Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a 1961 romantic comedy film, based on a novella by Truman Capote, Starring Audrey Hepburn, as Holly Golightly, a charming socialite with a youthful approach to life, who moves to New York in hope to become one of the rich and beautiful people of the city.

Holly Golightly

The film introduces its audience to Holly Golightly staggering home early one morning in her little black dress and sunglasses after an all-night bender during which she likely doled out small favours to satisfy gentlemen in exchange for rent money.

Throughout the novel Holly Golightly is seen as both a witty and naïve character. She has a very mysterious past, which explains her flippant lifestyle that she won’t even give her cat a name, because that would be too much of a commitment to a relationship.

Holly grew up in a poor area of Texas, where at the age of thirteen ran away from home with her younger brother and ended up married to a kind but uneducated man who was old enough to be her father. She escaped her past and soon settled into a small New York apartment.

She holds parties for various rich guests although she herself barely survives financially, however maintains a childlike innocence yet wearing the most perfect designer clothes and accessories from Givenchy.

 

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She makes money, by going out on dates with wealthy men, who pay her for the privilege and by visiting a well known gangster named Sally, who pays her each week for taking a message to his lawyer. She escorts various wealthy men, yet fails to return their affections after they have given her countless gifts and money.

Holly’s character shows a lack of belonging that she feels about herself in the world. In the film, Tiffany’s demonstrates Holly’s connection with the world. She goes to Tiffany’s when a sense of fear is brought on and desire of a sense of belonging.

Holly finally meets Paull Varkak, a handsome young writer who moves into the same block of apartments. Paul appears as a ‘boy toy’ of a wealthy, somewhat older woman (Patricia Neal), but his main goal in life is to be a writer. He has published at least one successful book. Holly’s lifestyle confuses as well as fascinates Paul; in public she flits through parties with a sexy, sophisticated aire, but when their alone together she changes into a sweetly, vulnerable lady. She starts to grow fond of him; however, Paul starts to realise that Holly has a strange past in Texas, a brother that she adores, and the fact that she seems determined to marry any man, as long as he’s extremely rich. Although Paul is not wealthy his friendship grows stronger with Holly, causing her to realise that there are more important things to look for in people beyond how much their worth.

 

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Social class

”A social class is the aggregate of persons playing the same part in production, standing in the same relation towards other persons in the production process, these relations being also expressed in things” (instruments of labor) (Scott, stratification and power, structures of class, status and command, 1996)

Social class is determined by the relation to the means of production; but this does not inform us how classes are constituted as classes. Pierre Bourdieu looks at how knowledge, use of cultural artefacts and the body, and the taste which people acquire for culture, (for example, food, clothing, and lifestyle). In order for individuals to live up to their own expectations and their own view of themselves to their place in a hierarchy of political power, they must understand what their own status within the hierarchy in order for an individual to claim a position in a given class fraction.

Embodiment is defined as “the mode by which human beings practically engage with and apprehend the world” (Abercrombie, 2000: 117). Although embodiment is defined this way, there are however very different notions of what embodiment is and what type of body is required for what type of embodied cognition. Social class can be embodied.

There are several ways in which social class is embodied, either through dress codes, speech or forms of bodily behaviour. Class is a key factor in association with sociological theory, but its precise meaning and definition is extremely contested, ‘Class is something beneath your clothes, under your skin, in your reflexes, in your psyche, at the very core of your being.’ (Annette Kuhn, 1995) However, Social class is generally determined by what economic positions, similar political and economic interests within the stratification system.

Various discussions and assumptions have been made on the concept of class and often confuse the terminological problem of how the word class is used within social theory with theoretical disputes concerning definition and elaboration of the concept of class. Shown above is a case study surrounding a brief synopsis of Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

Once Breakfast at Tiffany’s was released onto the big screen, reasons behind why figure Holly Golightly caught the public’s attention and imagination are because she embodies with such elegance and grace. This demonstrates how class has formed and given value through culture.

Habitus is a concept that searches for explanations behind dispositions that influence individuals to become who they are and how their body is presented in the social world. Embodiment can also be revealed in ways in which not only the body is in the social world, but also ways in which the social world is in the body. Consequently, features such as power relations, social class locations, and valued forms of knowledge are closely linked to the institutional habitus.

Only a few years ago, various producers in Hollywood would take large payments from the tobacco companies, just to place cigarette brands in films. Female smokers in film have long been associated with seductive sexuality, in particular, Hepburn, (who plays Holly) elegantly poses with her long cigarette holder. In society today smoking is regarded as an unsociable quality and is generally stereotypical that chavs do it.  A chav in today’s society is regarded as working-class youth, poor educated, and a perceived ‘common’ taste in clothing and lifestyle.

Holly and Paul spend a day together doing things that they haven’t done before; in the final escapade, they go to a five and dime store with the intension to steal something. The outcome is stealing Halloween masks; Holly leaves the store wearing a cat-face mask. Masks play a major role in the film in reference to the way that Holly is forced into wearing different masks to protect herself.

 

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All individuals within society have a different identity because they make their own over the course of their lifetime. Holly is fearful of what and who she really is and this is the reason for why she takes on so many personas. She attempts to find herself by trying out new things but in the end she remains the same person she was and she is afraid to admit it.

