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The physical action of the book takes place in 1949 at two locations. The first seven chapters-about one quarter of the book-are set at Pencey Prep, a private school for boys in eastern Pennsylvania. Then Holden takes a train ride, and the rest of the book takes place in New York City.
New York City, though, isn't a very accurate description of the major setting. It's actually Manhattan, but even that doesn't narrow it down enough, because Holden's adventures take him through only a fraction of Manhattan, a section less than four miles long and probably half as wide.
Add to this the fact that Holden gives very little description of most of the places where he goes, and you have a novel that seems to have no real setting. But that isn't the case at all.
In the first place, Holden gives some description of each place he's in, but he does it in the casual, throwaway manner that characterizes most of his speech. It's so casual, in fact, that you may not even be aware of reading a descriptive passage.
Second, Holden describes his surroundings when they're important to him. You may find yourself looking forward to visiting the American Museum of Natural History after he's told you about it. He paints a memorable picture of the carousel in Central Park when Phoebe decides to take a ride. He does the same for Fifth Avenue on a shopping day before Christmas.
These descriptions are less important than in most novels. The Catcher in the Rye could take place almost anywhere in the United States (and in many places throughout the world). That's because the true setting of the book is Holden's mind. Critics say such a book is an interior monologue or that it employs the stream-of-consciousness technique.
So many incidents in The Catcher in the Rye took place before the weekend we're spending with Holden, so much of what has deeply affected him happened years earlier, and such an important part of his life goes on inside his head, that the present physical setting becomes almost incidental to the story being told.
As for the time the story takes place, don't even think about it during your first reading. (There's a good chance that you'll want to read it again.) Except for a few minor references, which are pointed out as they appear in the story (see The Story section of this guide), the book reads as though it were written very recently. That's one of the reasons why people are still reading it after all these years.