an address once she finds a place to live. However, the narrator does not receive the address, which disappoints him, since he wished to let her know that he had sold two of his stories, had heard of the Trawlers' divorce, and was moving out of the brownstone. Moreover, he wanted to tell Holly that he had found her cat, behind the window of a cozy-looking home in Spanish Harlem. Happy that the cat now had a home, he wonders if Holly finally does, too.


Section 17 narrates Holly's final day in New York. In another subtle allusion to the narrator's homosexuality, the narrator admits: "[never] mind why, but once I walked from New Orleans to Nancy's Landing, Mississippi, just under five hundred miles." Critics note that Nancy's Landing is a fictional place, intended by Capote as a code phrase for a gay resort or pick-up spot. "Nancy", in gay slang, refers to a homosexual who takes the passive, or "bottom" position during sex. Thus, the narrator's evasion - "never mind why" - serves as a coy admission that his journey to Nancy's Landing had an illicit, or taboo purpose. This reference is significant, however, beyond it's identification of the narrator's sexuality. As he admits that the walk to Nancy's Landing was "a light-hearted lark compared to the journey to Joe Bell's bar", he implies that he is willing to sacrifice more for Holly than for his sexual desires. Again, the novella demonstrates the validity and power of non-sexual relationships.

Section 17 thus continues the emphasis in section 14 on the sincere affection between Holly and the narrator, and, to a lesser extent, Holly and Joe. Joe, while claiming that he'll "have no part" of Holly's escape from the authorities, nevertheless hires a limousine to aid her flight. Like the narrator, Joe is unable to address his affection for Holly directly, and instead offers her a bunch of flowers on display in his bar. His exchange is awkward, however, and the flowers end up scattering on the floor. The flowers symbolize Joe's affection; their failure to properly reach Holly perfectly encapsulates Joe's inability to admit his love.

Section 17 also contains arguably the most memorable - and important - episode in Breakfast at Tiffany's: Holly's abandonment of her unnamed cat and her subsequent bout of remorse. Leaving the cat on a Spanish Harlem street, Holly intends to act nonchalantly about discarding the cat but soon becomes frantic, overeager to be rid of him. She tells the cat to "beat it" and "fuck off" and urges the driver to speed away from the street where she has left him. When the narrator expresses his disgust at this callous act, Holly explains again that she and the cat "never belonged to each other" and that they were both "independents". Nevertheless, her affection for the cat indicated that Holly's attitude toward the animal was ambivalent: while they were both "independents", they shared a home and a relationship. In fact, throughout the novella, the cat is the only consistent presence in Holly's life. By rejecting the animal completely, Holly indicates that she is again unwilling to accept a close relationship and to let something "belong" to her.

In previous sections and in her monologue in section 17, Holly indicates that she views her cat as she views herself, an essentially homeless, independent wanderer without a proper name or family. Her cruelty toward the animal thus appears to dramatize Holly's self-destructive tendencies: she acts out her anger and fear on the animal she sees as a figure for herself. Moreover, Holly's abandonment of the cat repeats her own rejection at the hands of her parents, friends, and, most recently, Jose.

However, Holly's change of heart, which inspires her to tears and sends her searching for the cat in the rain suggests there is hope for her character. Realizing that she and the cat "did belong to each other...he was mine", Holly admits that no tragedy in her life had been as frightening as "not knowing what's yours until you've thrown it away." This confession presents Holly in her most genuine, honest moment in the novella, and marks the climax of her relationship with the narrator. She admits vulnerability and love for her cat and a need for a relationship in which there is mutual belonging. Strikingly, Holly confesses that both the "mean reds" and the "fat woman" are "nothing," dismissing her usual evasive metaphors for grief in favor of directly admitting her sadness.

The concluding section of Breakfast at Tiffany's resolves several plot threads while leaving others open-ended. The novella returns to the frame narrative, which focuses on the question of Holly's presence in Africa. Speaking in the present, the narrator quotes from newspaper articles that documented Holly's discovery in Rio, which fortunately did not lead to another indictment. The death of Sally Tomato severs Holly's ties to the criminal case against her and the gossip surrounding her slowly dies down, resolving the plotline of Holly as a refugee. The plot thread that focused on Holly's personal struggle with identity and belonging, however, is left unresolved. The narrator reveals that while Holly wrote him soon after her escape, she had yet to find a permanent address. As he never heard from her again, he assumes that she either never found this address, or forgot about him. This turn of events refutes those of the previous section, which suggested that Holly was on the brink of a positive personal transformation. While she had recognized and acknowledged her need to love and be loved, Holly's postcard informs the narrator that she has returned to her old ways, using men for their money, unable and unwilling to find a stable home. That she did not stay in touch with the narrator retroactively casts a negative light on their friendship, and suggests that perhaps her feelings for him were not as strong as they had appeared.

Despite the rather negative ending to Holly's tale, the conclusion of the novella is positive in tone. The narrator relates that a young man named Quaintance Smith moved into Holly's apartment, where he entertained as many male visitors as Holly without the judgment of Sapphia Spanella. The mention of his many "gentleman callers", along with the name "Quaintance" - a reference to George Quaintance, a painter of the 1940s and 1950s whose art was overtly homosexual in content - suggest that the new tenant is gay, practicing an unorthodox lifestyle that links him symbolically with both Holly and the narrator and extends the novella's theme of community between sexual outsiders beyond Holly's departure.

The most positive aspect of the novella's ending, however, is that we learn that the narrator has maintained warm feelings toward his old friend. He keeps his promise to her and searches Spanish Harlem for her cat, which he sees behind the window of a homey-looking room. He muses that, along with a home, the cat likely has a name; he is "certain he'd arrived somewhere he belonged." A home and a name were, for Holly, the two signifiers of belonging, and the narrator hopes that Holly has achieved the same things. This sentiment demonstrates the narrator's continued affection for Holly even in her absence. That the novella concludes by exploring his warmth for Holly suggests that the novella was less about Holly than about how loving her transformed the narrator's own life.