Last Reviewed on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435
"For Esmé—With Love and Squalor" begins with a framing device. The narrator, a World War II veteran from the US Army, has received an invitation to a wedding in England; the bride-to-be is a young woman he met six years prior when he was in London; it was there that he took a training course before getting shipped to Europe for combat duty. He decides against going to the wedding, but he does begin to write about his recollections of the bride. He mentions that he wouldn't mind if his comments unsettled the groom—a man he has not met—saying,
Nobody's aiming to please, here. More, really, to edify, to instruct.
Thus, the story that follows is situated within this context. The reader, however, is left to wonder what it is that the narrator intends to "instruct" the groom in. From the context of the story that he then goes on to tell, it seems reasonable that his purpose for writing the story is to impress upon the young man just how lucky he is to be marrying such an intelligent and loving young woman. Additionally, in writing the story, he is adhering to a promise that he made to Esmé six years ago.
The story that the narrator proceeds to tell paints Esmé as a precocious child: one who possessed far more emotional intelligence than she realized. She'd been orphaned at the tender age of thirteen, and though she expressed compassion for her brother—being careful to spell out words that might upset him—she did not seem to want to protect herself from the truth of their situation or to wallow in self-pity.
Despite her own personal tragedies, she tells the narrator that she came to speak with him in the tea shop because he seemed so lonely. Furthermore, she encourages his creative sensibilities by asking him for a story, but she later sends him something even more significant: the wristwatch that had belonged to her now-deceased father. She offers it up as a "lucky talisman" of protection for the soldier-narrator. Her gift, ultimately, is the loving gesture that helps to restore the narrator to his "faculties," which he lost as a result of a nervous breakdown caused by the trauma of his wartime experiences.
While other soldiers, psychologists, and even family members fail to understand or connect with the narrator, it is Esmé who offers what the narrator truly needs, which helps him to begin the process of healing. In the end, he lets her know this, addressing her directly and crediting her with helping to restore him to himself.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 287
The story is one of the best in Salinger’s NINE STORIES, a remarkable collection depicting varying responses to the meaningless hell that modern life has become for many people. It offers, with subdued sentimentality, a positive response to this hell.
In the first half of the story, the narrator, Sergeant X, meets Esme and her young brother Charles in a Devonshire tearoom just before embarking for the D-Day invasion. The children are orphans, their father having died in the war. Esme has great sympathy for the pain that the loss has caused Charles but shows no self-pity. She says she is training herself to be more compassionate. When she learns that X is a writer, she asks him to write a story for her about squalor.
In the second half, the war has ended, and X, stationed in Bavaria after five campaigns, is having a nervous breakdown. Esme has hoped that he would return from the war with all his faculties intact, but he has not. Borrowing from Fyodor Dostoevski, he defines that hell he is going through as the inability to love.
Then he receives a package from Esme mailed a few weeks after their meeting. She has sent him her most prized possession, her father’s wristwatch. She also...
(The entire section contains 1226 words.)
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