At the beginning I was cautiously optimistic about Breakfast at Tiffany’s (except, of course, for Mr. Yunioshi). Holly and Paul seemed like such interestingly broken people, I was looking forward to seeing how things worked out with them. But in the end, it was nothing but disappointing.
I would have accepted Holly going off with her Brazilian fellow as a happy ending (she really did seem happy with him). I would have accepted Holly striking off on her own– in New York or in Brazil, or anywhere– as a happy ending (she really was something of a “wild creature”). I would even have accepted Holly finding her “place that feels like Tiffany’s” with Paul (they certainly had chemistry). But I refuse to accept Holly deciding to give ownership of herself to Paul!
See, here’s how Holly turned down Paul:
Paul Varjak: I love you.
Holly Golightly: So what.
Paul Varjak: So what? So plenty! I love you, you belong to me!
Holly Golightly: [tearfully] No. People don’t belong to people.
Paul Varjak: Of course they do!
Holly Golightly: I’ll never let ANYBODY put me in a cage.
Paul Varjak: I don’t want to put you in a cage, I want to love you!
Isn’t that amazing? I was so thrilled in that moment. It perfectly exposed why she wouldn’t “settle down” with him– because it would mean losing her autonomy.
Holly’s in a rare position of freedom. Even now, and especially then, people are expected to belong to people– namely, women are expected to belong to men. When a father “gives away” his daughter at her wedding, he is symbolically transferring his ownership of her to her new husband. (Even the Purity Ball people can see it: “They gave her a charm for her bracelet–a lock in the shape of a heart. Her father has the key. ‘On my wedding day, he’ll give it to my husband,’ she explains.” via Feministing.)
But Holly doesn’t belong to her father. She ran away from home and has completely severed her ties with him. And even though she went from him to a husband, she doesn’t have a husband any more, either. She’s annulled her marriage to Doc Golightly and even though he comes looking for her to claim her again, she sends him off corrected: she doesn’t belong to him, either.
And as much as she likes Paul, she’s not going to sacrifice her independence to him. It’s all she really has, and she won’t let go of it.
Except, oops! She does! Here’s how he convinced her to marry him anyway:
Paul Varjak: You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.” You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.
[takes out the ring and throws it in Holly’s lap]
Paul Varjak: Here. I’ve been carrying this thing around for months. I don’t want it anymore.
I was really disappointed. The cage she’s in isn’t her cage, it’s the patriarchy’s cage. Holly refuses to be owned, but the world she’s in makes it an all-or-nothing proposition. She can’t find a place where she “belongs” (in a figurative sense) without giving herself up to belong to someone else in a terrifyingly literal way.
I think that needs a little more clarification. Holly’s clearly looking for a place to belong to. She won’t buy any furniture or even name her cat until she’s found a place that feels “like breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which is to say, she’s got her life on hold until she can find a place where she belongs. She’s constantly unhappy, though, because she’s looking for a place where she belongs, whoever-she-is, the wild creature, the person, but all she can find are places and people that she can beong to. That preposition can make a world of difference. If she belongs, like at Tiffany’s, she can be completely herself and completely content. But if she belongs to, there has to be someone else, the object of the preposition, who will become the subject of her life.
These are the “rats” and “super rats” that plague her in the beginning– men who want to buy her with fifty dollars for the powder room, men who bang on her door and say “I gave you a hundred for the taxi, I’m entitled! Open the door!” And while originally she and Paul get along without that dynamic, as soon as he starts falling in love with her, he starts becoming “just another rat.” And indeed, just before she leaves him for José da Silva Pereira, he gives her fifty dollars for the powder room. I couldn’t tell what in the world he meant by it– he seemed to think it was a way to show that he cared, that he wanted to take care of her. But I rather thought he was being a rat. After all, she didn’t want it; she just wanted him to leave her alone. Forcing her to take his money is just a Nice Guy (TM) way of forcing her not to break the connection entirely (since no matter what she does with the money, she has it and it ties her to him).
Like I said, I was willing to consider their romance a “happy ending,” but that was on the assumption that somehow, Paul would find her a place that felt like Tiffany’s. Instead, he uses her fears to browbeat her into submitting to him. It didn’t show love, in my mind; it showed how completely he failed to understand who she is and what she wants.
So instead of being a really happy ending, to me it felt like going off the cliff in Thelma and Louise. Holly tried and tried to live without belonging to anyone, but the patriarchy just wouldn’t allow her to be happy that way. And it had succeeded so well in making her small and afraid, that she couldn’t even go for the cliff; she just capitulated, and gave herself up.
Which sure isn’t a happy ending in my book.