The Catcher in the Rye covers three days in one boy's life. How does Salinger structure the novel so that the reader gets to know the story of Holden?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Salinger employs an interesting and layered narrative structure in order to let us get to know Holden’s whole story. Holden narrates his own story directly to the reader – an example of first-person narrative. This way we always have direct access to his thoughts, feelings and motivations.  The narrative structure, however, is quite complex. What we have overall is the seventeen year-old Holden, telling us the story of a particular crisis in his life when he was sixteen, which has led to him being committed to a psychiatric unit. It is the story of three days in which he dropped out of school and wandered around New York, hanging out in bars and nightclubs, and getting in various sorts of trouble, before finally breaking down altogether. These three days form a key period of his life, and are crucial to forming an understanding of his character and life experiences. We see all his problems coming to the fore, his issues with school, authority figures, girls, and his peers and society in general, as well as his memories of earlier and happier times, particularly with his family when his  beloved younger brother Allie was still alive. The slightly older Holden relays all his thoughts and feelings and reminiscences from this eventful and fateful period, with the result that the reader ends up getting to know all the major points of Holden’s life.