Holly Golightly

By: Janessa Rodriguez


Holly Golightly is the main character of the 1961 classic romantic comedy titled Breakfast at Tiffany’s played by actress Audrey Hepburn. The film tells the story of a young country girl turned Manhattan socialite as she plots to find a wealthy suitor for marriage in order to secure a comfortable future for herself and her younger brother Fred. Holly is vibrant and charming, yet very naïve and vulnerable. Although she lives in a small studio apartment and survives day-to-day by working as a call girl for $50 here and there, Holly upkeeps a very classy and demure appearance; never being caught outside without her satin black dress, heels, and strings of pearls or diamonds. She is very stubborn and free-spirited and firmly believes that she could never belong to anyone not even to her own cat named “cat.” Holly’s plans for finding a rich husband become redirected when a young, handsome author named Paul Varjak moves into her apartment building. The two find themselves falling in love despite the obstacles they face with Holly’s tumultuous past and her present antics with mob bosses and millionaires. Paul helps Holly learn to accept herself for who she is rather than what she can become which ultimately ends Holly’s chase for wealth and loveless marriages.
Psychoanalytic Perspective
The Psychoanalytic perspective was based on the theories of Sigmund Freud. Freud believed that the mind was split into three parts: conscious awareness, unconscious or repressed material, and the preconscious which contains material that is not in our current awareness but still accessible. Essentially, Freud theorized that all behavior was caused by inner desires and conflicts which could be tapped into using psychotherapy techniques such as free association and dream analysis. Freud also believed that deep inner conflicts occurring in childhood had substantial effects on later development. He proposed the “Structural Model of Personality” which states that an individual’s personality has 3 parts: the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. The Id operates through pleasure; meaning it serves to satisfy our most primitive needs and drives such as hunger, thirst, and sex. The Super Ego functions through our morals, both internalized from our parents and society. The Ego balances both the Id and Superego by solving problems in the most realistic way according to the individual.

After analyzing Holly’s character from a psychoanalytic perspective, it is clear that her tough childhood was a direct force in the way she approached life as an adult. Before Holly became “Holly,” she was born Lula Mae Barnes on a farm in Tulip,Texas. She and her younger brother Fred were orphaned at a very young age and were left to fend for themselves in order to survive. Holly was caught stealing eggs one day from a man named Doc Golightly. She ends up marrying the much older Doctor in order for her and her brother to have a safe and comfortable place to live. When her brother Fred goes off to the military, Holly leaves for a new life in New York City where she reinvents herself on her quest to find a rich husband. Freudian psychologists would say that Holly’s Id is the most pronounced structure of her mind. She actively endeavors to solve her issues of security and comfort through whatever means necessary; be it as a call girl or marrying a man for his money. Her desire to have a comfortable life overrides her moral conscious. As Holly says in a drunken stupor to Paul who expresses his disapproval of her endeavors to marry a rich man, “I need money. And I will do anything I can to get it.” Holly mentions to Paul when meeting him that whenever she gets the “mean reds, not blues” she jumps into a cab and goes to Tiffany’s which always makes her feel better. Tiffany’s is a symbol of wealth, fortune, and power. Holly finds comfort and a sense of belonging being there. Until she finds a “real-life place” like Tiffany’s, she doesn’t belong to anything or anyone anywhere.

Further psychoanalytic analysis of Holly Golightly would reveal the Ego’s use of multiple defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are processes used by the Ego to alter one’s reality so that it protects the individual from threatening material entering their consciousness. In the film, Holly evokes the use of sublimation which is when one attempts to disguise an unacceptable/dangerous action as a positive or meaningful one. This is seen in Holly’s interactions with a mob boss named Sally Tomato. Holly is paid $100 to go every Thursday to Sing Sing prison to visit Sally who gives her coded mob messages in the form of a bizarre weather report. Holly relays the message to one of Sally’s assistants outside of the prison who compensates her in return. Although Holly is aware that what she is doing might be illegal, she has convinced herself that she is merely being charitable by keeping a lonely, old man company. When Paul expresses his concern for Holly, she replies “It’s okay, I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time.” This once again alludes to her early childhood and how she learned to fend for herself no matter the means. The mechanism of repression also manifests itself in Holly’s behavior. Repression is when a person reverts back to an earlier, safer period of their life in order to protect themselves from anxiety and other harmful stimuli. This is seen when Holly falls asleep in Paul’s arms one night. She begins to talk in her sleep to Paul as if he was her younger brother Fred back on their Texas farm, “Where are you Fred? I’m cold. It’s snowing.” She suddenly begins to cry and Paul wakes her up with which she became agitated with him and called him a ‘snoop’ for asking what was wrong. Holly is very frightened and defensive over her past. She’s unable to allow herself to open up to anyone, not even a friend, for fear of losing them eventually or having them judge her and her less than glamorous roots. Holly also displays the defense mechanism of displacement. Displacement is when the target of one’s fears or desires is placed on a safer or more vulnerable target. The target in this case is Holly’s cat named “cat.” At the end of the movie Holly packs up and tries to leave to Brazil in attempts to gain back her marriage proposal from Jose, the Brazilian millionaire. Paul fights desperately with her to get her to stay with him based on the honest, true love that they have for one another rather than just an ‘investment’ marriage. Holly, fighting the vulnerability that comes with her love for Paul, takes cat in a frightened fury and releases him into a raining alley so that he could be free from everything, including her, and not have to feel dependent on anything. Holly expresses to Paul, “I'm not Holly. I'm not Lula Mae, either. I don't know who I am! I'm like cat here, a couple of no-name slobs. We belong to nobody and nobody belongs to us. We don't even belong to each other.”
Trait and Skill Approach
According to Gordon Allport, each individual has a unique set of qualities that work to predict one’s life outcomes. He developed a scale called “The Big Five” which contains the main categories of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. Holly scores very high on the extraversion scale. Qualities such as outgoingness, assertiveness and dominance fall under this category. Holly is very talkative and can easily strike up a conversation with anyone she’s just met. She likes to be surrounded by people, and frequently throws parties in her crowded New York apartment which are often shut down by the police because of their rowdiness. Her wardrobe, composed of black satin gowns and elaborate jewelry worn without occasion, further adds to Holly’s desire to stand out and be noticed. She also wishes to pursue a career in show business after finding a manager and reinventing a new version of herself that would be far from the one she had back in Tulip, Texas. Holly wants to be seen and heard by New York’s elite and anyone else who is willing to notice her.

