The novel is framed by the first and last Chapters, which take place somewhere in California in a psychiatric rest home. The main action of the novel takes place first at a boarding school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania and then mainly in New York City. The narrative is evocative of Manhattan in the 1950’s, taking place at and around the various landmarks of New York City, such as Grand Central Station, Greenwich Village, Radio City Music Hall, and the famous Central Park.
The sixteen year-old narrator whose experiences form the action of the novel. He seems to have a history of expulsion and failure at various prep schools because of his inability to adjust to institutional life and the world in general. His recent expulsion from Pencey Prep and a series of other harrowing experiences lead him to an inevitable emotional breakdown.
Holden’s younger sister, whom he loves and respects completely. She is ten, but very clever and passionate. Throughout the book, Holden thinks Phoebe is the only person in the world who 2understands and loves him completely. Towards the end of the plot, he is disappointed that Phoebe scolds him for being expelled from school and questions what he is going to do with his life. She makes it up to him, however, when she packs her suitcase and wants to run away with him.
Holden’s younger brother who died of leukemia on July 18, 1946. Allie was extremely close to Holden, and Holden believes that Allie was "about fifty times as intelligent" as anyone Holden has ever known. Allie had a fielder’s mitt that he had written poems all over in green ink, to give him something to read when he was in the outfield all alone. Holden keeps the fielder’s mitt with him wherever he goes.
Holden’s older brother, a writer who once published a collection called ‘The Secret Goldfish’. D.B. is now employed as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. This occupation, in Holden’s eyes, is equivalent to prostitution. Holden speaks mostly of D.B.’s "selling out" to Hollywood.
Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield
Holden’s parents who are unable to provide him with the parental understanding that he needs. Mr. Caulfield is a corporation lawyer, and Mrs. Caulfield is a housewife. Very little is revealed about these two characters, and only Mrs. Caulfield is ever seen, and then only briefly.
Holden’s English teacher from Elkton Hills who is now teaching at New York University. Holden holds him in the highest regard and believes him to be a guardian of morality. In his hour of need, Holden goes to Mr. Antolini for help. Mr. Antolini is a sensitive man, about D.B.’s age, married to a wealthy older woman.
Mr. Antolini’s wife, who is both more wealthy and older than her husband.
Holden’s childhood friend. Though they never actually dated, they used to hold hands. Jane is best remembered by Holden for the way she used to keep all her kings in the back row during checkers. She is never actually present in a scene, but is constantly in Holden’s thoughts and memories. Holden seems to feel tremendous respect and affection for Jane, and holds her up as a pure and spotless friend and person.
A girl that Holden sometimes dates, though he thinks she is a "pain in the ass". She is sensible, practical, boring, and, in Holden’s words, "phony as hell".
Holden’s roommate at Pencey Prep who is fairly conceited. He is a good-looking prep school athlete with a notorious history of having sex with girls. He has a date with Jane Gallagher in the beginning of the novel and fights with Holden when he returns from that date.
A boy who stays in the room next to Holden’s at Pencey Prep. He is, according to Holden, a "terrific bore" and a "slob" in personal hygiene. However, Holden is in his own way quite sympathetic toward Ackley and at times even seeks his company.
Holden’s academic advisor from Whooton. He is the first person to introduce Holden to sex education . Holden considers him an "intellectual" and seeks his companionship while in New York even though he does not much care for him.
The elevator operator at the hotel in which Holden stays. He also functions as a "pimp" and a bully.
The young prostitute that Maurice sends to Holden room. Though she seems very young, she is very businesslike and hardened.
The mother of a fellow boarder, Ernest Morrow. Holden meets her on the train to New York and has a conversation with her.
The two nuns
Holden meets two nuns at a cafeteria in Grand Central. They have come from Chicago to teach in a school in New York . One of them is an English teacher and talks with Holden about Romeo and Juliet.
Holden’s history teacher from Pencey Prep. He shows a great deal of concern for Holden’s future, but Holden thinks he is too old and pathetic.
A woman D.B. used to date. She is a typical phony, who loves to attract attention.
A student at Elkton Hills who committed suicide.
Holden’s friend at Pencey Prep.
A friend of Sally Hayes from Andover.
The janitor in Holden’s dorm.
Many other names are mentioned in the narrative, but they are minor characters without much significance in an analysis.
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