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A Clean Well Lighted Place English Literature Essay

During the 20th century, literature contained many different typed of writing themes. One theme in particular was place. The use of place as a theme was utilized especially well in many of Ernest Hemingway’s works. Hemingway was one of the greatest American writers and journalists of the 20th century. One of his more famous works is his short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” The title is self-explanatory towards revealing the possibility of place being one of the themes of the short story. Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” begins slowly with two people having a conversation but ends up displaying an important theme of place in the ‘clean, well-lighted’ bar atmosphere that is seen.

In many works of literature, a certain place establishes a sense of lifestyle. Place gives reader a sense of automatic comfort and further knowledge of the plot. A huge basis upon what makes place important as a theme in literature is the relationship it has with the characters. When readers are first given the setting and sense of place that the characters are living in, readers can automatically depict whether or not the characters adjust or “fit in” with the society and environment. Depending upon the character’s personality and the personality of the place, tension and apprehension can result from a distortion with each other. However, if a character adjusts with the society in the story, messages can be implicated and readers can associate better with the author’s writing style. An example of this can be seen in Annie Proulx’s short story, “Brokeback Mountain.” The two cowboys correlate well with the cold, mountainous work environment that Proulx places them in. These two men use this mountain as a place of leisure that they can enjoy and get away to. The mountain is significant to the theme because of this. Thus, by creating the appropriate settings and places for the events to take place, the tone that authors wants to attain, will be brought out effectively and will therefore demonstrate the connection between the atmosphere and the characters in the story and show in general, how it has exaggerated the characters and their personalities.

Hemingway wrote many confusing works of literature that have been thoroughly debated for years. This short story definitely follows the pattern of confusion that Hemingway brought to readers. The story begins with discussion of a drunk, old man that visits this bar and café every night. It appears to be conversation between two waiters, one young and young old, about the drunken man’s attempt at suicide a couple nights before. The two waiters argue about closing the bar. The younger waiter is angry and wants to go home, while the older waiter is more patient. Overall, the story is perplexing because it does not seem to have a point, but further examination of the dialogue and setting can divulge a message.

In many of Hemingway’s works readers are forced to use the dialogue of the characters to determine what is actually going on. “The difficulty presented by the story derives from the fact that in only a few instances does Hemingway identify the speaker” (Gabriel 539). Although Hemingway uses dialogue as a theme, place is most definitely one of the most important premises he implicates into his stories. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Hemingway gives us a café which is clean and well lit, but generally has a lonely vibe. This café represents more than just a place for the old man to get drunk, but a place that he can resolve his loneliness.

Hemmingway’s solemn tale is about defeating the late night loneliness in a bright bar. The drunken man drinking brandy endures it and so does the elder waiter. However, the younger waiter cannot comprehend being alone because he most likely has not been very forlorn in his life. He brings up a couple times during the story that he wished to go home to his wife, yet the old man and old waiter have no wives to go home to like he does.

Ernest Hemingway does not feel the need to give much detail on the setting.   The reader knows that it is late and that these men are in a café. The main character is sitting in the shadow and he is drinking brandy. Hemingway leaves out details from the setting but does make it clear that this café is, like the title suggests, clean and well-lighted. He only states important aspects of the setting demonstrating that details are nothing, or “nada.” Through his writing Hemingway implies that this old man feels that little details in the world mean nothing. When the older waiter asks the younger waiter why this drunken man had tried to commit suicide a week before, the younger waiter simply answers "Nothing. He has plenty of money" (Hemingway 17). In the young waiter’s mind this old man has everything. Obviously, this old man feels that things like money are nothing and thus not worth living over. Ernest Hemingway, through the lack of details, demonstrates that details are nothing and therefore not worth inputting, strengthening the “nada” theme.

"Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café (251)." The waiter who speaks these words realizes that his café is more than just a place to eat and drink. The main character of the story is the elderly, deaf drunken man who spends every evening at the café until it closes. Place is used to help the reader understand the old man's loneliness and the comfort he receives from the café. Hemingway uses direct description, visual and auditory clues, and sense imagery to establish the setting and to develop this understanding. Hemingway uses direct description at the very beginning of the story to establish the setting of the story for the reader. "It was late and everyone had left the café except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust...” (Hemingway 15). This conveys a sense of solitude and peace which surrounds the old man. More importantly, this description gives the reader a feeling for the loneliness which has engulfed the old man. The use of shadows and light, along with solitude, gives the sense of loneliness.

