Wild Women

Rodney Clough
6 min readMar 28


‘Manhattan Roma’: Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960), directed by Blake Edwards, based on a short story by Truman Capote.

What Carmen, Holly and Fern share.

Holding hands driving a convertible over the rim of the Grand Canyon for “wild women” is not the ‘way to go.’ (1)

Rather, getting stabbed and dying in your lover’s arms, finding your cat, and returning ‘home’ to reclaim your odyssey provide better story endings. (2,3,4)

Each hero — Carmen, Holly, Fern — née heroine, is the social version of a ‘wild woman.’ (5) All three characters are understandably contrived. Yet each hero refuses society’s myths, placing their character at odds with social convention and so we, the audience, are gifted with vivid stories of how social myths are sustained.

Carmen: the myth of ‘family life’

What could go wrong during a scheduled break of female workers at a cigarette factory? Apparently, plenty, as the first forbidding strains of Bizet’s opera sound an alarm.

Where did that come from?

Carmen is a Roma. In nineteenth century Spain with its tradition of hooded inquisitors and racism, this means she belongs to a band of nomadic castaways, the wandering detritus of an ancient and noble empire. She’s primal, licentious, a sexy witch. Think… like her sisters in Salem, thrown aside by economic forces of a repressive white male establishment. Think… as loitering not far from the pillory, prepared to be scorned.

J’Nai Bridges as Carmen, Lyric Opera of Chicago, March, 2023

My opera spectator-partner says that the staging of Carmen (6) we are seeing has been ‘updated.’ Where are all the strutting supernumeraries, she asks. Even Escamillo, the bombastic toreador sneaks on stage without benefit of the throng. The crowd is there for sure but more as a backdrop for the shenanigans than a Greek chorus. This version turns the spotlight on the characters and their internal missions which go awry.

Carmen is a home wrecker without a home. Repeat: she is a Roma. Jose, the male ‘victim’ ensnared by Carmen’s desires and his own, carries the social baggage. He is the social victim to Carmen’s passionate conspiracy, the bird cage to Carmen’s warbling. And of course, there are revolutionaries and jails.

There always are.

There is a ceremonial animal slaughter, complete with capes and mantillas. Remember, we are in Spain. But the bullfight nod doesn’t compare to Carmen’s fitful diatribes on family mythology. Here is where, metaphorically, Bizet put the knife in Jose’s hands. In Act 1, Carmen does the cutting and is thrown into Jose’s dominion, aka jail. In Act IV, Jose does the stabbing and throws a dying Carmen into his arms.

The Corrida roars.

The family sub-plot comes from off-stage, a distant, relentless clarion. There is Micaela, there is Micaela’s mom, there is a family to sustain, to support, to provide for. There is the “when are you going to settle down” whispers at work in Jose’s head.

There is also dominion and jealousy, which Carmen convincingly reminds the audience.

Yep. Bizet’s ‘updated’ ditty rides on male anxiety and suppression.

Holly Golightly: the myth of self-worth

Fast forward to Manhattan in the fifties. Consider Holly Golightly, the protagonist in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as a latter-day Roma.

‘Holly Golightly’ is not her real name. Neither does her partner in crime have a real name. Holly knights him “Fred,” because he reminds her of her brother.


We’re off to the races, literally. Holly is a survivor, so-to-speak, trying to maneuver Manhattan’s ‘romantic’ expressways. Like Carmen’s factory break, Holly interrupts the pace with a dawn visit to Tiffany’s, where couples, rich couples, go to sample diamond rings and claim marital commitment. Looking impeccable after a night “on the town,” she samples a croissant, balancing a paper coffee cup, a paper bag, and a set of elbow length black gloves. Just so the audience doesn’t forget their partnership, “Fred,” accompanies “Holly” in a later visit to Tiffany’s. They go inside to get a Cracker Jack box prize ring engraved.

Roma all the way.

