A Clean and Well-Lighted Place is a well-known Hemingway’s short story that deals with eternal life questions. The author elaborates on such philosophical categories as age, perception, and the sense of life.
Ernest Hemingway is a master of words. He creates rather usual characters – a deaf man, an older and a younger waiter. The purpose of this short story is to analyze the way characters see the world. Through this analysis, the author attempts to contrast different viewpoints. Comparing the characters’ opinions helps the readers understand the ambiguity of life.
A Clean & Well-Lighted Place: Characters
Any essay or thesis on A Clean and Well-Lighted place includes the description of characters. There are three key personalities in the story.
The two characters of the story – the waiters – are rather curious. They seem to be very interested in what is happening in the life of their visitor. Many people who have rather monotonous jobs become curious about the personalities they serve.
A waiter cannot truly get to know a person within minutes. However, some waiters tend to consider themselves specialists in people’s psychology. That is what happens in this story that we analyze.
The two waiters are trying to find out why their visitor has decided to commit suicide. Their dialogue is built upon the question: “Why would he kill himself?”
There are many suppositions. That deaf old man might be a coward. He might have tried to commit suicide, but never managed to. He might also be careless. He has gone out for a drink late in the evening. It is not safe: one might be arrested or get in trouble.
The senior waiter sympathizes with that deaf visitor. Perhaps this can be attributed to his age. He has lived through many tough situations. He knows a lot about the unhappiness and loneliness that an old desperate person might feel.
Those who have felt the pain can understand others’ feelings better as well. Hemingway himself knew many horrible examples of life tragedies. Thus, his characters reflect that experience. The old waiter shows an understanding of the needs of the elderly.
The man who sits alone in the shadow does not inspire that much sympathy in the younger waiter. The latter has a less pessimistic life perception. That is natural for the youth.
The younger waiter has to perform many orders from his older colleague. The senior waiter is demanding and accurate. He wants to see the café “clean and well-lit” since it helps to avoid gloomy thoughts.
Another reason for the older waiter to be so demanding is to avoid loneliness. In this way, he interacts with his colleague more. At home, he stays on his own for a long time. Loneliness, insomnia, and dissatisfaction accompany him too often.
The older waiter concludes that, based on personal experience, many people suffer from depressing thoughts and other forms of pessimism.
In the meantime, both waiters are cautious and pragmatic. They control the elderly visitor to make sure he does not leave without paying for the meal.
These are the main characteristics that readers can “see.”
A Clean & Well-Lighted Place: Analysis
The analysis of Hemingway’s A Clean and Well-Lighted Place would not be complete without discussing the subtopics in more detail. After analyzing the characters of the short story, we can now consider the ideas expressed by them.
This elderly waiter is a representative of those who rejects the existence of purpose in lives. People who do not know or understand why they live tend to state that no one does.
Many people live without a goal. But that might lead to depression and sometimes even suicide. If life seems meaningless, people stop attributing value to it.
In life, any person consciously or subconsciously seeks a definite purpose. The characters of Hemingway’s short stories often prove that statement. If there is nothing to live for, people cease taking actions toward a better situation.
A Clean & Well-Lighted Place proves that point. It reveals that the old man has no desire to act. No wonder he tried to commit suicide. In the book, the author indirectly highlights the importance of a meaningful existence.
Another topic that Hemingway touches upon is loneliness. The writer focuses on the feelings of the elderly waiter who lives alone. The waiter is trying to keep himself occupied and communicate with the younger colleague. It helps him maintain balance in life.
Most importantly, Hemingway questions the real meaning of life. His characters are vivid examples of differences that exist in perceptions of that topic.
The three characters of the book try to find the meaning of life in different things:
- The youngest one expresses naivete. He believes that work and marriage are enough to constitute the purpose of the whole life.
- The senior waiter has a more balanced approach. He understands and partially shares the positions of both the young colleague and the deaf visitor.
- The old visitor probably sees no merit in living at all.
In the book, we come across a Spanish word “nada”. It means “nothing.” The context of the word’s usage shows an almost nihilistic approach. According to it, God does not exist, nothing can be perfect, and it does not make sense to strive for anything.
That approach rejects the idea of life after death. The author draws attention to this view as many people feel that life is meaningless at some point.
For example, the older waiter’s life does not seem full of conscious efforts toward definite goals. That is not uncommon in people of his age. However, in some cases, it comes to extremes. Life might seem to have no meaning, no purpose, and no hope.
On the other hand, that elderly waiter stays longer hours to make visitors happier. He achieves it through attention to detail, additional efforts to clear the place. That can be viewed as a respectable purpose in life.
As the story continues, the older waiter realizes that life does not make sense if there is no “afterlife” and no God. That is where the word “nada” comes up.
Readers do not learn as much about the thoughts of the younger waiter. The author focuses on the feelings of those who have already experienced a high number of life situations. The elderly tend to analyze and reason everything that happens. The youth is generally more flippant.
Both waiters observe the old man. They see the same picture. However, their perception of it differs drastically.
A Clean & Well-Lighted Place: Conclusion
Hemingway’s story explores how people see the sense of life. Every person has their path. Different experiences result in various perceptions. The elderly differs from the youth. Older people might suffer from loneliness, lack of purpose in life, and depression.
Even now, many years later, these statements are still valid for many people. That short story is thought-provoking. It helps understand how the same situation might seem futile and meaningless for some people and reasonable for others. People should keep this in mind while trying to figure out what they live for.