The events described in J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye take place around 1948 or 1949. Holden reveals that his late brother Allie died on July 18, 1946 (p. 40), when Holden was thirteen-years-old. He narrates the story when he is seventeen, from an institution in California, and talks about the events that happened a year before, around Christmas (p. 1). The exact date is difficult to pinpoint, as it depends on Holden’s birthday and on the exact time when he narrates the story.
The events take place a few years after the end of World War II, which plays an important role in the novel. Holden talks about the war when he mentions the way it affected his older brother, D. B., who ended up traumatized and depressed:
My brother D.B. was in the Army for four goddam years. He was in the war, too – he landed on D-Day and all – but I really think he hated the Army worse than the war. I was practically a child at the time, but I remember when he used to come home on furlough and all, all he did was lie on his bed, practically. He hardly ever even came in the living room. (p. 151)
Holden’s comments hint at D. B.’s post-traumatic stress syndrome, which most likely left him bitter and with a cynical attitude towards those around him.
The post-war period is relevant because it brings about changes in the attitudes of Americans. The events described in the novel take place just around the beginning of the Cold War, which was a period of political tension between the US and the Soviet Union. Therefore, the angst and disappointment that Holden experiences could also be associated with the general attitude of Americans after the war, who felt the pressure of new challenges. The reference to the atomic bomb, which was a threat to the entire world, also hints at the tension that Americans felt (p. 152).
Holden recounts the “madman stuff” (p. 1) that he experienced “around last Christmas” (p. 1) when he was expelled from Pencey Prep. He be...