Clean, Well-Lighted Place Essay

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¶ … Clean, Well-Lighted Place

One of Ernest Hemingway's most popular short stories is "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," where the author approaches old age, despair, loneliness, and the meaning of life in a few pages. Through a simple conversation between two waiters at a bar, Hemingway manages to create an atmosphere that captures a very specific, negative attitude toward life and that is the futility of it all when we finally lay our heads down at night. There are no easy answers in this story; there are only problems that linger into the night, long after everyone has drifted off to sleep. The older men cannot escape their situations; they can only put the darkness off as long as possible. The two older men in this story also reveal how old age might not be all that we expect it to be when they face fears of going home alone to a dark apartment. In addition, the old vs. The young reinforces the theme of despair as neither can relate to one another very well and this only adds to the frustration of the old who long to be heard. The despair of life, along with loneliness and futility lie at the heart of this tale about a clean cafe that serves more than one purpose.

One of the primary themes to emerge from "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," is that of despair. Hemingway brings this about in two ways. First, we see the lonely old man that has no reason to go home at night. The second reason stems from the results of having to go home alone. We become away of the despair in the man's life when the waiters discuss his suicide attempt. The younger waiter has nothing really to say about the episode other than the old man is old and that a wife would be "no good" (564) to him now. The older waiter disagrees and is more sympathetic because he can empathize with what the old must be going though most days. When the younger waiter wants to close the cafe, the older waiter asks him what difference one more hour would make to him and he simply replies, "More to me than to him" (97). The older waiter even implores the younger waiter to stay, telling him that he like staying with the older people who do not like to go home to the dark. His efforts are to no avail, as the younger waiter cannot comprehend what the older waiter is trying to tell him. After they close the cafe, Hemingway mentions that it is the light that makes the cafe "clean and pleasant" (98). Then Hemingway moves to deeper issue at hand, which is the fear that keeps people from going home. He moves on to say that old man had no fear or dread in him but rather it was "nothing that he knew too well" (565). We see this notion in the man's prayer and repetition of the word "nada." We are introduced to Hemingway's nihilism in this section of the story in that there is nothing in this life to look forward to, nothing to be thankful for, and nothing after this life. This idea is reinforced with the older waiter finally going home and wrestling with insomnia, thinking that everyone must have it. The despair in this story is overwhelming in that out two older men do not ever find a way to life that despair. Instead, they must only find ways to deal with it, which is not exactly the best place in life to be.

The theme of loneliness is also approached through the conversation of the two waiters. This conversation is significant because the two men having the conversation are decades apart in years and life experience. This difference becomes obvious when they try to relate to one another. The younger waiter cannot relate to the old man but the older waiter understands him completely. This polarity is demonstrated when the young waiter wishing to be home and suggests, that the old man could "buy a bottle and drink at home" (Hemingway 96), not recognizing the significance of being in a public place. The older waiter tries to explain this to him and tells him, that "it's not the same" (96) but he fails to help the younger waiter understand his point-of-view. The older waiter cannot put into words what he is attempting to express but he understands completely the old man's issue… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Essay:

APA Format

Clean, Well-Lighted Place.  (2009, February 14).  Retrieved December 13, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Clean, Well-Lighted Place."  14 February 2009.  Web.  13 December 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Clean, Well-Lighted Place."  February 14, 2009.  Accessed December 13, 2019.