Salinger's Many Tones in "For Esme - with Love and Squalor"

Salinger's Many Tones in "For Esme - with Love and Squalor"

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J.D. Salinger displays many tones in his short story "For Esme - with Love and Squalor." In the beginning the tone is quite scornful and sarcastic towards his mother-in-law and his wife. Next, we see a sensitive and youthful tone, when the narrator, Sergeant X, interacts with children. There is also an angry tone that appears closer to the end of the story that refers to his brother. These tones are shown on several different occasions throughout the story; in each instance the tone describes the narrator's attitude toward the character.

Many times throughout the story the tone of the narrator, Sergeant X, is scornful and sarcastic. For example, in the beginning, he wants to attend Esmes's wedding in England; unfortunately he is convinced by his wife not to go. Although he calls his wife "breathtaking and level headed" we learn later when asked if he was "deeply in love" with his wife, he does not answer. Furthermore, Sergeant X receives letters from his wife during the war and she only complains about her trivial problems in America. She does not ask about his well being at war. Also, he comments how he does not see his mother in law very often and "that she's not getting any younger." She also asks for some cashmere yarn to be sent home and she too does not inquire about his welfare. We see that these two characters are depicted as selfish and very apathetic, because of the sarcastic tone set by the narrator.

When Sergeant X interacts with children; a very sensitive, caring and youthful tone is set. For instance, while he listened to choir of children sing he described the experience as "melodious and unsentimental," and stated that maybe if he was a more religious man, he could have experienced levitation. In addition, the narrator conveys the image of Esme and her "oddly radiant" smile and he makes a comment about her nice dress and hair. Then secondly described how Charles's eyes filled with pride as he told a riddle, how green his eyes were and how "splendid" his outfit was. Esme and Charles were the only people in the story were a positive tone was set. This tone depicts not only the innocence of the children seen by Sergeant X, but also shows his sensitive, youthful characteristic and his yearning to love.

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Lastly, the tone is dramatically changed to angry and hurtful tone. This begins with Sergeant X writing a promised "squalor" story for Esme. This anger is displayed when the narrator tries to conceal his identity by calling the main character in the story Sergeant X. He continues to tell his story of the traumatic experience of war, which impacted his physical and mental well being, "he felt his mind dislodge itself and teeter, like insecure luggage on an overhead rack." Another example of his fury and rage was displayed when he opened a letter from his brother in Albany. The letter asked him to send some "bayonets or swastika" for his kids, as "the g.d. war is over" and he probably has a lot of time on his hands. Sergeant X tore up the letter. This depicts the frustration and anger, the narrator feels towards his brother.

In conclusion, one can see the different tones of sarcasm, sensitivity and anger, created by the writer; depict the image and characteristics of the people in the story, including Sergeant X. These dramatic tones not only suggest J.D. Salinger's attitude they create a clever and meaningful story.

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