Wednesday, March 3, 2010

For Esme

For Esme- with Love and Squalor, is, at its heart, a love story between two characters. It's a love story not about romance but about the need for human connection between two lonely people. It places childhood as something innocent and pure but still insightful while portraying the adult world as something tainted. This is a theme popular with Salinger and, in this short story, it is exemplified by the relationship between a young girl and a soldier. The first half of the story is spoken in first person by the soldier and recounts his meeting with the girl. In this first half we get a sense of isolation that narrator lives in as him as his fellow solders typically just go their own way. He engages in a conversation (something he hasn't done in days) with a girl, named Esme, where it is decided that they will write to each other and that he will write a story to her that is "extremely squalid and moving." Her use of high level diction expresses that, although she is a child, she is as insightful as any adult. She then tells him to return with his faculties intact, something that comes up in the end again. The next half of the story is what the narrator refers to as the squalid and moving part and stops using first person narration in favor of third. The squalid comes in the fore of the central character now becomes Sergeant X, whom we can tell has been deeply affected by the war by his inability to read books, his smoking habits, his description of war as being unable to love, his twitching hands and face, his inability to sleep, and more importantly his nervous breakdown. This clearly depicts the dehumanizing effects the adult world can have on a person. However, X's humanity is saved at the end when he reads the letter from Esme and receives her father's wrist watch. It is here that Salinger again switches to first person, signaling that X and the previous narrator are the same person in fact, although by now one has already probably figured that out. Before the narrator referred to himself as X, illustrating the alienation he had from himself admist the destruction around him and the deterioration of his mental state. However, the letter from Esme warms him up and he is able to reassert his own identity. This life-affriming relationship the two have and the love that it exudes amidst the darkness that surrounds the narrator is further supported by the fact that he is finally able to sleep after reading the letter and speaks of recovering his faculties. Thus, he is able to keep his humanity by forming a human connection with a girl who, in her youth, is his only tie to that world of innocence and purity that he as lost in the adult world.


  1. I like that you called it "a love story not about romance but about the need for human connection between two lonely people." Well said, I completely agree. I wonder how the dynamic of the story would have changed if the girl was closer to the same age as the man.

  2. This analysis was essentially perfect in my mind. I had just finished "For Esme- with LOve and Squalor" when I read this and I found myself either completely agreeing with your statements, or I found myself finding a deeper appreciation for this piece with the aid of your insight.


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