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The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

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Phoebe Caulfield

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Extended Character Analysis

Phoebe Caulfield is Holden’s younger sister. Phoebe is Holden's favorite person and the only one he can truly communicate with. In contrast to his jaded outlook, Phoebe's perspective is amusing and refreshing, and she is also emotional and affectionate.

Phoebe is ten years old, skinny, and has reddish hair similar to her deceased brother, Allie. Holden describes her as an ideal kid. Bright, creative, and well-organized, she is intelligent and understands things around her as they are. She keeps all her school work in labelled notebooks and loves to write fictional stories. Holden describes a story that she has written about a strong girl detective named “Hazle Weatherfield.”

Throughout The Catcher in the Rye, Holden often wants to call her, because he views her as someone who has “sense.” It's likely J.D. Salinger includes Phoebe is a counterexample to Jane Gallagher, Sally Hayes, and the adult characters in The Catcher in the Rye. Although he is her older brother, Holden idealizes Phoebe and sees her as mature and incredibly intelligent. The adult characters, in comparison to Phoebe, lack intelligence and common sense. They are “phony” and affected. Phoebe represents to Holden the pure and ideal. However, Phoebe’s character is described from the standpoint of Holden, who is a biased, unreliable narrator. He chooses to view her in this way.

However, Phoebe plays a larger role than just this. Phoebe is independent, straightforward, and a catalyst for Holden. She does not share his disenchantment with the world and scolds him for not liking anything. For example, when she asks him if there is anything that he likes a lot, Holden struggles to answer. She calls her brother out on his depressive tendencies and glum outlook, and she pushes him to recognize his inability to answer her clearly. Although Holden cannot come up with a positive idea right away, he does eventually say he likes his younger brother, Allie. Phoebe angrily reminds him that their brother is dead.

Phoebe also exhibits more kindness than any other characters in The Catcher in the Rye. For example, she gives Holden all of her savings for Christmas to make sure he can afford to get around New York City. Her kindness causes Holden to cry, which shows how Phoebe provides Holden with much-needed comfort and genuine emotion. Furthermore, both Phoebe and Holden show that they care for each other. Holden focuses much of his efforts to go and see Phoebe, and when Holden tells Phoebe he’s leaving for the west, Phoebe packs a bag and insists he take her with him. Additionally, almost all of Holden’s happy moments in revolve around Phoebe.

Phoebe brings logic and realism to her conversations with Holden. Unlike the adults in the novel, her questions are clear and unclouded, exempt of the “phoniness” that Holden despises. Phoebe makes him see his actions and words more clearly by pointing out that Allie is dead. She asks him what he wants to be in the future, a question that Holden seems to avoid throughout the novel due to his aimless nature. Phoebe manages to draw out Holden’s wish to be a “catcher in the rye” who keeps the children playing in the rye fields safe. Phoebe’s interactions with Holden show his desire for a world where adulthood never arrives and children can play happily. Although Phoebe is only a young girl, her part in the novel is that of a guide or mentor to Holden. She leads him toward a final understanding of himself.

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Holden Caulfield


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