How would you describe Holden and Phoebe's relationship in The Catcher in the Rye?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Chapters 21 through 25 make mention of Holden Caulfield's sister Phoebe, "old Poebe" as he affectionately calls her. It is clear from Holden's descriptions and remarks about his little sister, that he loves her. 

  • Phoebe is an ingenuous child, who readily and honestly displays her feelings. When Holden sneaks into the apartment and wakes Phoebe, she hugs him immediately.

She always listens when you tell her something. And the funny part of it is she knows, half the time, what the hell you're talking about. She really does.

  • Phoebe is honest and candid with Holden, not "phony," a characteristic that he loathes in people. When Holden tells Phoebe that he did not like anything that was happening at the school he has run away from, Phoebe remarks, "You don't like anything that's happening." And, she forces Holden to name something he does like, challenging him.
  • Phoebe does not judge Holden; instead, she just listens. Even if she is not certain of the meaning of all that Holden says, she listens. While she scolds her brother about leaving school, saying "Dad's going to kill you," Phoebe still does not pass judgment upon him.
  • After Holden is with Phoebe for a while, they dance and Phoebe is able to follow him well; this gives Holden much pleasure and he is proud of how well Phoebe can learn dance steps.

In between numbers, she is funny as hell. She stays right in position....

  • Holden is always relaxed with Phoebe; in the stores, "she enjoys horsing around and looking at the people." One time in a shoe store, Phoebe tried on all kinds of storm shoes, frustrating the salesman; finally, she bought another type of shoe. Her antics amuse Holden.
  • Most of all, Phoebe loves Holden, kissing him and wanting to be with him, even willing to run off with him. In the final chapter, Holden watches his little sister on a carousel, feeling happy because "she looked so...nice."

Holden's and Phoebe's relationship is a close, loving one, but, ironically, Phoebe is often more mature than Holden, who is years older than she. Certainly, Phoebe is Holden's emotional anchor; for, with his sister there is no need for pretense or embarrassment.

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