Who is Phoebe in The Catcher in the Rye and why is she called "old" Phoebe?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Besides being a term of endearment, Holden's calling his sister old Phoebe indicates that he has known her for a long time, that he knows and understands her very well, and that he likes almost everything he knows about her character. He especially likes the fact that she is completely honest and natural, that she is not a phony and couldn't be a phony because she wouldn't know how. She serves as a contrast to the many phony adults he has enountered in his brief stay in New York. Both Holden and Phoebe are obviously exceptionally intelligent--like the members of the Glass family Salinger will write about later, notably in "Franny" and "Zooey"--although Holden doesn't think of himself as being intelligent. Because the brother and sister are both so intelligent, they understand each other easily and without having to engage in a lot of explanations. Because they have had good communication for years in spite of their age difference, Holden thinks of her as an old friend. Throughout the novel Holden is feeling terribly lonely and seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It is only at the end when he is briefly united with one person he loves and who truly loves him, that he experiences an epiphany which will lead to his being healed.

lizbv eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Phoebe is Holden Caulfield's little sister.  He describes her as a smart and funny kid, and he makes it clear that he truly loves and admires her.  She represents his love and admiration for children; Holden loves the innocence of children and the fact that they have not yet been hit by life and the phoniness that adults portray.

He refers to her as "old" Phoebe more than anything else as a term of endearment.  It is typical of the time period to refer to someone you know well as "old" so-and-so, and that is how he also refers to her. It does not suggest her age or his view of her in any way.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Phoebe is Holden's younger sister. He refers to her as "old" Phoebe as a term of endearment. Meaning, good old Phoebe, one of the only people that Holden really trusts.

For Holden, all adults are phonies and cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Holden has difficulty with his peer relationships also. He does not really have friends.

Phoebe is the only constant in Holden's life. His sister is the only person who can tell Holden that he has messed up his life. She can be counted on, he loves her and depends on her love.

atyourservice | Student

Phoebe is Holden's younger sister in the catcher in the rye. She is the only character in the book we see him showing affection to. He sees her as someone who is smarter than him, and someone he confides him. In his mind she is an innocent child, and unlike all of the other adults around him she is not a phony. The reason he calls her old Phoebe is because he was known her for a long time. If you read the book you would notice he says the word old a lot in front of names. It might be his way of showing familiarity to a person.

Wiggin42 | Student

She is his younger sister. She brings him comfort.

Phoebe Josephine Caulfield, Holden’s wiry, red-haired, and bright ten-year-old sister. Regarding Phoebe as a living copy of all that he loved in Allie, Holden creeps home Sunday night to seek out her loyal companionship and her understanding. He is comforted by Phoebe’s jauntiness and vitality; he yearns to protect her from the ugliness he perceives in the world around them. A last coherent memory he has before his breakdown is of a rush of happiness as he watches Phoebe serenely riding the Central Park carousel, a tangible link with much that was joyous in his own childhood.

mbg1400 | Student

Phoebe is Holden's younger sister.

Old feebs is an  endearment describing his younger sister Phoebe. 

He thinks she is really smart, is pretty, and is a great dancer. Her speaks highly of her and loves her very much.


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The Catcher in the Rye

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