In The Catcher in the Rye, what impact do Phoebe and Jane have on Holden's life?

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teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Phoebe and Jane represent innocence. Jane is a catalyst that sets the plot in motion. She is a friend of Holden's. When he finds out she has a blind date with his handsome roommate Stradlater, who epitomizes a dangerous phoniness to Holden (Holden calls him "unscrupulous"), he fears Stradlater will take advantage of Jane. When Stradlater returns from the date, Holden's fear and jealousy overwhelm him, and he gets into a fistfight with Stradlater. After this, Holden flees. He says:

I sort of needed a little vacation. My nerves were shot. They really were. 

He packs a suitcase, sells his typewriter, and leaves Pencey. He is flush with a "wad" of money from his grandmother.

If Holden wanted to protect Jane, he also longs to protect his younger sister, Phoebe, a smart, red-headed ten-year-old. He loves her, and she most wholly represents innocence to him. If Holden's feelings for Jane are shot with sexual tension, his feelings for Phoebe are purely protective. He is already reeling from his intelligent, red-headed younger brother, Allie's, death from leukemia, and he feels determined to connect with this sister. Much of his wandering in New York City is motivated by her: he buys her a record and goes to places like Central Park where he thinks he might find her. Finally, he sneaks in to visit her at his parents' apartment. When she accuses him of not liking anything, he reveals to her, as he has to nobody else, the desire of his heart: to protect children, who represent innocence, from danger:

"I thought it was 'If a body catch a body,'" I said. "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."

Jane and Phoebe represent idealized illusions of innocence to Holden, and they act as motivators to him.

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pmiranda2857's profile pic

pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Holden's appreciation and love of family is expressed through his relationship with Phoebe. She also represents honesty and sincerity, something Holden has a hard time finding in adults and his peers.

"She has a strong influence on her older sibling. Holden admires this "pretty little kid," raving about how smart and talented and neat she is."

"She is very literate and articulate, and she listens closely when Holden is venting his frustrations about life at school."

Jane helps Holden appreciate his childhood innocence with sweet memories of simpler times.

Jane is a symbol of Holden's idealized memory of a summer they spent together in Maine, when they held hands and played checkers.  Jane contributes to Holden's desire for the past and the lost innocence he has experienced by growing up. Holden wants Jane to remain as he remembers her, the evidence of this is:

"He is upset when he suspects Stradlater of taking sexual liberties with her. Throughout the novel, Holden keeps meaning to give her a call but never gets to it."

Jane and Phoebe are the two most important female characters in the book.