This novel takes place mostly in New York City in the 1950's although it begins at a private academy called Pencey Prep, just outside of the city. The main character and narrator, Holden Caulfield, tells the story of the "madman" stuff that happened to him around last Christmas. Holden gives his account from a mental institute somewhere around Hollywood, where he has been for several months. At the start of the novel Holden makes it clear that he is not writing his life story, about his childhood, or, as he puts it, "all that David Copperfield kind of crap." This quote is very interesting in the make-up of the plot because it tells you right off the bat that this is going to be similar to a psychoanalysis of a few days in the life of Holden Caulfield. .
Holden begins his account on a Saturday in December a few days before the students of Pencey Prep are released for Christmas break. He has just learned of his expulsion from Pencey and is quite worried about how his parents will react to the news that he has been kicked out of another school. He absolutely despises most everything about the institution, except for his history teacher Mr. Spencer, and is quite certain that everyone there is a phony. .
His roommate, Stradlater, is an arrogant, womanizing, jerk whom Holden does not seem to care for much. Holden does seem to admire his cleanliness and ease with girls however and refers to him as a hot-shot. This is an important aspect of Holden's character which he reveals in bits and pieces throughout the novel. Holden is not a very popular or attractive person in society and he expresses, in writing, much animosity .
towards the "hot-shots" in life that seem to always get the breaks. This turns out to be a sort of personality disguise for Holden who really just wishes for acceptance from society. Throughout the novel he tries to downplay this desire by pointing out character flaws and the falseness in the people who reject him.