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short story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," describes two waiters at a Spanish café. Their last customer, an old, deaf man, has yet to leave and it is beginning to get late. The waiters begin discussing the old man's recent attempt at suicide as Hemingway introduces the two characters. Hemingway's comparison of the two waiters has given me a look into the worldview of each to show how ignorance, confidence, sympathy, and worldview all impact our lives and actions.
The young waiter is obviously bothered by the presence of the old man at the café. The waiter mentions that he has a wife waiting for him at home and that he wishes to meet her at a reasonable time. The older waiter replies "He had a wife once too" (Hemingway 143), but the youthful man feels a wife would be of no use to the man now. When the old man requests another glass of brandy, the waiter expresses that he wished the man had been successful in his suicide attempt. The young waiter is bitter toward the old man for keeping the man from his desires.
The young waiter has much confidence in his youth, but lacks life experience to be able to sympathize with the old man. The old man stays dignified at the café, without spilling a drop of his brandy, but Hemingway mentions that the young waiter "poured on into the glass so that the brandy slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer" (143). His youthful confidence seems to blind him to the world around him. He is unable to sympathize with the man's need for the café possibly because he has never experienced disappointment in life to where he needed a refuge. Michael Adams says in his essay "meaning can be created only through an awareness of its absence" (Adams). The young waiter cannot understand why he should stay late because he has never experienced the need for a refuge late at night. The waiter expresses his youthful ignorance by saying "I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing" (Hemingway 143). When the old man finishes his drink, he requests another, but is turned away and is asked to leave by the young waiter. He insists the man can drink brandy at home though realizes that it is not the same as the café. The young waiter is so concerned with his own interests that he treats the old man as if he was a criminal.
The older waiter does not share this resentment for the old man. He is disappointed when the younger waiter refuses to serve the man. The elder has sympathy for the old man's desire to stay at the café late into the night. The older waiter states that he is "with all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those that need a light for the night" (Hemingway 144). The waiter feels the café should stay open for those that need it, for those that do not desire to visit bodegas. The older waiter realizes the difference between the café and a bodega, "When the young waiter says there are bodegas open all night, the other points out that the bright atmosphere of the café makes it different" (Adams). The older waiter's life experience allows him to see past his own needs and realize the needs of others.
The older waiter has a nihilistic worldview. Nihilism argues that life has no real objective meaning or purpose. The waiter sees no reason for his existence and believes that all is "nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada" (Hemingway 145). Holding to this worldview, the waiter realizes that men need a refuge from the chaos of the world. He sees the need for a clean, well-lit place to take a break from normal life.
Personally, I feel as though I can relate to this story in several ways. Much of my life has been spent in youthful bliss and ignorance. I had never, before now, made an attempt at any school I have attended. I had always thought that I would be all right in the end, no matter what I did. At the age of eighteen, I decided, on my own free will, to move out of my parent's house and support myself. I can compare this part of my life with that of the young waiter in the story. "I have confidence. I am all confidence" (Hemingway 144). My confidence had blinded me to the world around me.
After living on my own sustenance for over two years, I lost my job, lost my car, was put on probation, and failed out of school. After losing my job, I had no money or way to support myself on my own. My only option was to move back to my parent's home. Given this experience of having lost it all, I feel as though I appreciate the things I have much more. As the old waiter in the story, life experiences have made me a more understanding person. In my time spent at home, I've also found a new hobby. Riding bikes makes me feel as if I have not a care in the world, very similar to how the clean café makes the old man and elder waiter feel. My life experience has molded me into the person that I am now becoming.
Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" seems to have captured the feelings I have had through different stages of my life. There are times where it feels like all is nothing, and it very well could be true. All that we know is that there can always be a clean, well-lighted place for us to rest from the world around us.