The audience asks, how does she/they survive? Alas, we are taught in “Breakfast,” what a cold and insensitive — really stupid — question that is. Because Holly is in a chase, not in escaping the creditors/cops kind of chase, but in a chase for her self-worth.

Like Carmen, Holly has desires at odds with the particular situation she has been placed in — not of her choosing. Remember this: these women didn’t sign up for what transpires. Or did they? Society says, ‘Looks like a duck, but hasn’t learned yet how to walk like a duck.’

What’s revealing is that the audience gets an opportunity to suspend reality and asking “how does she survive” type questions. This is what is so compelling about these characters and our fascination with them: it’s as if our survival depends on their stories.

In “Breakfast,” financial security is doled out to Holly in spoonfuls. Holly is searching for financial security in a sea of “rats,” some small, some big. Her “job,” is to escort rich suitor wanna-bees, and to abet a drug ring by passing messages from ‘Sally Tomato,’ another pseudonym, residing at Sing Sing.

Familial fealty, the distant clarion in Carmen, shows up at Holly’s door. Her “not real husband,” Doc, arrives pleading for reentry in her life, for her to return to her roots, but to no avail. In one of the few committed passionate speeches from Holly, she refuses Doc, who dangles real Fred’s return from the Army as bait.

While “Fred” looks on, she dispatches Doc back to Arkansas.

“Fred” is hooked. So are we.

Home stretch: Dumped by another rich boy — this one from Brazil — and distraught by news of real Fred’s death, Holly asks “Fred” to compile a list of the ten richest men in Brazil. “Fred” likes libraries, after all. She may have lost Brazil boy but dammit she has the plane ticket rich boy gave her and the means for finding another “rich rat.”

For once, she is financially secure, sounding confident, prepared to walk like a duck. “Fred” comes out of his shell, delivers a knock-out speech and helps Holly reclaim her cat.

In pouring rain no less.

“All I really have,” Holly murmurs.

Pass the box of Kleenex.

“Nomadland,” 2021 released film (Hulu) directed by Chloe Zhao and based on the book, “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-first Century,” by Jessica Bruder

Fern: the myth of rootedness

Like Carmen and Holly, Fern, too, has desires at odds with the particular situation she has been placed in — not of her choosing. Fern, the protagonist in the 2021 film “Nomadland,” arrives at “retirement,” without husband, home, job, bank account — all the middle-class trappings of what once in America were ‘the golden years.’

Fern’s ‘wild woman’ debacle is not that she is a castaway. Nor does she have a soft spot for rich boys. She is not homeless… thank you, she is ’houseless.’ So, she corrects her politically-correct-yet-clueless family ensconced in a subdivision somewhere in the northwest.

They are ‘in real estate.’ Fern is in ‘reality.’

Fern refuses their life-ring-toss offer to abandon her life of abandonment. Fern argues that her adopted southwest has better landscapes.

She should know.

Fern is on a journey, traversing an economy fit for aging nomads. Her story provides a subtle replay of the tale of wild woman. Defiant, with Hepburn I-like pursed lip, and with Hepburn II-like moxie, Fern, played by Frances McDormand leaves by “staying on,” a self-hatched ruse (7) to welcome and survive another day in post-industrial, pathetic America.

The audience travels with Fern to the outer stretches of a dystopian patrie, to return to where ‘it all began,’ the bungalow Fern and her late husband once occupied.

Fern feels different. So do we.

March 28


1-Thelma and Louise (1991), directed by Ridley Scott, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis

2-Carmen (1875)

3-Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960)

4-Nomadland (2021)

5-The concept ‘wild woman’ is an oft-cited theme in literature, tracing its origin to the Greeks. For a recent study, see “Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype,” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 1992

6-Carmen, Music by Georges Bizet, Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, Lyric Opera of Chicago, March, 2023

7-”Trail of Tears,” Rodney Clough, Medium




Rodney Clough

Refuses to nap. Septuagenarian. Cliche’ raker. Writes weekly.