What is the significance of the golden ring in The Catcher in the Rye?
As was mentioned in the previous post, Phoebe is riding a carousel and reaches for a golden ring in hopes of winning a prize. Holden watches as his sister risks her safety by reaching for the golden ring while she tries to balance on her horse. Despite wanting to prevent Phoebe from falling off the horse, Holden decides to let his sister and the other children reach for the ring. Symbolically, the golden ring represents maturity and adulthood. Throughout the novel, Holden fears entering the world of adults and wants to prevent other children from losing their innocence by being a symbolic "catcher in the rye." In this significant final scene, Holden accepts the fact that he cannot prevent any child from becoming an adult. Rather than intervene and save Phoebe from falling off the horse, Holden allows her to risk her safety as she grabs for the golden ring. Phoebe reaching for the golden ring symbolically represents her attempt at becoming an adult.
On an old-fashioned carousel, like the one Phoebe rides in Central Park at the end of the novel, there is a brass ring that riders can grab as they go around. If one grabs the ring, it usually means the rider will get a prize. So, “grabbing the brass ring” has become a cliché that means going after something or trying to accomplish a fulfilling life. It is important to Holden that Phoebe grab the brass ring as he realizes he cannot keep Phoebe innocent or a child forever. He understands that he needs to let her grow up and live her own life because he recognizes that he can’t protect her from the world. She is going to see all the cuss words written on the wall of the museum they visited. She will leave her childhood behind and go for what life has to offer her. She doesn’t need Holden to be her “catcher in the rye” if she is able to succeed in grabbing the brass ring.