In The Catcher in the Rye, what did Holden realise when Phoebe wanted to grab the ring in the carousel?
Holden said, "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." Did this have a relation with the "Shut up!" Phoebe gave to Holden when he wanted her to go back to her school? Was he afraid of another harsh response?
In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden and Phoebe are near the zoo when they decide to walk over to the carousel. Holden decides to allow Phoebe to try to grab the golden ring (which is mounted on the carousel).
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.
Holden actually thinks like an adult here. He recognizes the fact that some mistakes need to happen so that children learn from them. Holden knows that if Phoebe were to fall off of the carousel she would not try to grab for the ring again.
That being said, Holden could be worried about Phoebe "going off" on him again. She has scolded him and told him to shut up. To Holden, Phoebe means everything to him. If she were to yell at him, he feelings would most likely get hurt. Given that the only reason that she is with him, at this point in the novel, is because she wants to leave with him, her getting angry any running away would not be good for Holden.
This realization is actually intended to represent Holden’s coming of age. It was only a short time before that he told Phoebe he wanted to be a catcher in the rye-- that is, he wanted to have the responsibility of catching little children who were in danger of falling. Now at the carousel he is evidently giving up that fantasy, realizing that it is impossible and detrimental. The carousel itself tends to symbolize his coming of age. He realizes that he is too old to enjoy riding on it anymore. He could conceivably buy a ticket and stand beside Phoebe holding her by the waist, but he knows she would hate that. He has already had his turn to ride on the carousel, and now it is time to let other people ride and other people to grab for the gold ring. They too in time will outgrow the carousel and realize that the gold ring is really made of brass and not good for anything, except possibly for another ride, even if you catch it. All the copies of The Catcher in the Rye have shown the carved wooden horse on the cover, as if to highlight the importance of this carousel and this moment in time to the story.