ENG 1301.021

10 December 2002

Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, In Oak Park, Illinois. Although he shares this birth date with numerous others, his name towers higher than them in literary history. He is unforgettable not only for what he did (creating some great works of literature, including "Old Man and the Sea," and "The Sun Also Rises "to name just two), but he is also remembered for what he did not do. He demonstrates his determination to strip language to its most essential components by omitting any word not absolutely necessary. He is acknowledged for brevity.

In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” Hemingway focuses on the pain of old age suffered by a man that is introduced in a café in the wee small hours of the night. Through the use of dialogue, Hemingway creates three characters that symbolize the stages of life, birth, living, and death.

The young waiter seems selfish and inconsiderate of anyone else. In the beginning of the story, he is confused why the old man tried to kill himself. “He has plenty of money,” (13) he says, as if that is the only thing anyone needs for happiness. When the old man orders another drink, the younger waiter warns him that he’ll get drunk, as if to waver his own responsibility rather than to warn the old man for his sake.

The story is filled with light and shadows, as an old and deaf man, who frequents the café regularly sits through another sleepless night, slowly drinking himself to a stupor in the quiet of a well-lighted cafe. The elder waiter explains to the younger, more impatient waiter, “‘You do not


understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now there are shadows of the leaves.’” (101-102).

For a lonesome, elderly man, the clean, well-lighted cafe is a minor reprieve from the obscurity. He is a very secluded man who has no family remaining. He drinks himself into a drunken state, hoping that sleep will come -- taking him from the quiet desperation that has already caused him to attempt suicide once (as the waiters discuss).

For the elderly man, and also for the more mature waiter, life has begun to seize no meaning. As the old waiter says to himself, "It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too." (108-109). Through the language of dialogue, three characters emerge creating a symbolic illustration of the progression of life. The young waiter states, “’ I have confidence, I am all confidence’” (86-87). He displays his eagerness to conquer the world. When we are young, we live for today, for ourselves, without regard for what the future may hold. Tomorrow is a dream; tomorrow is something left to the old. However, in all his confidence he lacks patience and understanding, which can only come with the experience of life. Because of this lack of experience, he is not capable of compassion for the old man “’You have youth confidence and a job’” the older waiter replies (88).

The main focus of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is on the pain of old age suffered by a man that we meet in a cafe late one night. Hemingway contrasts light and dark to show the difference between this man and the young people around him, and uses his deafness as an image as his separation from the rest of the world. Near the end of the story, the author shows us the desperate emptiness of a life near finished without the fruit of its labor, and the aggravation of the old man\'s restless mind that cannot find peace. Throughout this story, stark images of


desperation show the old man\'s life at a point when he has realized the futility of life and finds himself the lonely object of scorn.

The most obvious image used by Hemingway in this story is that of the contrast between light and dark. The cafe is a "Clean, Well-Lighted Place". It is a refuge from the darkness of the night outside. Darkness is a symbol of fear and loneliness. The light symbolizes comfort and the company of others. There is hopelessness in the dark, while