War is bad. If you didn't already know this, just read "For Esmé – With Love and Squalor" to understand just how bad. Despite the fact that we don't see any of the stereotypical elements of a war story here, we see its terrible fallout, in the form of our protagonist, a character who is basically destroyed by his experience of battle. We also see what war does to the innocents that don't even participate in it (for example, children who lose parents in it). In some ways, not seeing the events of the war in this story make it all the more horrifying – instead, Salinger simply hints at it, and asks us to imagine the terror of war ourselves.
Questions About Warfare
How is war depicted in this story? What does it mean for different characters?
The narrator remarks early on that he is getting better acquainted with "squalor." Do you think this is a broad statement about the nature of war, or do you think that the narrator's individual nature makes him particularly sensitive to the "squalid" quality of war?
Is there any point to war as depicted in this story, or is it simply a futile exercise?
Chew on This
In Salinger's short story, the association of war with "squalor" breaks down any notions of the nobility or pride of fighting for one's country.
The removal of any political elements renders war seemingly meaningless, and thus more traumatic, in "For Esmé – With Love and Squalor."