J. D. Salinger: For Esmé – with Love and Squalor

For Esmé – with Love and Squalor is a short story by American writer J.D. Salinger, first published in The New Yorker in 1950 and later included in Salinger’s acclaimed short story collection, Nine Stories (1953). The narrative is set during World War II and revolves around an encounter between an American soldier, Sergeant X, and a young British girl named Esmé. The story explores themes such as the psychological effects of war, the power of human connection, and the search for solace amid trauma and loss.


number of pages: 25
literary movement: POSTMODERNISM
1st edition: 1950
years of writing: late 1940s


The story is divided into two parts, with the first part taking place in the British town of Devon, where Sergeant X is stationed before being deployed to fight in the war. While attending a choir performance, he meets Esmé, a precocious and insightful 13-year-old girl whose father has been killed in the war. Esmé’s intelligence and emotional maturity captivate the sergeant, and the two engage in a meaningful conversation about love, loss, and the emotional impact of the war. Esmé tells the sergeant that she is getting married to a fellow named Charles, and they discuss the concept of squalor as well. Before they part ways, Esmé asks him to write a story for her when he returns from the war.

The second part of the story takes place six months later, with Sergeant X now stationed in Germany after the end of the war. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is affecting his ability to connect with others and make sense of his surroundings. During this time, he receives a package from Esmé, which contains a letter and a wristwatch that belonged to her father. The package serves as a lifeline for Sergeant X, reminding him of the human connection he shared with Esmé and providing a source of solace amidst his emotional turmoil.


Sergeant X

The story’s narrator and main character, Sergeant X is an American soldier who meets Esmé while stationed in England during World War II. He is depicted as introspective, thoughtful, and emotionally vulnerable, especially as he deals with the psychological trauma of war.


A 13-year-old British girl, Esmé is intelligent, mature, and insightful for her age. She forms a connection with Sergeant X during their brief encounter, leaving a lasting impression on him. Esmé’s innocence and sincerity offer a stark contrast to the brutal realities of war.


Esmé’s younger brother, Charles is a 5-year-old boy who has been deeply affected by the loss of their father during the war. He is a symbol of innocence and vulnerability in the story.

Corporal Z

A fellow soldier and friend of Sergeant X, Corporal Z appears in the second part of the story. He serves as a foil to Sergeant X, representing the more callous and detached side of the war experience.

These are the main characters in For Esmé – with Love and Squalor. The story primarily focuses on the relationship between Sergeant X and Esmé and the impact their brief encounter has on Sergeant X’s mental and emotional well-being after the war.

He said I was unequipped to meet life because I had no sense of humor.



  • J.D. Salinger: For Esmé – with Love and Squalor is a short story by renowned American author J.D. Salinger, best known for his novel The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Published in 1950: The story was first published in The New Yorker magazine on April 8, 1950, and later included in Salinger’s short story collection, Nine Stories.
  • World War II: The narrative takes place during and after World War II, providing a backdrop that explores themes of trauma, innocence, and the human connection.
  • Two-part Structure: The story is divided into two parts. The first takes place in Devon, England, in 1944, while the second is set six months after the war has ended.
  • Sergeant X: The main character, an American soldier known only as Sergeant X, narrates his experiences during the war and his chance encounter with a young British girl, Esmé.
  • Esmé: A precocious and intelligent 13-year-old girl, Esmé befriends Sergeant X before he is deployed to the front lines. Their conversation leaves a lasting impression on him.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: The story deals with the theme of PTSD as Sergeant X, now a civilian, struggles with the emotional and psychological after-effects of the war.
  • A Letter from Esmé: In the second part of the story, Sergeant X receives a letter from Esmé, who shares her own experiences and offers her support, helping him find a sense of hope and healing.
  • Themes: For Esmé – with Love and Squalor explores themes such as innocence, the loss of innocence, the power of human connection, and the effects of war on the human psyche.
  • Literary Acclaim: The story has been well-received for its portrayal of the emotional impact of war and its tender exploration of the connection between two individuals from different backgrounds.

For Esmé – with Love and Squalor is a powerful exploration of the psychological impact of war and the healing power of human connection. Through the relationship between Sergeant X and Esmé, Salinger poignantly illustrates the resilience of the human spirit and the potential for love and empathy to overcome the most challenging circumstances. The story showcases Salinger’s mastery of characterization and dialogue, as well as his ability to craft emotionally resonant narratives that delve into the complexities of the human experience. With its evocative portrayal of the lasting effects of war and its compelling exploration of the power of connection, For Esmé – with Love and Squalor remains a timeless and deeply moving work of literature.



Jerome David Salinger was an acclaimed American author best known for his influential novel The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger’s works are characterized by their introspective and rebellious protagonists, often grappling with themes of alienation, innocence, and the loss of authenticity in modern society. Despite his literary success, Salinger remained an enigmatic figure, shunning the spotlight and living a reclusive life.


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