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For Esmé with Love and Squalor

For Esmé with Love and Squalor


by J.D. Salinger

Esmé Timeline and Summary

  • We find out that Esmé (who we don't yet know is Esmé) is going to be married in England.
  • Moving back in time, we see Esmé six years before her marriage. She attends choir practice, and though she's the best singer of the lot, she's pretty bored – she can't stop yawning.
  • Esmé, her brother, and their governess go to get post-practice tea at a tearoom, where they see the narrator.
  • Esmé notices the narrator looking at their table and offers him a little smile.
  • In an instant, Esmé goes over to the narrator's table to strike up a conversation with him.
  • Seeing that the narrator is sipping tea, she comments that she thought Americans didn't drink tea.
  • Esmé deigns to sit and chat with the narrator. She announces that she is going to be a professional jazz singer.
  • It seems that Esmé is quite a clever girl – she knows that the narrator is in Devon to attend the supposedly secret intelligence school.
  • Esmé comments that the narrator is very intelligent "for an American" (27); the narrator gently takes her to task for stereotyping people like that.
  • For the first time, Esmé's calm demeanor is shaken, and she explains her thoughts about Americans. She doesn't think they're very well behaved, to say the least.
  • Esmé changes the subject quickly, apologizing for her rather bedraggled appearance (it's raining outside).
  • Out of the blue, the girl asks if the narrator is deeply in love with his wife, then asks if she's being too personal.
  • Esmé gestures with her hands, making her huge, awkward wristwatch more obvious.
  • We find out that Esmé and her brother are living with their aunt because their mother (who was a very passionate person, as opposed to her "cold" daughter) is dead.
  • Finally, our two characters introduce each other – here, we actually find out that Esmé's name is Esmé. The narrator goes unnamed. Esmé explains that she doesn't want to tell him her full name because she had a title, and Americans are usually thrown off by titles.
  • Esmé introduces the narrator to Charles, and apologizes (kind of) for his un-brilliant behavior.
  • Esmé explains that Charles misses their father, who was killed in North Africa, presumably in the war. She doesn't come out and say it, but it's obvious that Charles isn't the only one who misses him…
  • Esmé goes on a bit about her parents – she clearly had a tremendous respect for her father.
  • The narrator and Esmé discuss the importance of humor; her father claimed that she wasn't ready for the real world because she doesn't have a sense of humor. The narrator tries to tell her that it's OK, but she doesn't listen to him – obviously, she believes everything her father told her, and doesn't want to believe otherwise.
  • Esmé emphasizes again how much Charles (and implicitly, she) misses their father.
  • After Charles tells his riddle, Esmé has to shut him up – he's laughing uncontrollably. We get the feeling that she's usually the only one who can order him around.
  • Esmé asks what the narrator does for a living, only to interrupt him when he answers – she brings up her father again, who was apparently a brilliant writer. She informs the narrator that she's saving his letters "for posterity" (74).
  • Finally, Esmé explains the watch when the narrator inquires about it. She tells him that her father gave it to her before she and Charles were evacuated (children were taken from London to the countryside during the war, where presumably it was safer). It clearly really means a lot to her.
  • Esmé changes the subject, and asks the narrator to write a story for her someday.
  • Apparently, Esmé is very interested in squalor at the moment, and wants her story to have plenty of it.
  • Before the girl can explain this interest, her brother storms off after the narrator ruins the punch line of his joke. Esmé announces in French that she also has to leave, and says her goodbyes. The narrator emphasizes just how lovely and, well, nice she is. She offers to write to him, and he gives her his APO number (a kind of military mailing address).
  • Esmé returns to her table, and the little group leaves the tearoom.
  • Not a moment later, Esmé returns, dragging Charles with her.
  • Esmé announces that Charles wants to kiss the narrator goodbye. This is yet another instance of Esmé using Charles as a front for her own feelings – she clearly wanted to say something else to the narrator herself.
  • She reminds him to write the story for her as he promised, and to make it "extremely squalid and moving" (100).
  • Finally, Esmé and the narrator say goodbye for real, and she politely and hilariously tells him she hopes he returns from the war "with all [his] faculties intact" (103), which, if you think about it, is not exactly the most reassuring thing to say to someone going into battle. However, Esmé thinks it's the right thing, and says it with some measure of graciousness.
  • Thirty-eight days later, Esmé writes a letter to the narrator – one that takes an awfully long time to read Sergeant X. She encloses her father's watch as a good luck token in the war.