QUESTION ONE : “The Catcher in the Rye” PAGE 2
Phoebe Caulfield is the younger sister of Holden Caulfield, the protagonist and narrator of The Catcher in the Rye. She is intelligent, neat, and intellectually mature, and her childish innocence is one of Holden’s only consistent sources of happiness throughout the novel. Phoebe serves as an anchor of support for Holden and the relationship between them does not change through the novel. Therefore, the character of Phoebe Caulfield can be regarded as a flat character.
Next to the delusions of Holden’s minds, Phoebe seems incredibly mature, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. This is the first fact that would define her as a flat character. She understands her brother Holden more than he understands himself and challenges his behaviours and actions, and even scolds Holden when she learns he has been kicked out of school. Despite the fact that Phoebe is about six years younger than her brother, she completely understands that growing up is inevitable, and that eventually everyone is going to have to mature and take on responsibility if they want to be adults who can function in society and have a real life. She is successful in school; her best course being spelling. She is the one who corrects Holden concerning the words to the Robert Burns poem that is the source of the novel’s title “The Catcher in the Rye”. Unlike their parents Phoebe knows that her brother is struggling and simply just wants to be there for him.
Phoebe serves as an anchor of support for Holden, with his sister there is no need for pretence or embarrassment. Phoebe is honest and ingenuous with Holden, not “phony” a character that he abhors 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 challenges Holden by forcing him to name something he does like. Phoebe does not judge Holden, even if she is not certain of what Holden sometimes says, instead she just listens. While she scolds her brother about leaving school, saying “Dad’s going to kill you”, Phoebe still does not pass judgement upon him. Holden is always relaxed with Phoebe and he turns to her for emotional support.
Relationship between Phoebe and Holden is extremely important because she represents innocence, the one thing Holden tries to look for throughout the entire book. A big part of Phoebe’s role in the novel is helping Holden to see how much he oversimplifies things. Phoebe makes Holden’s picture of childhood his idea of being “The Catcher in the Rye” while children play in the field an oversimplified, childish fantasy. She realizes her brother’s struggle and unhappiness. Holden appreciates every minute detail of Phoebe’s existence. Unlike their parents she knows that her brother is struggling. She simply just wants to be there for him. Holden’s and Phoebe’s relationship is a close, loving one, but ironically, Phoebe is often more mature than Holden.
Lastly, but not less importantly, the events in Holden’s life do not directly affect Phoebe. Although she never explicitly states it, Phoebe seems to realize that Holden’s bitterness toward the rest of the world is really bitterness toward himself. She sees that he is a deeply sad, insecure young man who needs love and support. She remains on the side-lines performing her role as Holden’s support system. As a flat character, Phoebe is also two-dimensional. We do learn some information about her, but hardly any really intimate facts that reveal her differently in the novel. She remains the same “old Phoebe” in the eyes of Holden. At the end of the book, when she shows up at the museum and demands to come with him, she’s not running away because she hates everyone and everything, she’s running away because she seems to think that Holden needs someone to care for him. And then, when Holden refuses to let her come, she takes care of him in her own way, in that touching carousel scene when she puts his red hunting hat back on his head.
Phoebe is Holden’s last hold out in his world of phony people who surround him. She represents innocence and purity. Phoebe is Holden’s go-to support mechanism and the mutual love that exists between Phoebe and Holden does not change either. The fact that she is unaffected by the events that happen to Holden confirms that she is a flat character. Had she undergone any significant changes as a result of Holden’s problems, then she would have been a round or dynamic character.