The Catcher in the Rye

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Phoebe Caulfield Character Analysis

Holden's younger sister. Though only ten years old, Phoebe is considerably more mature than Holden. She is a voice of reason throughout the novel, both in Holden's thoughts and in the advice she gives to him in person. Phoebe is also unusually perceptive: her insight into Holden's misanthropy, his hatred of almost everything, is a key turning point in the novel. It's no coincidence that perhaps the most level headed and intelligent character in the novel is a child. Holden idealizes childhood and values children's ideas and opinions more than those of adults. Phoebe's intelligence and wise counsel offer a strong contrast to the lectures he receives from the various teachers and headmasters that he despises.

Phoebe Caulfield Quotes in The Catcher in the Rye

The The Catcher in the Rye quotes below are all either spoken by Phoebe Caulfield or refer to Phoebe Caulfield. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Phoniness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Little, Brown edition of The Catcher in the Rye published in 2001.
Chapter 22 Quotes
"You don't like anything that's happening."
It made me even more depressed when she said that.
"Yes I do. Yes I do. Sure I do. Don't say that. Why the hell do you say that?"
"Because you don't. You don't like any schools. You don't like a million things. You don't."
"I do! That's where you're wrong—that's exactly where you're wrong! Why the hell do you have to say that?" I said. Boy, was she depressing me. "Because you don't," she said. "Name one thing."
"One thing? One thing I like?" I said. "Okay."
The trouble was, I couldn't concentrate too hot. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield (speaker)
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

When Holden complains about the other students at Pencey, Phoebe challenges him to name something he likes. She pokes fun at his misanthropic behavior, showing that Holden’s critical views are equally and unfairly applied to everything.

The brilliance of Phoebe’s comment, “You don’t like anything that’s happening” is that it points out the indiscriminate quality of Holden’s criticisms. If he does indeed find everything negative, then his specific contentions with each school and each thing cannot be taken seriously. This would render Holden a banal cynic, as opposed to a genuine outsider who can articulate compelling views. To defend his position, Holden finds himself ironically affirming that he enjoys some elements of life: yet his repeated insistences “Yes I do. Yes I do. Sure I do,” only repeat empty terms instead of actually providing an example. And when he is pushed to “name one thing,” he cannot come up with a single example.

We should note that Holden is at least partly sensitive to Phoebe’s criticisms. Were they to come from another character, Holden would likely find her points irrelevant or themselves phony, yet here he takes them quite seriously. Salinger stresses, then, Holden’s close relationship to his siblings and the way he will accept criticism from those whose opinion he values. Furthermore, Holden does not want to just be seen as a depressive who finds everything meaningless: he evidently maintains a wish to enjoy certain things and to defend that his criticisms of specific “phony” things are indeed valid.

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Chapter 25 Quotes
[W]hile I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody'd written "Fuck you" on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they'd wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them....I hardly even had the guts to rub it off the wall with my hand, if you want to know the truth. I was afraid some teacher would catch me rubbing it off and would think I'd written it. But I rubbed it out anyway, finally.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

When Holden goes to Phoebe’s school, he sees this note written on the wall. He becomes furious in response and tries desperately to remove the profane language.

Though the reader should be skeptical of Holden’s repeated use of the word “crazy” by now, it is evident that the words move him into a state of intense anger. His anger comes, as usual, from a envisioned scene: the kids reading the words and then learning their significance. For Holden, this moment stands for their corruption and their permanent departure from childhood into adolescence. Holden himself often swears, demonstrating that he has no direct issue with this language as such. Rather, he hates the effect it would have on the kids, reinforcing the way Holden wants to play a protective “catcher” role for younger children.

That Holden hesitates from removing it indicates a continued care in how he is perceived by others—for he does not want to be associated with such profane behavior. Again, Salinger stresses the fact that despite Holden’s misanthropic rejection of society, he is deeply attentive to how others might perceive his actions. Yet in this case, his wish to protect the schoolchildren overwhelms those sensibilities—implying that Holden may have grown a bit more selfless.

