J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most acclaimed novels of the twentieth century. The novel follows Holden Caulfield for three days after he is expelled from school. Holden recounts his story from an institution in California and, throughout the book, readers see him navigate through his teenage angst and alienation with his environment.
In terms of structure, the events develop chronologically across twenty-six chapters. The first and the final chapter reveal that Holden recalls the events that happened the previous year. Therefore, the novel is told in flashbacks, in the form of a frame story.
The main character is Holden Caulfield, who introduces several other characters as he tells his story. Holden mostly talks about his colleagues at Pencey Prep – Ward Stradlater and Robert Ackley – and about the girls he was involved with – Sally Hayes and Jane Gallagher. Other key characters include Holden’s sister, Phoebe, as well as his late brother Allie and older brother D. B. Holden’s relationship to some of these characters is also significant.
The events are set in 1948 or 1949 and take place in different settings, the most important ones being New York and Pencey Prep. As the events are set after World War II, a great part of the setting deals with issues and attitudes related to war.
Holden Caulfield is the first-person narrator of the novel. His narrative voice is mainly cynical and judgmental towards the people around him, most of whom he believes are fake. The narrator’s nostalgic tone reveals itself in his comments about his siblings and his childhood, and shows readers that he is not entirely cynical and detached.
The language is mostly colloquial and gives the novel an authentic feel, as it mirrors the vocabulary of a teenager of the 1940s-1950s. Holden’s vulgar language hints at his rebellion and at his inability to fit in, while his exaggerations suggest that he is emotionally immature. The novel also highlights the differences between social classes through language, as characters from different backgrounds have different styles of speaking.