Summary, pages 9-16. (Page numbers refer to the 1961 Penguin edition.)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s begins in New York City in the late 1950s. The narrator, a writer, is recalling the apartment he lived in during the early years of World War II, located in Manhattan’s East Seventies. He recalls a young woman named Holly Golightly who occupied the apartment below his. He remembers how he and Holly used to go to a nearby bar run by Joe Bell to make telephone calls. The narrator has not seen Joe for several years, but the previous Tuesday he had received a phone call from him asking him to come to the bar. It was important, he said.
When the narrator arrives at the bar, Joe tells him that Mr. I. Y. Yunioshi, a Japanese magazine photographer who used to live in the same house as Holly and the narrator, has recently visited Joe and left him some photographs taken in Africa. The photos are of a black man holding a wood sculpture, which is a carving of a girl’s head. The carving is an exact likeness of Holly. The back of the photograph is dated 1956. Mr. Yunioshi explained to Joe that he had been in Africa, and the man who carved the sculpture told him that two men and a young woman had arrived one day on horseback. The men had a fever and so they had stayed at the village to recover. During these few weeks, the man had made the sculpture of Holly. After the men recovered, they all left the village. Nothing more is known of Holly’s whereabouts. Neither Joe nor the narrator had seen or heard of Holly since those days in World War II that brought them together. They speculate on whether Holly really had been in Africa, and where she might be now. Joe, who is now in his mid-sixties, admits that he was in love with her.
The narrator leaves the bar and walks past the house in which he and Holly used to live.
The purpose of this opening section is to frame the entire narrative that follows as a memory. The narrator is looking back on events that happened more than a dozen years earlier. He is clearly an autobiographical figure, since Truman Capote lived in New York during World War II and was at the time an unpublished young writer, like the narrator in this story.
This section also creates an aura of mystery and expectation about the central character, Holly Golightly. Before she actually appears, the reader hears about her from two men who have been deeply touched by her. Joe Bell is still “fixated” on her, even after all these years. Not many details of Holly emerge yet, but the reader can probably sense that she is an adventurer, a free spirit. Later, it will become clear that the wood sculpture of Holly’s head made in Africa is an appropriate emblem of her: she makes a permanent impact on those she encounters, and they all remember her, but she herself proves elusive. She could be almost anywhere on the globe; she can be befriended but not owned; she will always go her own way.