what is the mean reds

What are the mean reds?   This term is one of the overarching themes of the movie.  The Mean Reds was first coined by Truman Capote, a novelist, written in his novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which was later turned into a movie by paramount pictures and further popularized.  Audrey Hepburn and Greg Peppard star in the film that has become such iconic today.

Movie catch phrases are one of those things that affect our language for sure and stay our habit and the way we make jokes or describe our emotions with something we heard. An epic movie from 1961 with adorable Audrey Hepburn brought what still is a jewel of culturology. First of all the movie brought a lot of interesting aspects of modern society, some taboo topics were out in the open and the feminine freedom, sexuality and mental state were revealed in one different way. Another thing this movie will stay remembered is the number of lines spoken in it and that are still used nowadays, more than half of the century after its release.

Below is the a clip of the movie where Holly and Fred talk about THE MEAN REDS.

At one point in movie Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) talks about her emotional state with Paul Varjak (George Peppard) mentioning the phrase “Mean Reds” for the first time in history.

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

Paul Varjak: Sure.

What is the MEAN REDS? Breakfast at Tiffany's

My Take on the Mean Reds

The last paragraph was a little vague, so I’ll try to explain it a little more in this paragraph and how I personally interpret it.  I believe that the Mean Reds are a number of different items mixed together, but to put it shortly it is a quiet, loud panic on the deepest level.  That seems paradoxical but when I hear the words “the mean reds” in my head and I close my eyes, I see two images:

The first image is a boat in a storm spinning in circles with no direction, lost at sea.  The second image I see is the world in a manic chaos but there is no sound. People mindlessly going from point A to B , worried about the littlest of things.  They are caught in a trance.  Inside the chaos, you are in a state of arrested development, a life stand still where everything is teetering on the edge and about to change.  Frustrated, you can taste the edge, you talk about all the things that the edge is about like going to Peru with Jose, having the perfect life, but the edge never comes.  As you sit in this standstill, you watch everyone else get on with their lives, wondering why you can’t get to where you want to be in life.  You run from one place to the next place and to the next place. That’s where you start to lose your identity such as when Holly runs from place to place and eventually she attaches her identity to Cat – “I’m like cat here, a couple of no name nobody’s” and where she screams to Fred “I don’t know who I am!”.  Holly has a deep inner conflict with herself about love, who she is, and where she wants to be in life. This can be seen by the type of men she dates and her intentions to marry for money in order to feel safe and secure.  She would gladly give up love to marry some one rich.  For Holly, Tiffany’s cured her mean reds.  However, this was a temporary fix. Tiffany’s is a symbol – an established, financially safe institution.  Tiffany’s is the status in life that Holly was aspiring for.  It was a place where she could pretend and make believe that everything was exactly how she wanted it to be.

One of the key parts of the mean reds is that you finally realize that the thing that your running away from is yourself.  You haven’t grown up to face the facts or to face your fears, to be decisive and terminate the inward conflict inside you once and for all so you can finally go in a direction.  In Paul’s last monologues at the end of the movie, he tells Holly point blank that she can’t “face the facts” and that she keeps running away herself.

Do you have the mean reds?

Mean Red Symptoms

  • You have a Paradox Belief, or A Deep Internal Conflict:  For Holly, it was her struggle of finding herself and accepting herself and allowing herself to love.
    • “Doesn’t want to be put in a cage but has put herself in a cage”
    • “Afraid of Love but wants to be in love”
    • “Marry for Love and be poor.  Marry for Riches and be Safe.”
    • “People who love me are all Rats”.
  • Identity Crisis: The core of you says that there is something wrong in your situation.   You’re not happy with your current state of Affairs.  Your inner person says you can be so much more.  You are living for other people’s wants and needs instead of living for yourself and what you want.
  • Indecisiveness:  You are a ship in a storm, spinning and you don’t know what direction to go.  The decisions you want to make, are future decisions and don’t ever come to you. You psychoanalyze every other decision out there, and no matter what decision you make, it seems like the grass is always greener on the other side and so it’s impossible to make a decision or at least feel good about making a decision.
  • Running away from yourself: You try to find everything and anything to make you happy.  The most things you search for will be unsatisying superficial relationships and items to fill the empty void in your life.  Then you realize that only have the power to change
  • Arrested Development:  Everyone else is moving on in life, you feel frustrated that everyone is light years ahead of you and have things so “figured out”.  You need a sense of arrival – a right to Passage.
  • Unrealistic Dreams and unwilling to compromise: These dreams make you feel even more frustrated because you’re not able to let them go.

Do you have the mean reds?!?!

What do you think of my interpretation of the Mean Reds? Did I nail it or did I totally screw it up?  Let me know below!

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My name is Melissa. I like things that sparkle. I am a sucker for chocolate chip cookies. The best time of day is twilight. When I wake up, I always manage to have one sock on, while the other sock somehow vanishes - never to be seen again!


  1. I have to confessed that i saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s 2 months ago because a friend recommended it to me, and I loved it so much that now I am a fan of Audrey Hepburn. I was reading a fanfiction that take place on New York and one of the characters have the mean reds so I remembered that phrase from the movie so I google for the explanation and here I am. I love how you explained it. Thank you so much ;). I love your website too!

  2. Mean Reds is a reflection of the fear of the USSR and the communists:
    John Sbardellati in his paper: “Brassbound G-Men and Celluloid Reds: the FBI’s Search for Communist Propaganda in Wartime Hollywood” (Film History, Volume 20, pp. 412–436, 2008. Copyright © John Libbey Publishing ISSN: 0892-2160. Printed in United States of America)
    locates the concept: ‘red scare’ with the communists: The secondary literature on the ‘red scare’ in Hollywood has devoted too little attention to the role of the FBI and has too readily dismissed concerns about Communist propaganda” (Sbardellati 2008:412); He also mentions the concept: “the first Red Scare”, which dates back to the earlier times of the emergence of the SU on the world arena; however, it was followed by a short-term reconciliation anti-Nazi alliance of the Soviets and the US, overshadowed by the distrust of the Americans to the ally: “despite a dramatic increase in American goodwill toward the Soviets, largely a product of the valiant efforts of the Russians against the Nazi foe, roughly a third of all Americans continued to distrust the Soviet ally”. (Ralph Levering in Sbardellati, 2008: 412, American Opinion and the Russian Alliance, 1939–1945 (Chapel Hill: the University of North Carolina Press, 1976, 127).

  3. Yes – I have the mean reds right now, especially the afraid of love but wants to be in love and don’t want to be put in a cage (boxed in, seemingly normal or mainstream – for me (but sometimes put myself in that same damn cage).

    • I hear ya Corina! Just keep working on yourself and seeking. Sometimes that takes years, decades, or a lifetime. There’s a quote floating out there somewhere regarding that the biggest relationship challenge in life is with yourself and truly knowing yourself.