An American soldier stationed in Devon in April, , meets a precocious 13 year old girl, named Esme, and her brother, Charles, 5. They have a brief, . “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” is a short story by J. D. Salinger. It recounts a sergeant’s . Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution- ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. By using this site, you agree to the. Use our free chapter-by-chapter summary and analysis of For Esmé with Love and Squalor. It helps middle and high school students understand J.D. Salinger’s .
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Please visit Scriptor Press online for more great literary titles and other media. Salinger wisdom and comfort. It happens to be a wedding I’d give a lot to be able to get to, and when the invitation first arrived, I thought it might just be possible for me to make the trip abroad, by plane, ex- penses be hanged. However, I’ve since discussed the matter rather ex- tensively with my wife, a breathtakingly levelheaded girl, and we’ve decided against it — for one thing, I’d completely forgotten that my mother-in-law is looking forward to spending the last two weeks in Qith with us.
I really don’t get to see Mother Grencher terribly often, and she’s not getting any younger. As she’d be the first to admit. All the same, though, whemever I happen to be I don’t think I’m the type that doesn’t even lift a finger to prevent a wedding from fiatting. Accordingly I’ve gone ahead and jotted down a few revealing notes on the bride as I knew her almost six years ago.
If my notes should cause the groom, whom I haven’t met, an uneasy moment or two, so much the better. Nobody’s aiming to please, here. More, really, to edify to instruct. In April ofI was among some sixty American enlisted men who took a rather specialized pre-Invasion training course, directed by British Intelligence, in Devon, England.
And as I look back, it seems to me that we were fairly unique, the sixty of us, in that there wasn’t one good mixer in the bunch. We were all essentially letter-writing types, and when we spoke to each other out of the test of duty it was usually to ask somebody if he had any ink he wasn’t using. When we weren’t writ- ing letters or attending classes, each of us went pretty much his own way Mine usually led me, on clear days, in scenic circles around the countryside.
Rainy days, I generally sat in a dry place and read a book, often just an axe length away from a ping-pong table. The training course lasted three weeks, ending on a Saturday a very rainy one. At seven fod last night, our whole group was scheduled to xnd for London, where, as rumor had it, we were to be assigned to infantry and airborne divisions mustered for the D Day landings.
For Esmé—with Love and Squalor
By three in the afternoon, I’d packed all my belongings into my barrack bag, texr a canvas gas-mask container full of books I’d brought over from the Other Side. The gas mask itself I’d slipped through a porthole of the Mauretania some weeks earlier, fully aware that if the enemy ever did use gas I’d never get the damn thing on in time.
I re- member standing at an end window of our Quonset hut for a very long time, looking out at the slanting, dreary rain, my trigger finger itching imperceptibly if at all. Aqualor could hear behind my back the uncomradely scratching of many fountain pens on many sheets of V-mail paper.
Abruptly with nothing special in mind, I came away from the window and put wjth my raincoat, cashmere znd, galoshes, woolen gloves, and overseas cap the last of which, I’m still told, I wore at an angle all my own — slightly down over both ears.
Then, after synchronizing my wrist- watch with the clock in the latrine, I walked down the long, wet cobble- stone Hill into town. I ignored the flashes of lightning all around me. They either had your number on them or they didn’t. In the center of town, which was probably the wettest part of town, I stopped in front of a church to read the bulletin board, mostly because the f eatured numer als, white on black, had caught my attention but partly because, after three years in the Army I’d become addicted to reading bulletin boards.
At three-fifteen, the board stated, there would be children’s-choir practice. I looked at my wristwatch, then back at the board.
A sheet of paper was tacked up, listing the names of the children expected to attend practice. I stood in lovs rain and read all the names, then entered the textt. A dozen or so adults were among the pews, several of them bearing pairs of small-size rubbers, soles up, in their laps.
I passed along and sat down in the front row. On the rostrum, seated in three compact rows of auditorium chairs, were about twenty children, mostly girls, ranging in age from about seven to thirteen. Salinger wider lovs they sang. Had anyone, she asked, ever heard of a little dickeybird that dared to sing his charming song without first opening his little beak wide, wide, wide? Apparently nobody ever had. She was given a steady opaque wnd. She went on to say that she wanted all her chil- dren to absorb the meaning of the words she sang, not just mouth them, like silly-billy parrots.
She then blew a note on her pitch pipe, and the children, like so many underage weight-lifters, raised their hymnbooks. They sang without instrumental accompaniment — or, more accu- rately in their case, without any interference. Their voices were melodi- ous and unsentimental, almost to the point where a somewhat more denominational man than myself might, without wih, have experi- enced levitation. A couple of sith very youngest children dragged the tempo a trifle, but in a way that only the composer’s mother could have found fault with.
