How is the setting of The Catcher in the Rye important to the story?  Would it be different if it were set in another place?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Although the setting of The Catcher in the Rye has an inherently New England feel to it, the book would be virtually the same if it were set in another place due to the time aspect of setting.  Holden is in his final days at Pency Prep School in Agerstown, Pennsylvania.  Although there are a few things that pinpoint this prep school to be specific of New England (such as the fact that Pency is specifically for boys), upon taking a closer look, one will discover that this would be the case absolutely anywhere in the late 1940s.  This is because the general goal of all prep schools in the United States at the time was inherently the same:  to groom boys and girls into sophisticated young men and women ready to live in the post-war prosperity of America. 

The reason for this is found in the time aspect of setting.  Set in 1946, The Catcher in the Rye features multiple adults that have braved both the Great Depression as well as World War II.  The country was enjoying the prosperity of the post-war period when everyone generally wanted to forget the horrors of the past which, unfortunately, fostered a brand new aspect of materialism.  Holden's attitudes proved to be in stark contrast to the denial of the era, highlighting the hypocrisy and shallowness found within it.  The Catcher in the Rye also showed that unpleasantness could abound even in a state of prosperity, highlighting the possibility of a looming cold war (yet another thing Americans didn't want to think about at the time).  These attitudes were the same all over the United States and were not specific to New England.