Phoebe Catcher in the Rye


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Phoebe is Holden's ten-year-old sister, whom he loves dearly. Although she is six years younger than Holden, she listens to what he says and understands him more than most other people do.

Phoebe Catcher in the Rye

Phoebe Caulfield



Phoebe—according to Holden—is not only the smartest kid ever, but also best dancer ever, and the most sympathetic listener ever, and the funniest little sister ever. Check out the way we learn about her:

You'd like her. I mean if you tell old Phoebe something, she knows exactly what the hell you're talking about. I mean you can even take her anywhere with you. If you take her to a lousy movie, for instance, she knows it's a lousy movie. If you take her to a pretty good movie, she knows it's a pretty good movie. (10.3)

Wow. We haven't been this impressed by a pre-teen since Willow Smith.

Girl, Interrupted
When we finally do meet Phoebe, she's basically everything Holden said she would be—while still being authentically ten years old. (Check out how she's scribbled various version of her name in her notebook, and then try us that you didn't do something similar when you were ten. We kept our lists in a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper.) We do feel the hand of authorial manipulation when Phoebe corrects Holden about Robert Burns, but hey, it was the forties, so maybe kids just knew that stuff back then.

Still, it's this mingling of child-like enthusiasm and adult-like incisiveness that makes Phoebe so compelling. Her notebook entry has exclamation points (child), but she points out to Holden that, really, he doesn't like anything: "You don't like any schools. You don't like a million things" (22.22). She's smart enough to figure out that Holden's gotten the ax again (adult), but responds by putting a pillow over her head and repeating, "Daddy'll kill you" (child).

And then there's her decision to run away with Holden: she packs a suitcase thinking that she'll go out West somewhere and not come back (child), but she's not running away because she hates everyone and everything—she's running away because she seems to think that Holden needs someone to care for him. And then, when Holden refuses to let her come, she takes care of him in her own way, in that touching carousel scene when she puts his red hunting hat back on his head. Unlike any other character we ever see, Phoebe actually gives back. So … adult?

Second Self
The way Phoebe vibrates between acting like a little kid and grown-up reminds us of—yep, Holden himself. It's almost as though Phoebe's a younger version of himself; no wonder he wants to protect her so badly, and no wonder he starts to feel "so damn happy" when he sees her going around and around on the carousel (25).

We do have to ask: what is up with the butt-pinching? When Holden sneaks into Phoebe's room, he reaches out and gives her a "pinch on the behind. It was sticking way out in the breeze … She has hardly any behind" (22.8).

Before you start calling protective services, notice Holden's word: "behind." When he talks about women's behinds—which he actually does fairly frequently—he always calls them "butts" or "asses." And he spends a lot of time admiring Sally Hayes's "cute … little ass" (17). even if he thinks she's phony for twitching it around in front of him. So, when he pinches Phoebe's behind, we get the feeling that it's not sexual at all—in fact, it's almost as though he's reassuring himself (and us) that she's still just a kid.

We know that Holden has a somewhat alarming interest in children, but we're fairly certain that it's not the kind of interest that you'd want to call the police about. He doesn't want to damage their innocence: he wants to protect it, however misguided that is.

Phoebe Catcher in the Rye

Phoebe Catcher in the Rye

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Analysis of Phoebe Caulfield



Siblings are never meant to get along. They yell and bicker over everything and are never able to have a friendly relationship. Very rarely do I see a pleasant relationship between a brother and a sister, who actually are able to communicate without killing each other. When I see siblings that are nice to each other, I admire them because it takes a lot to be nice to their siblings, especially if there is a seven year difference between them, like Holden and Phoebe. In J. D. Salingers novel, The Catcher in the Rye, Phoebe Caulfield, one of the major characters in the novel, loves and thinks highly of her brother, Holden, the protagonist.