The older waiter argues that they should have allowed their customer to stay, that being in the café is not the same as drinking at home. He explains that he is also one of those "who likes to stay late at a café . . . . With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night" (Hemingway 18). He does not want to close, since there may be someone else who needs the café. When the young waiter says there are bodegas open all night, the other points out that the bright atmosphere of the cafés makes it different. This detail demonstrated by Hemingway truly reflects the importance of the café as a theme and its relevance with the characters.

The visual and auditory clues the author uses are necessary in understanding why the old man continues to return to the café each night. "Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself. It is the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music” (Hemingway 23). It is essential that the café be well-lighted to offset the old man's dark and lonely life. In addition, music would only be a distraction from his thoughts and a disruption of the solitude which quiet brings. Finally, through Hemingway's use of sense imagery, the reader is able to understand why the old man visits the café at night.

"...the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference” (Hemingway 22). Evening brings a sense of serenity to the old man. The day time distractions, even for a deaf man, are replaced by evening solitude. This allows the old man to withdraw and reflect on the loneliness of his life. It is clear that Hemingway's use of direct description, visual and auditory clues, and sense imagery to establish setting help the reader to understand the old man's loneliness and the comfort he receives from the café. The old man is first seen as very lonely and in search of solitude and quiet. The setting, and the use of several literary mechanisms, however, further develop this old man and enable the reader to not only "see" his loneliness but "feel" and understand it.

After the younger waiter goes home, the older one asks himself why he needs a clean, pleasant, quite, well-lighted place. The answer is that he requires some such impression of order because of "a nothing that he knew too well." He begins a mocking prayer: "Our nada who art in nada as it is in nada” (Hemingway 23). He then finds himself at a bodega which is a poor substitute for a clean, well-lighted café. These places which bring light to the characters also bring a light out in readers. Hemingway presented a place where not only the old man went to, but also his readers could relate to because of the solemn feelings sometimes felt. He goes home to lie awake until daylight may finally bring him some sleep: "After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it” (Hemingway 24).

Hemingway’s past may have given him reason to write this story and also reason to use this certain place. He was quite the drinker which gave him firsthand accounts of being in a bar and the atmosphere it provided. He may have used some of his own life experiences to give himself inspiration towards what this deaf, old man might have been feeling. “Hemingway’s complex relationship with women – he married four times…” (Pukas 1). He most likely felt loneliness a lot of his life because of the many relationships he was in and out of. This most likely resulted in his heavy drinking, and the “clean, well-lighted” bars that he went to would give him comfort.

Many writers use different ways of approaching place as a theme. Some writers use the place with the character’s personalities, or some use the place as a higher power. In this short story by Hemingway, he uses visual imagery to depict this fresh, bright environment to readers in similar ways that other writers would. Writing visually takes talent and uniqueness, and like any talent there are methods that made Hemingway stand out from the others. Creating a visual image gives the reader "that place" where they want to go on their mind's virtual journey through a short story such as “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Imagery gives the reader that picture in their mind's eye as a reference to place with the written words. “..Everyone had left the café except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light” (Hemingway 15). In this instance, Hemingway was more visibly descriptive about where the old man was sitting. The shadow indicated that the old man may have sat in the dark for a reason, such as loneliness. An artist, who can write well, weaves those images into the story line, taking the reader on a journey where the imagery leaves you satisfied with the ride when the last page is turned and the gateway or book has been closed. The images stay with you long after.

Hemingway is not your typical 20th century writer because he truly had his own style of writing. His works were complicated for some readers but revolved around strong messages. Every person can relate with at least one of his short stories because of his usage of the places that his readers have once been to and experienced themselves. Understanding the importance of place as a theme in literature takes research and exploration of many different writers. Ernest Hemingway uses settings and places on a whole other level by elaborating with visual imagery and toying with readers’ senses. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” isn’t just about the loneliness of an old, deaf man, but also displays characteristics that can be felt by all. Hemingway shows readers that sometimes it takes a clean, well-lighted place to get away from the dark, loneliness we feel when we are down.


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