The Catcher in the Rye

Phoebe Caulfield Character Analysis

Phoebe is Holden's younger sister. Though only 10 years old, she is considerably more mature than Holden, though Holden actually covets her because of her youthful innocence. She is a voice of reason throughout the novel, both in Holden's thoughts and in the advice she gives to him in person. For example, when he sneaks home in the middle of the night to talk to her, she gently admonishes him for failing out of Pencey before encouraging him to drop his relentless cynicism and figure out what, exactly, he wants to do with his life. Indeed, Phoebe is unusually perceptive, and her insight into Holden's misanthropy—his hatred of almost everything—forces him to introspectively examine the way he views the world. In keeping with this, it is because of Phoebe that he finally decides to assume a sense of responsibility. This happens when Phoebe decides that she’s going to come with him after he declares that he’s going to move out West. Her decision makes him see that this is an absurd idea, and because he doesn’t want to ruin his sister’s life, he finally starts thinking levelheadedly about his own choices. On another note, it's no coincidence that perhaps the most even-keeled and intelligent character in the novel is a child, since Holden idealizes childhood and values children's opinions more than those of adults. Phoebe's intelligence and wise counsel therefore offer a strong contrast to the lectures he receives from his various teachers and headmasters, whom he resents.

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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Little, Brown edition of The Catcher in the Rye published in 2001.
Chapter 16 Quotes

She was a very nice, polite little kid. God, I love it when a kid’s nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are. I asked her if she’d care to have a hot chocolate or something with me, but she said no, thank you. She said she had to meet her friend. Kids always have to meet their friend. That kills me.

Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
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The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.

Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
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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
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:
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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.

Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose... I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact.

Related Characters: Holden Caulfield (speaker), Phoebe Caulfield
Related Symbols: The Catcher in the Rye
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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:
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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
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...Penn Station in New York, Holden wants to talk to someone, and considers calling D.B., Phoebe (his younger sister), Jane, or another friend named Sally Hayes. He even considers calling a... (full context)
Chapter 10
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...hosts bands. As he puts on a new shirt, he considers calling his little sister, Phoebe, whom he cares about very much. He notes that Phoebe is surprisingly intelligent, funny, and... (full context)
Chapter 16
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Holden decides to buy a record for Phoebe. The album is for children, and Holden knows it might be hard to find, but... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Women and Sex Theme Icon
...these things, so he hastily ducks into a record store and buys the album for Phoebe. Though it’s rather expensive, purchasing it for her once again improves his mood. Eager to... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Having secured theater tickets, Holden goes to the park to find Phoebe. When he arrives, though, she’s nowhere to be seen, so he asks a little girl... (full context)
Chapter 20
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...the ducks in the lagoon. On his way, he drops the record he bought for Phoebe and nearly starts crying again, scooping up the broken pieces and putting them in his... (full context)
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Envisioning his own death, Holden thinks of 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
...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... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Holden wakes Phoebe, who’s overjoyed to see him and immediately floods him with news, telling him about her... (full context)
Chapter 22
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...living room to fetch a cigarette from a small box on the table, Holden reenters Phoebe’s room. She is still “ostracizing” him, but she has at least started talking to him... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Phoebe doesn’t say anything to Holden, but he can tell she’s listening, so he keeps talking... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Phoebe accuses Holden of never liking anything. When he argues this point, she challenges him to... (full context)
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Finally, Holden says that he likes Allie and talking to Phoebe. Phoebe, for her part, says this doesn’t count because Allie is dead, but Holden says... (full context)
Women and Sex Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Still trying to answer Phoebe’s question, Holden mentions the song he heard a little boy singing on the street earlier... (full context)
Chapter 23
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Back in Phoebe’s room, Holden convinces his little sister to dance with him. Since he thinks Phoebe is... (full context)
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
...prepares to leave. Because he’s running low on money, though, he’s forced to borrow from Phoebe. He feels guilty for taking the money she has saved to buy Christmas presents, but... (full context)
Chapter 25
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...unable to eat. He then begins to walk down Fifth Avenue, remembering how he took Phoebe Christmas shopping there two years ago. This is a fond memory, but it doesn’t help... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...do is leave New York City once and for all. Wanting to say goodbye to Phoebe, he goes to her school and gives an administrator in the principal’s office a note... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
After delivering the note for Phoebe, Holden exits the school by using a different staircase. On his way out, he notices... (full context)
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
...that he didn’t hit his head on the floor. Exiting the bathroom, he waits for Phoebe and imagines his life out West, thinking that he’ll only let people visit him in... (full context)
Phoniness Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Although she’s late, Phoebe finally arrives lugging a large suitcase. When Holden tells her he doesn’t need anything from... (full context)
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Holden grabs Phoebe’s suitcase and leaves it at the coat-check in the museum. He then tries to walk... (full context)
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
After meandering silently through the zoo, Holden and Phoebe start to walk toward a large carousel where Holden, Allie, and D.B. used to take... (full context)
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
When Phoebe finishes riding the carousel, Holden encourages her to take another ride. Before she does, though,... (full context)
Chapter 26
Phoniness Theme Icon
Alienation and Meltdown Theme Icon
Childhood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Madness, Depression, Suicide Theme Icon
Holden concludes by refusing to say what happened after he and Phoebe went to the carousel in the park. The only information he offers beyond this is... (full context)