Bourdieu demonstrated how women of different social classes varied in their valuations of the body, beauty and body care. His research showed that working-class women were less likely to value and invests in bodily appearance compared to that of women from the upper class. This is made obvious in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, through the way Holly Golightly is presented. Holly Golightly’s dress, dialect, fashion and lifestyle represents features of middle-class, alongside her classic image of her designer Hubert de Givenchy outfits, oversized sunglasses, and layers of pearls that are admired and idolised by the public. All these types of features are stereotypes of a typical middle-class woman. These types of figures do exist but it is rare in today’s society unless you are an actress or of higher society.

Finch (1993) examines how ‘the working classes’ as a category came into effort through middleclass conceptualizations. These conceptualizations were produced from anxiety about social order and through attempts by the middle classes to consolidate their identity and power by distancing themselves from definable ‘others’. (Formations of class and gender, Skeggs)

While Holly Golightly may not consider herself a prostitute, the film suggests that the clients she has expect some sort of sexual favour in return for her ‘gratuities’ they give to her. Holly is not a model citizen, and in order for her to finance her wasteful lifestyle she accepts a weekly payment of $100 to visit an ex-mob boss in prison and carry a verbal message to his ‘lawyer.’ This was considered a form of prostitution but with no sex involved. Paul uses a similar approach in order to remain in his apartment by accepting, his lover Patricia’s, money that she leaves by the bedside table, which she pays for. Both characters have their faults.

Determining whether a person actually has money, skills, education or family remains secondary to the habitus they have acquired which may seem peculiar with the life-style and attitudes, these are generally related with those conditions. For instance, the phenomenon of Holly Golightly that she relies on her looks, as well as men, to acquire wealth.

Woman are still scandalized when informed Audrey Hepburn plays a call-girl in the movie and deals in coded language that demonstrates trades in signals, such as the ‘‘$50 for the powder room’’ comment. The idea is to present Holly as a girl with knowledge, experience and sophistication, where in the first opening scene she is shown in an evening gown in the early morning light, drinking a cardboard cup of coffee and eating Danish as she browses the windows at Tiffany’s. Comparing this situation to nowadays the idea of class would not be demonstrated, rather the look of shame upon passersby.

Ironic images of Holly, (Audrey Hepburn), were presented with little ‘‘black dress, black gloves, a tiara and a foot-long cigarette holder. This is a parody of elegance – a deliciously sexy and entertaining parody.’’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/jan/20/audrey-hepburn-breakfast-at-tiffanysHowever, people are still genuinely fascinated by Audrey Hepburn’s character displayed in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and aspire to be her. There are other similar movies that fall into this category of romance. Did it truly change the course of women in the movies?

Contemporary Society

We consider how society’s values of different bodies become not just part of our identity, but also shape the physicality of body development.  Bodies are reconstructed through culture via our perception of the impact of key social divisions.

‘‘The study of social stratification of how these different groupings or strata relate to one another usually we find that they are related unequally. One group may own and enjoy more economic resources than another, or it may be held in higher esteem, or it may be in a position to order other groups around.’’ (Social class and Stratification, Saunders, 1990)

Class materializes on the ways of dressing and accent etc, for this reason, class is viewed as outdated and old-fashioned in society. I often feel that appearance says a lot about how a person feels about oneself. Our appearance to a degree reflects your character and habits, for example, a job interview.

Sociologists tend to use the word class to outline economic divisions and inequalities, in particular focus upon property and employment relations (a particular kind of social division). However, some sociologists see class as a matter of culture and identity and not a matter of underlying material inequalities.

‘‘Class is an embarrassing and unsettling subject. In many social situations it would be considered insensitive to refer to class, Particularly to the class of someone to whom we are talking or who is within earshot…Reflects the morally problematic nature of class, deriving from the fact that people’s life chances and who they become strongly influenced by the accident of their natal class and the inequalities which follows from this’’. (Moral significance of class)

Schools and the workplace are greatly influenced by social class. Instead of spending years at a lower level position at work people tend to spend more time in school and move directly from there and into management. This sudden change in the workplace influences the educational system.

The social set that a child is placed into in a State education school can either benefit them or not. For example, I attended a state secondary education school for three years but decided to move to private education due to being placed in the bottom set class. In order for me to move to the Private school I relied on my parent’s income to pay for it. If I hadn’t changed schools I wouldn’t have gone onto further education.

In society, social mobility is extremely important and it appears obvious that it is much easier to lose social status than to gain it. Being from a middle class background social mobility appears easy for me to move freely throughout the social system. Social mobility tends to rely on what the society values most.

Occupational status is the classification of individuals by occupational status. Different positions represent different levels of power, influence and money, for example, doctors or lawyers are given more status compared with unskilled labourers. In the past, class tended to affect chances of getting an education, job etc, and alternatively affecting what types of relationships individuals had with others.

In society today, the language of class is often referred to a social hierarchy and knowledge of an individual’s place within it. Class is a matter of social background and is reflected ‘‘in a broad sense used in everyday life, and in the sense used by Bourdieu, is reproduced through a wide range of relations and processes: economic, cultural, social, educational.’’ (Sayer, The moral significance of class)

By Lizzie Boyes

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