Clean, Well-Lighted Place Term Paper

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¶ … Clean, Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway

The short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is often considered one of Hemingway's best. Through a seemingly simple story, it delivers a strong message about the human search for meaning and shows that ultimately, there is no meaning to be found. In the end, it seems the most that people can expect, is to find a well-lighted place that will allow them to ignore their emptiness.

Clean, Well-Lighted Place" takes place in a cafe at night, as an old deaf man sits and drinks whiskey. Two waiters discuss the old man, the younger waiter not understanding the old man and just wanting him to go home, while the older waiter has some empathy. It is the contrast between these two men that tells much of the story. The younger waiter shows no regard for the old man, saying that, "He should have killed himself last week" (Hemingway) and even saying directly to the old man, "You should have killed yourself last week" (Hemingway). The young waiter's opinion seems to be that the old man may as well kill himself since he has nothing to live for. The young waiter also shows an intense hatred toward the man. However, there is never any indication that there is any apparent reason for this hatred. His only valid complaint is that the man keeps him up too late and he wants the bar to close so he can go home. However, this is hardly a reason to have so much hatred for a person. The clue to the younger man's real problem is given when he says, "I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing" (Hemingway). The older waiter immediately points out there is nothing nasty about the old man, noting that he is clean and drinks without spilling. The younger waiter replies that he doesn't want to look at him. The point is made here that the younger waiter is seeing something more disturbing in the man than just his appearance or his actions. His statement that he doesn't want to be old and that he doesn't want to look at the old man reveals the truth of the situation, which is that the young waiter doesn't want to see that he may one day end up just like the old man. He wants to believe that he will continue to have everything. This point is also made earlier in the story when the young waiter compares himself to the old man, saying "He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me" (Hemingway). The older waiter replies that "He had a wife once too" (Hemingway). The point made in this exchange is that while the young waiter wants to differentiate himself from the old man, they are really only separated by age. In looking at the old man then, the young waiter is seeing what he fears becoming and also what he will become. This explains the hatred he has for the old man, where it is based on his need to escape and hide from the truth.

It is also important to consider the older waiter, who has more empathy for the old man. He understands that the old man and people like him need a clean well-lighted place to go to get them through the night. One part of the story suggests that he knows it will because he is the same way. This occurs when the older waiter tells the young waiter that he has everything. When the older waiter is questioned as to what he lacks, he replies, "Everything but work" (Hemingway). This shows that the older waiter's life may be almost as empty as the old man's. At the same time, it suggests that he too needs a quiet, well-lighted place to get him through the night. In one way, the only difference between the old man and the older waiter is that the older waiter works at the well-lighted place, while the old man visits it. The older waiter also says that, "Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe" (Hemingway). The truth may be he himself needs the cafe. This is suggested at the end of the story where the older waiter visits a bar. After leaving, Hemingway narrates, clean, well-lighted cafe was… [END OF PREVIEW]

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