Breakfast at Tiffany’s: The Cure for Synesthesia

Maureen Seaberg
3 min readOct 9, 2020

Holly Golightly Was an Emotion to Color Synesthete

Holly Golightly escaping the “mean reds” at the iconic Fifth Avenue store.

In 1958 when Truman Capote published the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Time magazine declared its heroine Holly Golightly, “the hottest kitten ever to hit the typewriter keys” of Mr. Capote. “She’s a cross between a grown-up Lolita and a teen-age Auntie Mame …alone and a little afraid in a lot of beds she never made.”

Holly was afraid and she didn’t know why. She called the state of discomfort “the mean reds” — a very synesthetic emotion to color declaration.

The scene in which she explains the mean reds comes rather early in the written story as well as the 1961 movie by Blake Edwards starring Audrey Hepburn. She is explaining to her new friend, Paul, a writer and neighbor she nicknames “Fred,” how she hasn’t named her cat because they don’t belong to each other.

From the book:

“I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like…It’s like Tiffany’s,” she said. “Not that I give a hoot about jewelry. Diamonds, yes. but it’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty; and even that’s risky. They only look right on the really old girls. Maria Ouspenskaya. Wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds: I can’t wait. But that’s not why I’m mad about Tiffany’s. Listen. You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds?”

“Same as the blues?”

“No,” she said slowly. “No, the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is. You’ve had that feeling?”

Fred said he had and called it angst. Holly talked about everything she’d unsuccessfully tried to assuage it, from aspirin to marijuana. And then she let him in on the cure:

“What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It just calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their…

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Maureen Seaberg

Coauthor of Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel (HMH). Published in the New York Times, National Geographic, Psychology Today.