For Esme With Love And Squalor by JD Salanger War is a very traumatic experience; soldiers are lucky to emerge alive, let alone mentally sound. In the short story, “For Esme With Love And Squalor” by JD Salanger a story is told of a man who becomes mentally ill after the war. The man, X, meets a young girl at a coffee shop and learns how mature she was and how important her watch is to her. After the war, X suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome, it was not until he receive Esme’s gift that he was saved from permanent insanity. X meets Esme in a coffee shop just to the outskirts of a military base. X had previously noticed her in a church during a choir practice, she stood out from the other young people “Her voice was distinctly separate from the other children’s voices” (Salanger 90).
Later, when she meets him in the coffee shop she just walks over to him, a mere stranger. They have a casual yet deep conversation about their histories. X is extremely impressed with her large vocabulary that possibly exceeded his own. X notices the oversized manly watch that was around this small girl’s wrist “I happened to be looking at her enormous faced, chronographic-looking watch”(Salanger 100). He learns that she lived a very difficult life when she replies solemnly looking at the wrist watch, “He gave it to me just before Charles and I were evacuated” (Salanger 100) She explains that her deceased father had given it to her and that it had great sentimental value. In this short story X writes Esme a story, he changes the tone of the tale “This is the moving or squalid part of the story” (Salinger 103).
At this point, he tries to conceal his identity “I’ve disguised myself so cunningly that even the cleverest of readers will fail to recognize me”(Salanger 103). This shows that he chooses to hide his identity because he is ashamed of what he has done and it is a way of detaching himself in an attempt to forget or evade his past. He disguises himself X so no one will be able to figure out whom the story was about. During the war, X goes insane and he changes significantly from the beginning of the story. X suffers from shell shock. After the war ended X was tormented by many symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome “He had been chain smoking for weeks”, “His gums bled at the slightest pressure of the tip of his tongue”, “He felt his mind dislodge itself and teeter” (Salanger 104).
In the story, Salanger also writes that Sargent X sees imaginary dogs and takes a pot shot at a cat because it was a German spy, he also writes letters and the letters were illegible. War can have a profound and permanent affect on people and usually scars them for life. Just when the reader begins to think that X is going to be permanently mentally scared, Salanger adds a twist. One day X receives a letter, not just any letter it was from Esme. All of his letters were meaningless and empty, so he no longer bothered opening his mail. On his desk there was “a collapsed pile of unopened letters and packages ” (Salanger 111).
In the pile he finds one letter that stands out, the package he receives has several of his old APO numbers on it, he opens it. He read the letter. It had been the first letter that was not selfish, it was not impersonal, it was not cold, in fact, the letter was personal, showed that she cared, and was the only one in the pile that was sympathetic, or showed any emotion at all, “I have thought of you frequently and of the extremely pleasant afternoon we spent in each other’s company”(Salanger 112). In the package, X found the enclosed watch that Esme had sent him. The crystal was broken but it was otherwise in tact. This seemed to bring comfort and peace of mind to x, “He just sat with it in his hand for a long period of time.
Then, suddenly almost ecstatically, he felt sleepy” (Salanger 114). This shows that X found that the watch and letter were calming and comforting, this was most likely the only sleep he had had in a long time. This demonstrates how the watch and letter saved him from permanent insanity. The girl X met in the shop was very mature and had lived a hard life; the only thing she had left of her fathers was his wristwatch. He suffered many symptoms of shell shock, it was not until he received the letter and watch from Esme that he was able to leave the war with all of his faculties intact.
War can change a person’s life, alter their personality and scar them for life. Very seldom do people leave war and act the way they did before the war. Anyone who comes out of war with all of his or her faculties intact is very lucky.