The Catcher in the Rye


J. D. Salinger

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The Catcher in the Rye: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Holden sneaks into his family’s apartment by lying to the elevator operator, who is new to the building. Once inside the apartment, he slowly makes his way to Phoebe’s room but finds it empty. Remembering that Phoebe likes to sleep in D.B.’s room, he creeps there and turns on the light. At first, Phoebe doesn’t wake up, so Holden looks at her as she sleeps, thinking that children look much more peaceful than adults when they’re asleep. Before waking her, he looks around the room, eventually finding Phoebe’s school notebooks. Her writing and drawings delight him, especially when he sees that she signs her name “Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield” even though her real middle name is Josephine. 
This scene provides a familiar contrast between children and adults, a difference to which Holden is acutely attuned. As he looks at Phoebe’s notebooks, he treasures her innocence and intelligence, both of which he thinks are uninfluenced by the corruptive adult world. At the same time, though, it’s worth mentioning that he takes particular delight in Phoebe’s precocious nature. For instance, he likes that Phoebe has a practiced signature that includes a false middle name. Interestingly enough, her decision to use “Weatherfield” as her middle name is hilariously mature, as if she understands the implicit sense of sophistication that comes with a name like Weatherfield. This strikes Holden as very funny, but his pleasure regarding Phoebe’s eccentricities is noteworthy because what he seems to appreciate about her is that she is advanced for her age. Consequently, his idealization of her youthful purity strangely encompasses an appreciation of her adult-like traits, suggesting that he himself wants to embody a similar kind of maturity.
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Holden wakes Phoebe, who’s overjoyed to see him and immediately floods him with news, telling him about her role in an upcoming school play, a movie she saw that day, and that their parents aren’t home because they’re at a party. Hearing this, Holden begins to relax, though Phoebe is too distracted to answer his questions about when their parents will return. Soon enough, Phoebe realizes that Holden is home two days early. Instantly, she guesses that Holden has been kicked out of school yet again, and though Holden denies this at first, he eventually admits that she’s right. Telling him that their father is going to kill him, Phoebe starts crying and refuses to talk to Holden, declining to face him even after he assures her that he’ll be all right because he’s going to go work on a ranch in Colorado.
It's somewhat odd that Holden has no complaints about Phoebe, considering that she apparently likes many of the things he hates. For example, she speaks at length about the theater and the movies, two things he can’t stand. And yet, he loves her unconditionally. This suggests that he is quite capable of giving people the benefit of the doubt if he wants to, but that he actively searches for reasons to dislike most people. Even when Phoebe gets angry at him, he doesn’t lash out at her like he would with anyone else. Instead, he reveals a far-fetched plan to move to Colorado, demonstrating once again his own immaturity and unrealistic worldview.
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