Professor Davison English 110H

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Rawan Shafi

Professor Davison

English 110H
New York City, more than any other place in the world, is a conglomerate of the many different walks of life. It combines everything from privacy to loneliness. Not only is New York a combination of all of these, it is a destination and a visual image that is clear, but at the same time obscure. It is a city of dreams, and a place where people from many different countries, and backgrounds meet. E.B White accurately describes and defines in his essay “Here is New York” a third category of New Yorkers, who come to New York for excitement. E.B White’s characterization of this third category holds to be true when analyzing the main characters of It Should Happen To You, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Panic In Needle Park. All three of these women come to New York, in order to lead a life that brings to them the “excitement of participation” of being in New York, and being part of the New York lifestyle in their respective time periods in New York. New York is constantly adapting and evolving; these three women wish to be a part of this New York.

E.B White in his essay, Here is New York, not only describes New York, and the way it functions, but he also dives deeper and explains the idiosyncrasy’s of New York which make everyone want to be a part of it. White also explains the reasons why it still does live today after all these years of continuous chaos. According to White, “New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy”(34). This quality of New York is what “accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of considerable section of the population”(34). White furthermore expands this idea by saying that this population of people can be destroyed, or fulfilled depending on their luck. Living in New York boils down to luck, and you must be “willing to be lucky” (34) when coming to New York.

There are many ideas about New York all over E.B White’s essay. One of these key ideas would be the idea that New York is made up of three different categories of New Yorkers. The first would be those who were born here and take the city for granted, the second would be those who commute to New York, and third, those “who [were] born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something” (36). While the first two are definitely a great part of New York, the latter is what gives New York passion. The people from this third category are the one’s who embrace “New York with the intense excitement of first love,” absorbing “New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer”(36).

Two other ideas that E.B White emphasizes on would be the idea that “To a New Yorker the city is both changeless and changing” and that “New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation” (35). When White says that “the city is both changeless and changing,” he means that it might seem that New York is not changing at all, but in reality, it is constantly changing. A New Yorker is usually too occupied with themselves and their lives that they do not observe their surroundings to notice that it is changing. The other idea, that “New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation” connects with White’s other idea that New York “succeeds in insulating the individual” (35). It succeeds in insulating the individual because of its vast culture that is able to “absorb almost anything that comes along” (35).

The movies It Should Happen To You, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Panic In Needle Park all embody E.B White’s key ideas that the third category of New Yorkers with “some excess of spirit” (36) or some “deficiency of spirit” wish to lead a life “with the excitement of participation;” one that fulfills them and gives them “the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled” (38). Despite the fact that all three of these movies take place during very different times in New York City, the same themes from E.B White are still relevant about New York. Gladys Glover in It Should Happen To You is the classic example of a girl coming from a small town with aspirations of becoming famous. Holly Golightly in the classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the account of a woman who lives lavishly wearing designer clothing and wishes to be a part of the elitist society of New York. While you have these two characters, who both come to New York with an “excess of spirit,” there is Helen on the other hand, who seemingly comes to New York with a “deficiency of spirit.”

Oh, the very young, jovial, yet very naïve Gladys Glover comes to New York with the quest to become a model, and be known by the millions of inhabitants of New York. In the opening scene of the movie, we already get a glimpse at what kind of character Gladys is as she is strolling around Central Park simply appreciating nature and just trying to feed the pigeons. By this, we can see that she appreciates the beauty of New York, that you can go to Central Park and enjoy nature. Right after this scene, Gladys goes to Columbus Circle, and sees this massive billboard for rent. She gets the idea that she should rent the billboard, only to put her name on it, so she can become recognized, which is what she always wanted and is the reason why she left her hometown. To her delight, she makes a trade with Evan Adams III and trades this massive billboard for several billboards spread out across New York City. Soon after, she is known famously throughout New York as the “Average American Girl” and has established herself as a successful model. This is all she has ever wanted and is the sole reason for moving out of her town and coming to New York. She is famous with a modeling career that will only get better which is exactly how she envisioned herself in New York. During the time this movie was created, New York was very healthy and many people wanted to be in New York because it had offered so much. It was a place where the “evangelist, the promoter, the actor, the trader and the merchant” (34) could all come together.

