The Catcher in the Rye By J. D. Salinger Summary and Analysis Chapter 21

Summary

Holden wants to visit Phoebe at the family apartment, in the middle of the night, without his parents' knowledge. Fortunately, there is a new elevator operator on duty who does not recognize him. Holden pretends to be visiting the Dicksteins who have an apartment on the same floor as his parents. Using his key to enter, Holden sneaks to Phoebe's room only to realize that she now is sleeping in D.B.'s room because he is away in Hollywood; she likes the huge desk and bed. Holden peruses items on her desk, by lamplight, until he wakens Phoebe. She reveals that their parents are out for the evening and will return very late. The maid is in the apartment to care for the girl. As they talk, Phoebe guesses that Holden has been expelled and concludes that their father will kill him. Upset, she hides her head under a pillow. Holden goes to the living room for cigarettes.

Analysis

Phoebe's significance in the novel is crucial. Despite her youth, she sometimes seems to be Holden's best friend. He can confide in her and share his dreams. Like a real friend, she does not always agree. She often sees right through her brother, detecting early on that he has been kicked out of Pencey Prep. Her advice frequently is superior to what Holden plans to do. Phoebe is also Holden's most trusted connection to family and home. On the other hand, she has trouble understanding Holden's darker side. She wonders why he is so self-destructive and why he doesn't just succeed in school the way she does. She may not quite grasp what he means by being the "catcher in the rye."

Phoebe is also a fascinating character in her own right. One way that Salinger shows this is through the indirect device of Holden's examination of all the "stuff" on her desk. In her arithmetic book, Phoebe has written her name as "Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield." Her actual middle name is Josephine, but Holden tells us that she hates it and is always trying others on for size. In this case, she has chosen the last name of her own fictional girl detective, Hazle Weatherfield. Phoebe shares with her brother a desire to make life a little more interesting.

We learn that Phoebe is a good student but she is best in spelling. What she really seems best at, though, is being Phoebe. Her notebooks reveal a 10-year-old with a rich imagination, deep secrets to share with friends, and a healthy curiosity about her own identity. Although she wonders who she is, she clearly is not lost as Holden is. Holden finds stability in his younger sister.

Some of Phoebe's charm derives from the fact that she is only 10 years old, and Holden (like Salinger) values the innocence and authenticity of childhood. She is passionate about sharing a special movie with her best friend, Alice. Elephants "knock her out," and she wears blue pajamas with red elephants on the collars. A leading role (as Benedict Arnold) in the school play thrills her; she insists that Holden must attend Friday night's performance. Phoebe shares Holden's tendency toward digression, to the point that he has to interrupt her three times to discover when their parents are scheduled to return.

Phoebe is also a compassionate person, a girl with a heart. When Holden shows her the smashed recording of "Little Shirley Beans," Phoebe instantly senses the importance of the gift and wants to save the pieces, which she sticks in the drawer of her nightstand. She seems considerably more concerned about Holden's dismissal from Pencey than he is.

Glossary

foyer an entrance hall of a house or apartment.

sagitarius Phoebe, whose best subject is spelling, has misspelled "Sagittarius," the ninth sign of the zodiac, entered by the sun about November 21.

taurus Taurus (capital "T") is the second sign of the zodiac, entered by the sun about April 21.

Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) notorious American Revolutionary War general, who became a traitor and attempted to surrender West Point to the British.

Annapolis the capital of Maryland and location of the United States Naval Academy.

windbreaker a warm jacket of leather, wool, etc., having a closefitting elastic waistband and cuffs.

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