Phoebe is a ten year old neat, intelligent girl, who looks up to his brother and respects him. She knows Holden inside and out and wants the best for him. It is through Phoebe that we see Holden as a child who never wants to grow up. Phoebe has a great influence both on the reader and Holden, and is one of the few people in the novel who understands what is happening to Holden. Phoebe has a great affect on Holden. Throughout the book Holden feels depressed and lonely. It is only the thought of Phoebe that makes him happy and less lonesome. He thinks about all the fun they had together.
When he is around her he does not feel depressed, but joyful. I certainly felt like talking to her [Phoebe] on the phone. Somebody with some sense and all. (Salinger, 66) When he feels lonely and wants to call someone, one of the people he always thinks of calling is Phoebe. He feels very close to Phoebe, who actually listens to him. Phoebe is a very smart girl, whom Holden enjoys talking to. He thinks of Phoebe as his equal; someone that he can share things with and talk to, without feeling like he is talking to a phony. Another reason Phoebe is important to Holden is the fact that both love each other.

She [Phoebe] likes me a lot. I mean shes quite fond of me. She really is. (Salinger, 159) Throughout the novel Holden is having trouble finding someone that truly feels for him and loves him, but Phoebe is the only person that not only understands, but loves him as much as he loves her and cares about him. Holden pictures Phoebe different than who she really is. He thinks that Phoebe is a sweet, innocent little child that has not yet been ruined by the phoniness of the world. Phoebes childhood is everything Holden wishes to have; nothing to worry about and feeling happy all the time.
However, he realizes that Phoebes childhood is much different than he had pictured it. Phoebe is more mature and has a better understanding of the world. Oh, why did you do it? She meant why did I get the ax again. It made me sort of sad, the way she said it. (Salinger, 166) Instead of sympathizing with him and making him feel better, she made even more depressed. Phoebe understands that the fact that Holden has been expelled from school, not only once, but many time, is because Holden does not want to grow up. Phoebe wants Holden to realize that he needs to grow up.

To Holden, the adult world is a place he wishes to stay away from. In a way, Holden is lost between childhood and adulthood. He is afraid to enter the cruel world of adult hypocrisy. Phoebe, however, knows that growing up is an important process. Phoebe challenges Holdens view of the world. She asks him what he wants to be when he grows up. Im standing on the edge of some crazy cliff I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliffI mean if theyre running and they dont look where theyre going I have to come out from somewhere and catch themId just be the catcher in the rye and all.
His response to Phoebes question reveals his fantasy of idealistic childhood and of his role as the protector of innocence. This fantasy of becoming the catcher in the rye shows his childish side, that he is having trouble seeing the world any other way. Phoebe response to Holdens dream is Daddys going to kill you. (Salinger, 173) She sees it as a crazy, unrealistic idea. She, also, knows that he would never go anywhere with it because the innocent kids that he wants to protect have to grow up and become adults just like everyone else. Through Phoebe, the reader can understand Holden better.

In the first half of the novel, the reader hears Holdens side of the story, which is how the adult world is killing him. Holden blames the adults for his depression and loneliness. He believes that he is the only noble person in the world. Next to Phoebe, Holdens maturity and stubborn outlook seem less charming and more foolish. You dont like anything thats happeningyou dont like any schools. You dont like a million things. You dont (Salinger, 169) Holden couldnt think of one actual thing that he liked. This quote proves that Holden, not the adult world, is the cause of his depression, thus making him his own worse enemy.
He cannot find anything good in anybody or anything, and even if he does, he still has something bad to say about them. Phoebe is the first and the only important character that explains Holdens real character and the problems that he has brought upon himself. However, it can be argued that Mr. Antolini is the person who introduces the reader to the fact that Holden is his own worse enemy, but it is through Phoebe, who knows Holden the best, that one first realizes that Holden has been dumb and childish and has brought all this problems upon himself.

Phoebes relationship with Holden is one of the most important relationships in the novel. Holdens love for Phoebe gives him energy him when he feels lonely and unhappy. Phoebe makes Holdens picture of childhoodof children romping though a field of ryeseem oversimplified. Phoebe seems to realize that Holdens bitterness toward the rest of the world is really bitterness toward himself. She sees that he is a deeply sad insecure young man who needs love and support. At the end of the book, when she shows up at the museum and demands to come with him, she seems not so much to Holden as to understand that he needs her.

Phoebe Catcher in the Rye

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