The plot of this novel, set soon after the end of World War II, is relatively spare. Holden Caulfield has been expelled from a private prep school, Pencey, and his leave-taking opens the novel. In preparing to leave, Holden sardonically comments on the boorishness of his classmates and the “phony” behavior of students and adults alike. Holden cannot communicate his alienation to teachers or counselors and habitually deflects conversations with them by telling lies, particularly ones he knows they want to hear.
He takes a train home to New York and again lies to adults to mask his reason for being away from Pencey. Once in New York, where his parents do not expect him, he checks into a hotel and his wanderings begin.