Holly also displays a high degree of neuroticism. Neuroticism describes the emotional instability of a person. Neurotic traits can be anxiety, impulsiveness, depression, and hostility. Holly is very unsure of herself and often times ‘flighty.’ It’s difficult for her to become accustomed to one place at a time, so she tends to travel a lot and move. She cannot commit to anything for fear of being ‘caged’ or restricted. She runs away from any true feelings she has for anyone because it means that she is completely vulnerable to someone else who will be able to look past her tough façade and see the frightened little girl inside. As Holly tells Doc Golightly when he comes to NYC in attempt to win her back, “You can’t love a wild thing.” Because of all this, Holly scores low on conscientiousness which is a measure of how competent, persistent, and organized a person is. Holly is unable to stick to a task for a long period of time. The night before a screen test that her agent O.J. Berman had set up, Holly bails on her agent and takes a flight to New York after telling him that she ‘just doesn’t want to do it.’ She is very laid back, or what you would call a ‘free spirit’ rather than painstakingly thorough and organized. This is demonstrated in how Holy keeps her apartment. Although she’s been living there for almost a year, she still hasn’t unpacked and has some of her belongings are scattered in the oddest places (like the ringing telephone in a suitcase).

Holly also displays a fair amount of openness. Openness describes a person with a vivid imagination, curiosity, and appreciation of beauty. Holly took French lessons for over a year when arriving in New York and actively uses phrases here and there since she is very fond of French culture. She is imaginative in the sense that she has invented this completely different identity of a Manhattan socialite when all she’s ever known is being a poor, country girl. As her agent Berman says to Jack at Holly’s party, “Is she or isn’t she? A phony. A real phony.” Being that Holly doesn’t have the budget of a rich girl, she maintains her appearance by reusing the same black dresses, only adding creative touches like a brooch or a fancy hat to make them distinct. She is very resourceful and intuitive in all that she does in order to keep up this elaborate showcase. Another way that Holly demonstrates openness is when she brainstorms a day of fun for her and Paul. She suggests they spend the entire day venturing throughout New York City doing things they’ve never done before such as going to the public library, engraving a Cracker Jack prize ring at Tiffany’s, and stealing from a 5-10 cent store. All of which cost the pair nothing which suited them perfectly.
After analyzing Holly Golighty’s personality using both the Psychoanalytic approach as well as the Trait-Skill perspective, one could see in depth the various facets of her personality. Holly’s overactive Id causes her to be impulsive at times and place her own needs such as money and recognition on a high pedestal. But due to the inner struggle between the opposing forces of the Id and Superego, Holly employed the use of defense mechanisms such as sublimation, repression, and displacement. The psychoanalytic theory predicts that Holly’s current behavior and anxieties all stem from the obstacles she faced during her childhood being orphaned and caring for her younger brother. The determination to survive and find a place of true comfort is her most motivating drive. These unresolved conflicts are also manifested in the level of neuroticism in Holly’s personality. Her vulnerability and defensiveness prevent her from maintaining close friendships or relationships. Holly lacks structure therefore she is low on conscientiousness, but her bubbly and agreeable extroverted personality makes it easy for people to be drawn to her. The ultimate quest to finding true love and her own identity is aided by her open personality and curiosity of the world which leads her in the end to her very own ‘Tiffany’s.’
Friedman, Howard S, and Miriam W Schustack. Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research. New York: Pearson, 1999.
Jurow, M. & Shepherd, R. (Producers), and Edwards, B. (Director). (1961). Breakfast at Tiffany’s [Motion Picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.