© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

Characters

The Narrator (Sergeant X) Timeline and Summary

  • The narrator tells us he's received an invitation to a wedding in England, and since he can't attend, he sends this series of recollections about the bride as a wedding present.
  • Flash back to 1944 – the narrator is stationed in Devon, England, at a special, top secret military intelligence school.
  • It's the narrator's last day there, so he heads into town for the afternoon. He stops by a children's choir rehearsal in the village church.
  • There, he notices that one of the children is clearly the best singer of the bunch – a bored-looking young lady who doesn't seem thrilled to be there.
  • After the singing ends, the narrator goes to a tearoom and orders some tea and cinnamon toast (yum!).
  • The narrator passes the time by rereading some rather dull letters from his wife and mother-in-law.
  • The talented girl from the choir shows up, with a little brother and a governess in tow.
  • She makes a beeline for the narrator, and strikes up a conversation.
  • The pair chats about a variety of things, from the girl's plans for the future to the assortment of different Americans she's encountered (she's not always a fan). The narrator takes note of the girl's ridiculously large watch, and wonders about it.
  • The narrator finds out a few central facts: the girl's name is Esmé, she's a titled aristocrat, and her mother is dead.
  • Esmé's brother, Charles, runs up to the narrator. The narrator attempts to engage the little boy in conversation and fails.
  • The narrator observes this new addition to their table, who, in turn, gives him a huge raspberry.
  • The narrator explains that he's a short story writer – kind of. He agrees to write a story for Esmé someday.
  • Charles repeats a riddle he'd told earlier. The narrator, for reasons unbeknownst to us, says the answer before Charles can – not the best idea.
  • Charles storms off, and the narrator, concerned, watches him sulk.
  • Esmé has to leave, but first, she takes the narrator's address; they agree to write letters.
  • Esmé and Charles leave – the narrator is unusually "emotional," though we're not entirely sure what emotions he's feeling.
  • The children immediately return – Charles grudgingly kisses the narrator goodbye, and the narrator gets the little boy to forgive him by asking the riddle one more time.
  • The narrator reasserts his promise to write a story for Esmé.
  • A year or so later, the narrator informs us of our new surroundings – Gaufurt, Germany, just after the end of the war.
  • The narrator absents himself from the story, claiming that he's disguised as another character.
  • The disguise is easy to see through – the narrator is clearly Sergeant X.
  • Sergeant X is in a state of complete breakdown; he feels mentally and physically unstable, and doesn't do anything all day but chain smoke and read.
  • Sergeant X attempts to write a Dostoevsky quote in a book, but is horrified to see that his handwriting is actually indecipherable.
  • Corporal Z (whose name is Clay) shows up to chat with Sergeant X.
  • Sergeant X briefly talks to the rather inconsiderate Clay about X's various nervous tics; we learn that X was in the hospital because of a nervous breakdown.
  • X patiently listens to Clay jabber on about his girlfriend back home, Loretta. Apparently, Clay wrote to Loretta (a psych major) about X's breakdown.
  • Clay brings up something that's been troubling him since the war – he killed an innocent cat after a shell attack, and Loretta explains it as temporary insanity. Sergeant X, however, sarcastically and cruelly tells Clay that the cat was a German spy. We see how much X has changed because of the war.
  • X is sickened by his own response – literally. He throws up.
  • Clay tentatively makes a friendly overture, and tries to coax X into joining him and some other guys to listen to a radio broadcast. X turns him down, and remains alone in his room.
  • X tries to write a letter to a friend back home in New York, but finds that he's shaking too much to type. He collapses for a moment.
  • Listlessly, X opens a package that he finds on his desk – it's apparently been trying to track him down for a while, and has a bunch of his old addresses on it.
  • X reads the letter, which is from Esmé, and finds her father's watch included in the package.

Advertisement
Advertisement
back to top