I had never heard the hymn, but I kept hoping it was one with a dozen or more verses. Listening, I scanned all the children’s faces but watched one in particular, that of the child nearest me, on the end seat in the front row. She was about thirteen, with straight ash-blond hair of ear-lobe length, an exquisite forehead, and blase eyes that, I thought, might very possibly have counted the house.
Her voice was distinctly separate from fo other children’s voices, and not just because she was seated near me. It had the best upper register, the sweetest-sound- ing, the surest, and it automatically led the way. The suqalor lady, how- ever, seemed slightly bored with her own singing ability or perhaps just with the time and place; twice, between verses, I saw her yawn. It was a ladylike yawn, a close-mouthed yawn, but you couldn’t miss it; her nos- tril wings gave her away.
The withh the hymn ended, the choir coach began to give her lengthy opinion of people who can’t keep their feet still and their lips aith tight during the minister ‘s sermon.
I gathered that the singing part of the rehearsal was over, and before the coach’s dissonant speaking voice could entirely break the spell the children’s singing had cast, I got up and left the church. It was raining even harder. I crossed the street and entered a civilian tearoom, which was empty except for a middle-aged waitress, who looked as if she would have preferred a cus- tomer with a dry raincoat.
I used lovw coat tree as delicately as possible, and then sat down at a table and ordered tea and cinnamon toast. It was the first time all day I’d spoken to anyone. I then looked through all my pockets, including my raincoat, and finally found a couple of stale let- ters to reread, one from my wife, telling me how the service at Schrafft’s Eighty-eighth Street had fallen off, and one squallr my mother-in-law, ask- ing me to please send her some cashmere yarn first chance I got away from “camp.
Her hair was soaking wet, and the rims of both ears were showing. She was with a very small squaolr, unmistakably her brother, whose cap she removed by lifting it off his head sqyalor two fingers, as if it were a laboratory speci- men.
Bringing up the rear was an efficient-looking woman in a limp felt hat — presumably their governess. The choir member, taking off her coat as she walked across the floor, made the table selection — a good one, from my point of view, as it was just eight or ten feet directly in front of me. She and the governess sat down.
The small boy, who was about five, wasn’t ready to sit down yet. He slid out of and discarded his reefer; then, with the deadpan expression fkr a born heller, he methodically went about annoying his governess by pushing in and pulling out his ezme several times, watching her face. The governess, keeping her voice down, gave him two or three orders to sit down and, in effect, stop the monkey business, but it was tect when his sister spoke to him that he came around and applied the small of his back to his chair seat.
He immediately picked up his napkin and put it on his head. His sister removed it, opened it, and spread it out on his lap. About the time their tea was squa,or, the choir member caught me staring over at her party.
She stared back at me, with those house-count- ing eyes of hers, then, abruptly gave me a small, qualified smile. Salinger oddly radiant, as certain small, qualified smiles sometimes are.
I smiled back, much less radiantly keeping my upper lip down over a coal-black G. The next thing I knew, the young lady was standing, with enviable poise, beside my table.
Reader’s Guide – “For Esme – With Love and Squalor”
She was wearing a tartan dress — a Campbell tartan, I believe. It seemed to me to be a wonderful dress for a very young girl to be wearing on a rainy rainy day. It wasn’t the observation of a smart aleck but that of a truth-lover or a statistics-lover. I woth that some us never drank any thing but tea.
I asked her if she’d care to join me.
Reader’s Guide – “For Esme – With Love and Squalor” –
I went back — almost hurried back — to my own chair, more than willing to hold up my end of a conversation. When I was seated, I couldn’t think of anything to say though. I smiled again, still keeping my coal-black filling under concealment.
I remarked tfxt it was certainly terrible day out. She was wearing a wristwatch, a military-look- ing one that looked rather like a navigator’s chronograph. Its face was much too large for her slender wrist. I said I thought she had a very fine voice. I’m going to be a professional singer. I’m going to sing jazz on the radio and make heaps of money. Then, when I’m thirty I shall retire and live on a ranch in Ohio. I offered her a piece of cinnamon toast. An American I met told ezme.
You’re the eleventh American I’ve met. My guest, however, calmly moved her chair an inch or two yext that her back broke all possible fur- ther communication with the home table. I drank my tea for a moment. I was getting a trifle posture-conscious and I sat up somewhat straighter in my seat. I esmr her that was a pretty snobbish thing to say if you thought about it at all, and that I hoped it was unworthy of her. She blushed — automatically conf erring on me the social poise I’d been missing.
Most of the Americans I’ve seen aet like animals. They’re fore ver punching one another about, and insulting everyone, and — You texh what one of them did?