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A Clean Well-Lighted Place is a very thoroughly detailed short story that may show the reader what was going on in Hemingway's life at the time the story was written. This can be concluded from the fact that Hemingway himself was depressed and an alcoholic, both traits can be found in this short story in great detail. For 60 years, scholars have judged the story pivotal in the Hemingway canon, though they have argued about the degrees of despair and hope that it offers.( Flora, Joseph M) The whole story centers on three main characters that are described in much detail, these characters and their actions can be used to see Hemingway's characterization of himself.
The entire story takes place in the perspective of two waiters, one young and one older that are working the night shift together at a café. The only other character is an older deaf man who comes to this particular café night after night. He only comes out at night because, "he was deaf, and at night it was quiet, and he felt the difference. Although he is deaf, the old man can feel the quietness of the late hour.( Flora, Joseph M) The deaf man likes to come out at night so that he does not have to see all of the happy people frolicking around him hour after hour. The younger waiter is unhappy that the old deaf man insists on staying at the café until closing time. Hemingway seems to throw himself into all three of these characters in their own separate way.
All the younger waiter wants to do is go home to his family; this is the younger waiter's idea of happiness. Although the old man has not wished to inconvenience anyone, his presence has annoyed the younger waiter, who is eager to close the cafe and to get home to his bed and wife.( Flora, Joseph M.) What the younger waiter does not understand, is that he is not taking the others feelings into any consideration, only his own. He is self-interested and indulges himself with believing an hour is "`more to me than to him the old man.'" He does not especially like work, and accuses the old man of having "no regard for those who must work"; nevertheless, he seems to accept it as economically necessary and is quite an efficient waiter, making sure the shutters are closed before he leaves. He is satisfied with his marriage and is eager to get home to his wife "waiting in bed" for him. He is a legalist in his attitude toward the soldier, although even when refusing to serve the old man, he does not "wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry."(Bennett, Warren) One can see Hemingway put himself into this younger waiter, it is as if he is using him as a way to look back at his time of youth, when all he needed to be happy was to go home to his beloved family. "There may have been a self-disgust at his inability to live up to his youth."(Burgess) Now it is not so easy, he has turned into the old deaf man. In the story the younger waiter does not understand that this café is what makes the deaf man happy, he has no family to go home to.
The younger waiter even goes on to say that the deaf man should have killed himself. The older waiter does not understand and shows pity for the deaf man, the older waiter and the deaf man are very much similar. They both have nowhere to go when the café closes, so therefore why would either of them want to leave. When the older waiter finally does leave he begins to speak to himself, he says "Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y naday pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee." Nada can be described only in terms of an opposite because to make some-thing out of no-thing is not only incomprehensible but impossible.(Bennett, Warren) This line is very important in describing the older waiter, when changing all of these words in the Our Father it changes the meaning. In turn the sacred prayer means practically nothing, he is saying that nothing really matter, he does not matter. The question he is raising by saying this is, what is the meaning of life. He is asking himself why he is here, and why he cannot be happy. He later sees that if he does not change that he will be the old deaf man with nothing to live for.
One can see Hemingway in the older waiter because in Hemingway's elderly years he began to drink more and more. One can assume that the older waiter has had something to live for in the past, as did Hemingway because he seems to understand where the younger waiter is coming from when he is in such a hurry to see his family. Hemingway goes into much detail to describe how the older waiter seems to think that nothing matters anymore; it is almost as if he as lost faith. Hemingway had a very similar attitude in his later years; this is evident because he was admitted to the hospital several times for his severe depression.
The character that he seems to describe the most is the older deaf man; he seems to get such joy out of this simple café. What seems to draw him to this café, the story does not tell, but one can assume that it is a friendly atmosphere for the deaf man; no one is going to bother him here. It is even said that the old man is very wealthy, but still he has tried to commit suicide. To Hemingway happiness is found in many different ways, this is evident in the story, for all three characters have a different way of finding it.
Hemingway coveys himself the most in this old deaf man, the deaf man seems to have no family, Hemingway lost his father when he committed suicide at the age of 57. This seems to be something that would have bothered Hemingway greatly, even to the point of wanting to be alone in a clean well-lighted place, such as this café, just like the old deaf man. Hemingway was an alcoholic and depressed as an older man, the deaf man was accused of attempted suicide, and drinks almost every night. The old deaf man is a spitting image of Hemingway and how he felt during the writing of this story. Hemingway eventually died at the age of 61, it is argued weather or not this was accidental or not.
A Clean Well-Lighted place is a very drab, and depressing story, it is all set a lonely bar with mostly lonely people. The whole setting and theme of this story seem to embody Hemingway in some way. All three characters are constantly complaining, whether it be about being at work until the hours of the morning, or just complaining about not having anything to go home too. These characters are very well thought out by Hemingway to get his point across throughout the entire story.
This story is written by Hemingway to show the different phases of life, every person has a different idea of happiness; no two are exactly the same. This story about quietly endured pain connotes the idea that suffering is indeed so common, so mundane, no commemoration of it is necessary.(Dell'Amico, Carol) This is evident in his story; all three characters are doing something completely different in order to find their idea of happiness. The older waiter asks the most important question to himself, why am I here as he constantly tries to find happiness along with billions of others on their pursuit of happiness.
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Elliott, Ira. "Ernest Hemingway." Writers for Young Adults. Ed. Ted Hipple. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.
Dell'Amico, Carol. "Overview of 'A Clean, Well-lighted Place'." Short Stories for Students. Ed. Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 9. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.
Flora, Joseph M. "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place: Overview." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.
Hemingway, Ernest "Ernest Hemingway and his world", Thames and Hudson 1978, text May 2011