Holden Caulfield is a young, unstable teenager who can't seem to find his way in life. Despite being quite intelligent, he has been kicked out of five different schools, including his current school that he is being expelled from, Pencey Prep. His roommate there, Stradlater, and another boy they live next to, Ackley, stress Holden out a lot. Holden doesn't enjoy the company of many people, only his younger sister, Phoebe. He once had another very strong connection with his brother, Allie, but he had died a few years prior. Allie's death took a major toll on Holden and he began a downward spiral into mental illness. Before Holden was to be sent home from Pencey for good, he decides to leave early and be on his own in New York City for a few days. With a decent stash of money and a desperate desire to repress his depression, Holden roams around the city, meets up with old friends, strikes up conversations with new ones, drinks and smokes profusely, and hardly sleeps. At one point, he calls a prostitute up to his hotel room, but only wants to talk to her. The lost teenage boy wanders around by himself for a few days and then decides to see his younger sister, Phoebe. Holden devises a plan to run away again, but his connection with his sister holds him back. Holden's final destination in the book is some sort of mental care facility, from where he is telling his story. Throughout the book, The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, Holden suffers from an emotional, mental, and physical disintegration which causes him to be institutionalized.
Holden's growing emotional instability shows the progression of his downward spiral into illness. When Holden first reveals the death of his brother, Allie, he tells of how he "slept in the garage the night he died, and [he] broke all the goddam windows with [his] fist, just for the hell of it" (39). The death of Allie caused Holden to become very volatile because he didn't know how else to express his grief.