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 them.
Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 273
Explanation and Analysis:

Holden watches Phoebe on the carousel and reflects on the way she and many others will make mistakes. He believes that intervention must have a limit and that children should be allowed to make errors and suffer the consequences.

This point of view marks a striking inversion in Holden’s character. Before, he praised the role of the catcher in the rye: a figure who would have prevented any children from falling. Yet here, despite the fear “she’d fall off the goddamn horse,” Holden believes that his inaction is actually preferable. He implies that being overly protective actually serves children badly and that they must be allowed to make their own mistakes.

Again, Holden has adopted an oddly mature perspective on children. The line “The thing with kids is” marks him as a wizened adult offering advice, whereas in just the previous chapter he has been receiving advice from Mr. Antolini. Salinger stresses the way Holden’s identity continues to shift based on his social context—becoming at times the wise sage, at others the uneducated, rebellious teenager. And as with the image of the catcher in the rye, his comment invariably reflects back on what Holden himself requires: at the novel’s end, perhaps, he no longer wants just to be caught by others, but rather seems to have recognized that the process of falling itself has merit. Thus the poetic moment of the carousel expresses his maturation both in the way he looks from a distance at the state of childhood, and in the way that he himself no longer craves being saved by another.

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Phoebe Caulfield Character Timeline in The Catcher in the Rye

The timeline below shows where the character Phoebe Caulfield appears in The Catcher in the Rye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Women and Sex Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...New York, Holden wants to talk to someone, and considers calling D.B., his younger sister Phoebe, Jane, or another friend named Sally Hayes. He calls none of them. (full context)
Chapter 10
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Holden again considers calling Phoebe. Holden describes Phoebe: she has red hair, is very intelligent, funny, and creative (she writes... (full context)
Chapter 16
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
It's now Sunday. Holden buys a children's record for Phoebe and thinks about how Phoebe always understands what he's really saying. While passing a church... (full context)
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Holden then heads over to the Mall, a part of the park where Phoebe often roller-skates on Sundays. He meets a girl who thinks Phoebe's at the Museum of... (full context)
Chapter 20
Phoniness Theme Icon
Women and Sex Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...the ducks in the lagoon. During the walk, Holden drops the record he bought for Phoebe and nearly cries. At the park, the lagoon is half frozen and there are no... (full context)
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Holden thinks how awful Phoebe would feel if he died of pneumonia, so he decides to go see her. He... (full context)
Chapter 21
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Holden sneaks into his family's apartment. He finds Phoebe in D.B.'s room, where she likes to sleep when D.B. is away. Holden notices how... (full context)
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While Phoebe sleeps, Holden looks through her school notebooks. Her scribbling and drawings delight him and he... (full context)
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Holden wakes Phoebe up. She's overjoyed to see him and floods him with news, from her role as... (full context)
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Phoebe then realizes Holden is home two days too early. Holden admits he got expelled. Phoebe... (full context)
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...away to a ranch in Colorado. She keeps the pillow over her head. Holden calls Phoebe a "true madman." (full context)
Chapter 22
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Phoebe asks why Holden flunked out of Pencey. He tries to explain about phonies. Phoebe says... (full context)
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Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Holden finally says he likes Allie and talking to Phoebe. Phoebe says that doesn't count because Allie is dead. (full context)
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Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Phoebe then asks Holden what he would like to be. After some thought, he mentions the... (full context)
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Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Phoebe realizes that Holden has misheard the words to a Robert Browning poem. She explains that... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Holden convinces Phoebe to dance with him, but their parents come home. Holden hides in the closet until... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
As Holden walks down Fifth Avenue, he remembers shopping there with Phoebe. A sudden fear comes over Holden that he'll fall off the curb and not make... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
He decides to see Phoebe one last time. He leaves a note at her school asking her to meet him... (full context)
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Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
While waiting for Phoebe at the Museum of Art, Holden tries to help some kids find the room with... (full context)
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Phoebe shows up at the museum and begs Holden to take her with him out West.... (full context)
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Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
At the zoo, Holden convinces Phoebe to take a ride on the carousel, which plays the same song it played when... (full context)