Meeting Phoebe

Meeting Phoebe Caulfield...
The Catcher in the Rye
Nick, Jay and Chelsea
Phoebe is Holden’s 10 year old sister, although 6 years in age difference her innocence is
his only true source of happiness, so it becomes his mission to protect her. For her age
she is very intelligent, neat and a great dancer. Phoebe is talked about a lot prior to her
actual parts in the novel. She is talked up by her brother Holden, who admires her, seems
to be the only person Holden truly cares about. This is shown by the way he talks about,
how often he talks about etc.
She is portrayed as ‘child like’ acting as if she is ten years of age however at the same time
has this interesting thing about her as she also have an ‘adult like’ incisiveness. She’s got
the smarts to figure out that Holden has been expelled again and that he really doesn’t
like anything at all. But child like in the sense that she writes her diary with exclamation
points and says “Daddy’ll kill you” clinging on to her innocence by acting and speaking as
her child like self.
The way he talks about her is exactly what we get when it comes to meeting her- she is as
amazing as he says. She knows Holden inside and out, she is our gateway to him. She is
one of the only ones that realise that Holden is his own worst enemy.
Meeting Phoebe
Chapters 21-23 and 25
Relevant themes:
Obscurity of Growing up
Clinging to Innocence
Superficiality of adult world
Phoebe asks Holden what he’d like to be and she suggests a Lawyer, like their dad.
“Lawyers are alright, I guess – but it doesn’t appeal to me... Even if you did go
around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you
really wanted to save guys’ lives, or you did it because what you really wanted to
do was be a terrific lawyer, with everyone slapping you on the back and
congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over.... How would you
know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn’t.” – Chapter 22
Holden has a huge issue with the “phonies” in his society. Although he approves of
the ‘saving innocent people’s lives’ part of being a Lawyer, the one thing that
troubles him is the intentions behind saving the innocent person’s life, whether it
be for justice, or just to make themselves look good.
This all links to the theme of the Superficiality of the Adult World in Holden’s
“I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of Rye
and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around... Except me. I’m
standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch
everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean, they’re running and they
don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch
them. “ – Chapter 22
The Rye field can be perceived as a symbol of childhood, as the Rye is so high
that the children cannot see over it and this symbolizes how the children are
confined to their innocence and can’t see beyond it.
Standing on the cliff that separates the rye field of “childhood” from the cliff of
“adulthood”, Holden wants to protect the innocence of childhood from the fall
into the obscure and “phony” adult world. With his own innocence in jeopardy
due to being an adolescent, Holden wants to be a saviour of the innocence
missing in the society around him, a society that has let him fall over the cliff
into adulthood alone.
In chapter 25 When Holden meets up with Phoebe at the museum, she demands
to go with him, but it is unclear whether she needs him or whether she is worried
that he needs her. Despite her young age, it’s safe to assume that she has a better
perspective on the situation than Holden, so the latter explanation seems more
Holden sees the effect his plans have on someone he cares about—a first sign of
true maturity.
When Holden watches Phoebe go around and around on the carousel, he finds
himself truly happy as he participates in a scene of childhood joy and innocence.
With Phoebe, he seems to have found the human contact he was searching for
throughout the entire novel.
This reflects the obscurity of growing up, as Holden’s journey to adulthood has
been made far more difficult due to the death of his little brother Allie. Holden’s
process of self-discovery has been hindered by this event, and it causes him to
have a bitter perspective on the world around him. Phoebe is depicted as one of
the pinnacles of innocence in this novel by Holden, and she is the only glimmer of
innocence Holden can cling onto, hence why she has such an impact on him. She is
the only character Holden doesn’t have bitter views on, as she isn’t “phony” in any
shape or form, unlike the rest of society.
Character Analysis
Holden talks his sister up to no end. She's the smartest kid ever, he assures us, as well as a great dancer,
emotional, and funny. She always knows what you're talking about. She can tell the difference between a good
movie and a bad one. She listens.
Then we meet Phoebe. And basically, she's everything Holden said she would be. She's a pretty amazing character
because she somehow manages to be all over the above, but still very much ten years old. (Check out her
notebook scribblings – they're a ten-year-olds in every way.) 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
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
(adult). 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). Now what about her wanting to run away with
Holden? Child or adult? Child, sure, because she packs a suitcase thinking stubbornly that she'll go out West
somewhere and not come back. No, wait, that's Holden. Phoebe isn't gung-ho to run away, she's gung-go to be
with Holden, and it's rather likely that she's doing so because she feels – probably not consciously – that he needs
someone to care for him.
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. Phoebe gives back to Holden, unlike every other character ever (see
Holden's character analysis for details).
So, in Holden's eyes, Phoebe is exactly the sort of child he wants to protect by being the catcher in the rye. It's no
surprise that she's the one he chooses to tell about his dream. Her reaction ("Daddy's going to kill you") doesn't
convey it, but we have a feeling Phoebe knows exactly what Holden's talking about – just as he promised us she
Summed up: she is funny, smart, emotional, and is basically just as great a child as Holden
makes her out to be, which he does, as she seems to be the character that is mentioned by
Holden the most.
She has traits of both adult and child, likely so that the adult side shows maturity in her, and
allows her to make judgments about Holden and to help him see himself through someone
else’s eyes. This makes her a more interesting person to Holden, but the child is part is more
important; as we see that Phoebe is so highly talked about by Holden, it implies that he
admires the fact that she is a child, that she is so easily able to maintain her innocence that
Holden so badly wants for himself.
Phoebe makes Holden’s picture of childhood—of children romping through a field of rye—
seem oversimplified, an idealized fantasy. Phoebe’s character challenges Holden’s view of the
world: she is a child, but she does not fit into Holden’s romanticized vision of childlike
innocence. Although she never explicitly states it, Phoebe seems to realize that Holden’s
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 need Holden as to understand that he needs her.
Phoebe, as one of the only people who Holden cares about, serves as a form of ground for
Holden, as a reason to keep him going through a world he believes himself to hate.
• Phoebe to Holden: "You don't like anything that's happening. . . . You
don't like any schools. You don't like a million things. You don't"
• "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in
this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's
around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And I'm standing on the edge
of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if
they start to go over the cliff-I mean if they're running and they don't
look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and
catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye
and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I
know it's crazy"
• "All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old
Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I
didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want
to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say
anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to