A Clean Well-Lighted Place, written by Ernest Hemmingway, takes place after 2am in a Spanish caf where the characters a young waiter and an older waiter work, and a deaf man is a regular customer. The title, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, refers to the caf where the story takes place. The night (or early morning) this story takes place, the young waiter is in a rush to get home to his wife. Although the caf is not closed yet, the young waiter lies to the deaf man, saying the caf is closed, and forces the deaf man to leave early. Following this incident, the older waiter protests the younger waiters actions by explaining why the old man spends so much time alone in the caf during the evenings. After his explanation, the older waiter goes on to explain that he spends his life in much the same way as the deaf man because he too is lonely. The character of the older waiter and his response to the younger waiters treatment of the deaf man as well as his account of his loneliness are major contributors to the theme: with age comes loneliness.Order now
Although the characters of the deaf man and the young waiter are important parts of the story because they are personalities the older waiter uses to tell his account of his loneliness, the character of the older waiter contributes most to the overall theme. It is the older waiter whose point of view the narrator tells the story and through the older waiters point of view his deep feelings of loneliness become apparent . While closing the caf and after the younger waiter left, the older waiter continues his conversation (in his head) with the young waiter about the deaf man in the following speech
. . .he continued the conversation with himself the older waiter . . . What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanliness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada . (p.144, Gioia and Kennedy)
While the older waiter is referring to the deaf man in this passage, it is obvious he knows all too well exactly what the deaf man is feeling. The older waiter goes on, replacing words of the Lords Prayer with nada (the Spanish word for nothing) and further deepening the belief that he too is completely forlorn:
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 (p.144, Gioia and Kennedy)
After completing this speech and allowing the reader this awful glimpse into his perception of life, the waiter then goes a bar.
While the older waiters version of the Lords Prayer confirms the notion that he feels life is made of nothing, it is earlier in the story where the waiter acknowledges his belief that age causes his loneliness. This is noticeable in his conversation with the younger waiter: Why didnt you let him stay and drink? the unhurried waiter asked the older waiter. . .its not half past two. The young waiter answers the older waiter saying he wants to get home early to is wife.
Whats an hour? The older waiter says
More to me than to him. Says the young waiter
You talk like an old man yourself . . .
And you? You have no fear of going home before the usual hour?
No . . . says the young waiter . . .I have confidence. I am all confidence.
You have youth, confidence, and a job, the older waiter said. You have everything.
And what do you lack? . . . You have everything I have.
No. I have never had confidence and I am not young. (p.144, Gioia and Kennedy)
This conversation actualizes the theme, with age comes loneliness. In addition to the older waiters conversation with the younger waiter as well as his version of the Lords Prayer, the waiter also explains the need for a clean, well-lighted place, immediately symbolizing the caf.
The meaning of the title A Clean Well-Lighted Place is explained by the older waiter once his stream of consciousness takes over after he closes the caf.
. . . 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. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. (p.144, Gioia and Kennedy)
With this explanation, the older waiter allows the reader to understand why a place like the caf is necessary for those that live as dismal as he does. By using the title A Clean Well-Lighted Place to refer to the caf and allowing the older waiter to explain why the caf deserves such a title, Ernest Hemmingway symbolizes the caf. Through this explanation, the older waiter leads the reader to conclude that this is not just a caf, it is an island of refuge from night, chaos, loneliness, and old age (p.218, Gioia and Kennedy) as well as the theme that age brings loneliness.
Although the message conveyed by A Clean Well-Lighted Place is age causes loneliness or age brings about loneliness, that message is not constantly true (there are too many people in the world for anyone to pass that type of judgment). However, in this particular story, age brings about loneliness is a theme that may be true to many people. Nevertheless the fact remains that in A Clean Well-Lighted Place the older waiters actions and his personal thoughts as well as the symbol of the caf leads to the overall message that with age comes loneliness.
Gioia, Dana and X.J. Kennedy. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 7th edition. New York: Longman, 1999