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A Clean, Well Lighted Place

“A Clean, Well Lighted Place” was written by Ernest Hemingway in 1933. The short story was based upon a conversation between two waiters in a café in Madrid, Spain at about 2:00 am in the morning. The focus of the conversation was an old man who was sitting in the cafe. Quiet and deaf, the old man drinks at the cafe on a nightly basis. Even though he was quite intoxicated, amazingly he was still quite distinguished. The old man is sitting at a table in the shadows of the tree, formed by the lights of the café. The waiters are keeping a close eye on the old man, because he has been known to leave without paying when he becomes drunk. Throughout the story we see that the waiters have nothing in common, other than they work at the same café. Hemingway uses the old man to demonstrate the waiter’s philosophies and their differences, and outlooks on life.

As the two waiters are watching the old man, the younger waiter is becoming impatient and aggravated due to the time. The younger man mentions that the old man tried to hang himself the week before. But failed in his attempt, because his niece cut him down. The older waiter questions the motives of the old man in his attempt. The younger waiter replies by saying the old man has plenty of money. Maybe the younger waiter believes that there is nothing worse than a shortage of money. And with money comes’ happiness, and that should be more than enough to compensate for loneliness.

The younger waiter wishes for the old man to leave and says to the old man that he should have killed himself last week. The older waiter responds with “He stays up because he likes it”. The younger waiter says, “He’s lonely. I’m not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me”. The old man once had a wife and now cannot be happy without her. The younger waiter believes that a wife would be useless to the old man now. The old man has chosen darkness instead of the light. He has chose death rather than life. The older waiter understands the old man much more than the younger waiter. And would have no problem staying open for this man. He too is a lonely man who goes home to nothing, but the struggle of trying to fall asleep at night. He understands that the old man has nowhere to go but the clean well lit café.

The younger man is becoming more irritated by the old mans extended stay. When the old man requests another brandy from the waiters the younger waiter refused the old mans wishes. The younger man cut him off and told the old man he was finished. So the old man left. Walking down the street looking distinguished, even though he was drunk. The old man keeps his composure. The younger man is only concerned with himself and his time. His one hour, he could have given up to stay open is more important than the old mans comfort and emptiness. While closing the café down the younger man says “I have confidence. I am all confidence.” “You have youth, confidence, and a job,” the older waiter said. “You have everything”. At this point the older waiter says that he has never had confidence, and he’s not a young man anymore. All he has is his job at the café to get him by. Then confesses that he himself is one of those people who like to stay late at the café. “With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night”. The older waiter tells the younger waiter “Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café”.

The younger waiter leaves and goes home to his wife and life outside of the café. The older waiter finishing the conversation with himself, then goes off on some sac religious rant. In that Hemingway is trying to get across the reader that mans fate is sealed. Mans fate is to enter into nothingness from nothingness, for life is nothing. And off he goes on his way home only to stop at a bar himself and have a drink to avoid the darkness of night. And to delay the hours he will lie in bed waiting for the sun so he to can fall asleep.

The character of the young waiter is one who has a naive attitude toward society. He has nothing more to do than take care of himself. The older waiter knows his life is empty and fears the future. He realizes that the old man is very similar to himself. And fears that he is too much like the old man already. The older waiter gets out of working what the old man gets out of drinking.

As you can see the waiters both lead very different lives, and their views are quite different. The old man in this story was used to demonstrate the differences and outlooks on life between the older and younger waiter. I think Hemingway sympathizes with the old man in this story. I believe the old man is much like Hemingway himself. Hemingway was a success in society’s eye but was obviously was unhappy and eventually took his own life in 1961.

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