Breakfast at Tiffany's: Pages 50-60
Summary, pp. 50-60
The next day the narrator is excited because he gets a letter saying that one of his stories has been accepted for publication by a literary review. He rushes upstairs to tell Holly and is disappointed when she expresses no enthusiasm about his news. She tells him that Mag is now her roommate, and that Mag is engaged to be married, even though José is a foot shorter than she.
The narrator and Holly have some drinks at Joe Bell’s bar and eat lunch in a cafeteria. They walk in the park and talk about their childhoods. They go shopping for peanut butter to send to Holly’s brother Fred, and then Holly suggests they steal something. They go into Woolworth’s and walk out wearing two Halloween masks that they have not paid for.
For a few weeks the narrator and Holly see each other quite frequently, but toward the end of the month, the narrator takes on a nine-to-five job and his opportunities to see her are much curtailed. He sometimes sees her with Rusty Trawler, accompanied by Mag and José.
Late one afternoon he spots Holly entering a public library, and he follows her in and observes her. After she leaves he looks at the pile of books she was reading. They are all books about Brazil.
The narrator is invited to a Christmas Eve party given by Holly and Mag. As a Christmas gift, Holly gives him an expensive bird cage he had admired in a shop, with the one condition that he never keeps a living thing in it. He gives her a St. Christopher’s medal he bought at Tiffany’s.
In February 1944, Holly and the narrator quarrel. Holly has returned from a trip she took with José and Mag. She tells the narrator about it. They went to Florida, where Rusty got injured in a fight with some sailors and Mag had to go to the hospital with sunburn. While the other two were incapacitated, Holly and José went on to Havana, Cuba. When she returned she had to work hard to convince Mag that she had not slept with José.
As the narrator rubs oil on her back, the talk turns to the narrator’s work. Holly makes it clear that she does not like his writing, and the conversation slides into a nasty exchange, during which the narrator insults Holly and she orders him to leave.
Holly is one of those people who has no trouble reinventing herself, as when she tells the narrator about her childhood, supposedly full of idyllic memories of swimming, Christmas trees, and parties. The narrator is shrewd enough to realize that this is not “the background of a child who had run away.” Whatever pain exists in her past, Holly has found a way to airbrush it away, at least as far as public knowledge of it is concerned. Although she soon admits to the narrator that her account of her childhood was not true, she offers no alternative version, evading the issue with a clever remark (“You made such a tragedy out of your childhood I didn’t feel I should compete.”)
In addition to her many other unusual qualities, Holly shows in this section that she is also, to put it bluntly, a thief. She steals small items from stores perhaps because she is addicted to the excitement of it; her theft of the Halloween masks is another incident that reveals how sharply she stands outside any conventional moral framework that a “respectable” person might inhabit. This is a woman who makes up the rules she lives by and seems little affected by the expectations of society. The theft of the masks also has a rather endearing, childlike quality, as if it is just a harmless prank. One can almost hear her saying that the items she steals are so small they are worth hardly anything, so what difference does it make? (Although she also confides to the narrator that in the past, she stole because she had to.)
Another incident in this section reveals much about Holly’s character. Her trip to the library to study books about Brazil show that she has designs on José. Undoubtedly, she is not disturbed by the fact that the desired gentleman happens to be engaged to her roommate. What Holly wants, Holly will pursue. Morality and loyalty have nothing to do with it.