Study Guide

For Esmé with Love and Squalor Literature and Writing

By J.D. Salinger

Literature and Writing

Any time you have a writer writing a story about a writer, you just know that literature is going to be a big deal. "For Esmé" is no different. While this story is, on one hand, about a soldier going through a war, it's also about a writer learning how to find his voice. There are several moments in the story where we are reminded that our protagonist is a writer, both by his words and his actions. So, we constantly have to ask ourselves what the events of the story have to do with his ultimate destiny – which is to become the guy writing the story (whew, is that meta or what!).

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. Why is it significant that the protagonist of this story is also its supposed writer?
  2. What role do letters play in this story?
  3. The narrator was an unpublished writer before he went off to war. Do you think this fact changes once he returns (with his faculties intact)? Why or why not?
  4. What is the significance of the scene with the Goebbels book and the commentary included inside it? Why might this moment of crisis for Sergeant X be communicated through a book – and this particular book (a collection of Nazi propaganda)?

Chew on This

The ultimate destiny of the narrator/Sergeant X, to become a real writer, could not come to pass without his experience in the war.

One of the "faculties" that Sergeant X loses and regains after the war is the faculty of writing; we see him lose control of his own ability to write in Gaufurt, but, from the story's frame narrative, we know that he ultimately regains it.

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