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Characters

Phoebe Winterbottom

Character Analysis

Kooky Phoebe

Oh, the Phoebster. Can't live with her, can't live without her. Phoebe is Sal's uptight best friend in Euclid. She's got an imagination the size of Antarctica. This imagination tends to get her into trouble, but it is also what makes her so totally loveable.

Sal is drawn to Phoebe from day one in Euclid, and, though it takes Phoebe a while to speak to her, Phoebe is drawn to Sal, too. More specifically, she's impressed by Sal's bravery, which is a bit surprising when you consider the fact that, "Phoebe had a way of sounding like a grown-up sometimes" (4.21). That's just it. Phoebe seems super mature and wise, but really, she's just as much a thirteen-year-old girl as Sal is.

Phoebe loves to judge other people, and she's darn good at it. Sal explains, "This was Phoebe's power. In her world, no one was ordinary. People were either perfect—like her father—or, more often, they were lunatics or axe-murderers. She could convince me of just about anything" (4.54). Phoebe convinces herself and Sal that her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Cadaver, is really an axe-murderer who chopped up her husband long ago and buried him in her backyard. Sound silly? Yup. But that's the thing – Phoebe is absolutely brilliant at convincing the people around her to believe utterly ridiculous things.

We've Got to Dig Deep

But underneath all the uptight attitudes and crazy stories, Phoebe is dealing with some much deeper stuff. Like Sal, Phoebe must deal with her mother's (temporary) abandonment. Only instead of coping with it, she convinces herself that her mother has been abducted, and never considers the possibility that her mother might have left willingly.

Of course Sal feels sorry for Phoebe and empathizes with how much she misses her mother, but that can only go so far. Sal reaches her limit when Phoebe spends the night at Sal's house and behaves like an absolute pill, criticizing everything about Sal's room and Sal's life. Sal tells us, "I hated her that day. I didn't care how upset she was about her mother, I really hated her, and I wanted her to leave. I wondered if this was how my father felt when I threw all those temper tantrums. Maybe he hated me for a while" (26.21). Even though she's totally annoyed by Phoebe, Sal also knows exactly how she feels. Plus, observing Phoebe's bad behavior even helps Sal have a little empathy for her dad, too.

Gotta Love Her

Still, no matter how irritating and downright mean Phoebe can be, there's something really appealing about her. For one thing, she's fiercely loyal, which is part of the reason she seems so uptight. When Phoebe criticizes the chaotic Finney household, Sal tells us, "I think that deep down Phoebe thought it was nice too, and wished her own parents would act more like the Finneys. She couldn't admit this, though, and in a way, I liked this about Phoebe – that she tried to defend her family" (9.12).

If there's one thing we can say about Phoebe, it's that she certainly sticks to her guns. She believes what she believes with her whole heart, and no one can change her mind. This quality seems to be both a curse and a blessing in many ways. In this sense, she's a lot like Sal, who stubbornly refuses to believe her mother isn't coming back.

In many ways, we might even say that Sal and Phoebe are like two different sides of the same coin. Sal sums it up for us:

There was something about Phoebe that was like a magnet. I was drawn to her. I was pretty sure that underneath all that odd behavior was someone who was frightened. And, in a strange way, she was like another version of me—she acted out the way I sometimes felt. (30.3)

In the end, what's most telling about Phoebe is how much she reveals about Sal. Sal sees herself in Phoebe, which forces her to come to terms with a lot of things she's been pushing aside. And Sal, too, helps Phoebe come to terms with some of the more unsavory facts of her life. And hey, what else are friends for?

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