"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway is a powerful and depressing investigation of the meaning of life" (Book Rags). Its about two waiters working late at a cafe, where an older man is drinking alone. The waiters discuss the old man and his situation of loneliness and how he almost committed suicide last week. They both give their opinions and it relates to them deeper than they even realize. Hemingway uses the difference between darkness and light to tell of his ideas on mortality.
The setting in where this story takes place is very significant. It is set in a small unnamed town in Spain. The entire story takes place in a cafe late one night. The cafe goes to represent mans shelter from the cold and a sort of humbleness from the world, and sitting in the shadow the leaves of the tree made, which gave the idea that he was almost hiding from the world that was surrounding him. The younger of the two waiters does not appreciate nor understands what the cafe really represents as the old man and the other waiter does. The cafe represents a peacefulness that one can enjoy and get away from all the negative things that life comes with.
The characters of the story not only represent who they are in the story but also represent Hemingway in some aspects. There are two different kinds of characters presented, the ones unaware of the emptiness of life and those who are prone to it. The younger of the two waiters is oblivious to what life has in store for him and is only worried about going home to his wife and materialistic things. This is shown when he talks about the old man and states "He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me" (Hemingway).This goes on to prove that the younger waiter is the one unaware of the emptiness of life and only cares about himself. He also does not understand how important it is to some people to offer a well-lighted place. Second character is the old man drinking quietly outside, whom is deaf and elderly. He attempted suicide the week before and although he does not say much has many different aspects on life. He feels the cafe is comforting and somewhere he can forget about the world and his troubles with being alone and nothingness. He hides his sadness behind alcohol and repeats "Another brandy, "(Hemingway) to the waiter. Last of the characters is the older waiter. He is found to be like Hemingway, and understands the deeper things in life. He understands the old mans need to be in the cafe late at night and also enjoys the ora that the clean well lit cafe portrays. He also can not bare the darkness and is unable to sleep till morning. He goes on to give an excuse for him not being able to sleep and says "it's probably only insomnia. Many must have it" (Hemingway). This proves that the waiter does not want to admit his problems with being lonely just like the old man. "The older waiter is insomniac. He is like the old man, with those who need a light for the night" (Dell'Amico).
There are many different conflicts in the story. The old man shows us loneliness and despair associated with old age. He comes to this cafe repeatedly night after night, by himself. He does not want to be alone and solves this problem by going out for a simple drink rather than just drinking at home. The old man has many conflicts with himself. He felt so negatively about himself and life that he even tried to commit suicide. The waiter explains that the old man did it because "He was in despair."(Hemingway) Nothingness is what the old man wants and is trying to escape. Dell'Amico goes on to explain the "nothing is what is left over after money is taken care of" (2). It is boredom and emptiness that the old man can not deal with. Dell'Amico also states "what is plaguing the old man are not wished for things he needs like food and shelter, but rather thoughts and profundities"(2). There is also a conflict of loneliness verses comfort by creating a cafe that is more than just a place to eat a drink. It represents so much more to people who are lonely and want to feel the warmth of the cafe just as the old man does every night. Also the a conflict is portrayed that the youth is in conflict with the older generations. The younger waiter states "I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing."He does not understand nor does he even wish to understand the concept of how deep the old man's cry for help is. He even was as cruel to tell the old man "You should have killed yourself last week," (Hemingway) even though the old man can not hear him due to him being deaf, it goes to show the lack of respect the young have for the elder. As Dell'Amico states it "essentially revels in the unthinking and selfish power of youth that cannot see ahead to the weakness of its own old age" (2). Tibbett makes a good point in saying "he [the young waiter] has the ignorance that only a younger man who has not yet experienced the world has about him" (1).
Symbolism plays a big part in "A Clean Well-Lighted Place." There is the physical darkness which stands for the darkness of reality in the real world. Light goes on the represent any device that man uses to distract himself from darkness and the negative feelings of life. The cafe stands for comfort and warmth. The old man would rather be there late at night instead of home alone, he feels relaxed and the enjoys the aroma the cafe portrays. Darkness also symbolizes fear and loneliness. The old man and the older waiter understand what it is to feel these negative feelings and realize that they are happier and more comforted in the place of the clean and well lit cafe. Tibbett goes on to explain " the older waiter and the old man both have a fear of nothingness, [and] going home to nothing" (2). This goes to prove that the light is comfort and the company of others.
I found one great piece of irony throughout the story. For the old man and the older waiter their lives are similar in pain and isolation. The irony shows that both of them are going through very similar thoughts and feelings and they do not even realize that talking to each other would keep them in good company and not alone like they feel in every day life. Them talking to one another and realizing that they are not the only ones that feel lonely and that they have the comfort of the cafe in common, would ease themselves of feeling so negative about the world. Benert points out irony when he explains" light, is ironically undercut by the presence of a shadow side, and the darkness is counteracted on more levels than that simply of light" (4).
I found many different themes throughout the story. The main one was life is meaningless. There was great regard to solidarity, nothingness, and dissatisfaction. The idea of a well-lighted place is of great significance to this short story. It illuminates the connection between the old man and the older waiter, both of whom favor well-lighted places especially at night. A well-lighted atmosphere is an atmosphere in which the old man and older waiter can escape their loneliness. In the darkness of the night, the men are more vulnerable to thoughts of suicide and despair. Darkness and sleep must be avoided, for in these states there is nothingness, "nada"(Hemingway). The old man and the older waiter have nothing to go home to except darkness. "The younger waiter, on the other hand, has a wife to go home to, and is therefore anxious to close up the cafe. When he refuses to refill the old man's brandy, the older waiter wonders what difference an extra hour would make" (Ernest Hemingway FAQ). The older waiter can empathize with the old man and understands his attraction to a clean, well-lighted place. At one point in the story the deaf man had gotten drunk and left the cafe, but although he was intoxicated he still walked with dignity. Here Hemingway was showing that even at a person's lowest depths or times of despair, there should always remain a sense of self respect. On some level, the younger waiter may also understand why the old man prefers drinking in a clean, well- lighted place to drinking at home, but his concern for himself takes precedence over his concern for the old man. After all, "he is young and has confidence. With such confidence, it seems slightly strange that he would be rushing home to his wife. A confident man must know that his wife will be waiting in bed for him regardless of how late the hour" (Ernest Hemingway FAQ).
Light and darkness can stand for many different things in the world we live in today. We all search for the meaning of life and some think that the life that we live is meaningless. The waiters talk about their differing opinions about the old man's situation, revealing a gap in the way generations view loneliness and, in larger scope, the fear of nothingness. Overall many of us have or long for our own clean well-lighted place.