Study Guide

For Esmé with Love and Squalor Love

By J.D. Salinger


OK, this is the story of a grown man and a thirteen-year-old girl, so you might be alarmed to see "Love" as one of the themes. However, don't flip your wig – this isn't Lolita, and we're certainly not talking about romantic love here. No, instead we're talking about other kinds of love – for example, familial love, friendship, even a hint of bromance. Love, says "For Esmé," comes in all different kinds, and all of it is productive. This is a story of simple human connection, and what a fundamental impact it can have on a life, even in the darkest of times.

Questions About Love

  1. Love is something that lurks in the background here – nobody ever comes out and says "I love you," or even "I love So-and-So." What role does love play in this story?
  2. The narrator tellingly doesn't answer Esmé's question about his love for his wife. Judging from the snippets we glean about his various family members (his wife, mother-in-law, older brother), do you think his loved ones understand him? What is the relationship between love and understanding here?
  3. We've looked at youthful resilience as a potential source of hope at the end of this story – is love possibly another one? Why or why not?

Chew on This

The one thing that keeps Esmé going is her abiding love for her father; this love is the source of her strength.

The narrator's own life is possibly devoid of real love, yet he is inspired by Esmé's capacity for it – though she herself is concerned about her coldness, he sees that she truly loves her family, and this ability to love is what makes her so compelling.

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