A criticism article of For Esme-With Love and Squalor observes, "The two different sides of X, his unburdened side and his depressed side, two outright opposites, are told by Salinger using two different methods. His unburdened side is told in first person, thus making him seem more personal and generally caring. While his depressed side is told in third person and uses a lot of morose adjectives, thus making X seem mysterious and secluded" (For Esme-With Love and Squalor, A Literary Criticism). This quote is not only interesting, it is also very accurate. Sergeant X journeyed through a variety of emotional and spiritual changes throughout the short story. In the beginning, as he and several other soldiers prepare for battle, he encounters a young, adolescent girl by the name of Esme. X was overwhelmed by loneliness, having been unable to care for and bond with anyone under the harsh disciplinary lifestyle of the Army. However, he is temporarily relieved of this pain as he has a brief, but meaningful conversation with Esme, which helps him see the lighthearted aspect of the world. Their relationship depicts the innocence and pure-hearted affection in life. By having this part of the story narrated in first person, the reader understands the honesty and truth in Sergeant X's words and actions, as well as his meaningful emotions towards Esme. In contrast, after the group of soldiers go to battle, X's once pure and impeccable personality is scarred by the traumatic elements of death, violence, and tragedy. He then transforms into a completely different character who is depressed and irritable, secluding himself from the rest of society. This part of the story is told in third-person to describe the melancholy and menacing atmosphere, as well as the negative emotions resonating from Sergeant X. This could have also been to due to the fact that Salinger wanted the reader to feel detached from the main character to show how he is detached from the rest of world.
An article about Nine Stories, called Threads of Innocence, states, "They all pertain to the lack of something in the world, and it might he said that what Mr. Salinger has written so far is the absence of love" (Welty). This directly applies to both Sergeant X and Esme in For Esme-With Love and Squalor. When X serves in the Army, he is completely lonely and secluded from all the other soldiers. This is due to the fact that he is surrounded by such a great deal of discipline that he has a severely scrupulous and orderly way of life. Thus, he does not get a chance to establish any relationships with anyone. Not to mention, Esme's father passed away many years earlier, so she also forgot how it feels to be cared for. Sergeant X's and Esme's exchange of compassion is exactly what they needed, because it is something they both entirely lacked. This deprivation of love is the most massive flaw in the world, which is what J.D. Salinger was trying to imply when writing this short story.