When analyzing Gladys Glover through the lens of E.B White, one could easily say that Gladys initially has the wrong perception of New York. She thinks New York is the place where you have billboards all over New York with just your name on in, without having it represent anything, just a name. She feels as if she is a part of New York, because her name is seen throughout the many streets of New York and she feels as if she is a part of something “unique” and “unparalleled.” These feelings along with her “excitement of participation” drive her motives to become famous. Gladys is another one of those foreigners who come to New York just because they think that it is the city of dreams, but they do not know what they really want. Throughout the film, it is evident that what Gladys wants, is to be a part of the grand culture of New York, but she doesn’t know what is more valuable to her, her lover, or her future modeling career which would give her all the fame that she ever wanted. In the end, she found herself, and realized that you can still have the “excitement of participation” without having to be directly a standout figure which “blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation” according to White.

Holly Golightly from the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s also exemplifies many of the characteristics that E.B White describes as somebody who comes to New York, in search of that “grail” that will fulfill them. Again, in this film, right from the get-go we are introduced openly to the main character in a conspicuous part of New York, fifth avenue. We see her with sparkling with jewelry all over, dazing into the jewelry store Tiffany’s without being able to see her face but it seems like she is very calm. From this, we get the impression that she also appreciates what New York has to offer and is, or rather, perhaps, a part of the elite society of New York City. This movie was filmed in the early 1960’s so the New York setting was somewhat similar to that of the 1950’s but later on in the 1960’s was when New York was starting to weaken and internal problems were encapsulating New York.

Congruent with their respective time periods in New York, Holly Golightly and Gladys Glover both do share similar characteristics of the third category of New Yorkers which E.B White describes. Almost exactly like Gladys, her purpose is to live in New York, and experience the New York lifestyle. There is one scene in the movie where Holly and Paul go roaming around New York, participating in activities that they have never participated in. This New York “provides not only a continuing excitation but also a spectacle that is continuing”(39). Along with this, she enjoys going to Tiffany’s because it rids of her “means reds” and she enjoys attending upper-class parties, where the 9th richest man under 50 is in attendance, and everybody around her is wealthy. Holly’s quest was initially obscure; it was not clear what she was really doing in New York. As the film went on, we learned more about Holly, that she also came from a small town, and is seemingly looking for love. By the end of the movie, she comes to an epiphany and realizes that she loves the man she has been persistently turning down, Paul Varajack, regardless of his financial status.

Unlike the other movies Helen from Panic In Needle Park comes to a holistically different side of New York. Helen is somewhat like a young child who comes to New York, and automatically gets in with the wrong crowd. Like the other two movies, we are told a lot about the character and their perception of New York just by the opening scene. In the opening scene, we see Helen in a crowded New York City bus after she just recently had an abortion. She feels very uncomfortable and I wouldn’t blame her. Helen’s “excitement of participation” is greatly influenced by Bobby. It is because of Bobby that her “excitement of participation” is having sex, becoming a prostitute for money, and doing drugs.

Helen, unlike the previous two characters is different in the way in which she pursues the “excitement of participation.” The 1970’s was an impoverished time for New York, that was filled with prostitution and drugs. Helen came to New York at the wrong time because she believed that by partaking in these activities, injecting heroin, and becoming a prostitute, she was being a New Yorker. In fact, she was correct, because that was all New York knew back then. The transition from the 1960’s to the 1970’s did not go smooth at all. Helen leeches on to the back of Bobby, who is a drug trafficker and is led down the wrong path. Again, a foreigners perception of New York plays a vital role, as it controls Helen. Her notions about New York, is what makes her succumb to the low-life lifestyle of many of these people.
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