Clean Well-Lighted PlaceIn “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”, Earnest Hemingway focuses on the pain ofold age suffered by a man that we meet in a café late one night. Throughthe use of dialogue, Hemingway creates three characters that symbolize thestages of life: birth, living, and death. Additionally, the tone of the story iscreated in three ways. First, he contrasts light and dark to show the differencebetween the difference between this man and the young people around him. Secondly, he uses the old man’s deafness as an image of his separation fromthe rest of the world.
Lastly, Hemingway uses the image of “nada” ornothing. Hemingway’s tone and choice of language leaves the reader feelingthat they too cannot escape from the doldrums of the “dead” years of theirown life. Through the language of dialogue, three characters emerge creating asymbolic illustration of the progression of life. The young waiter states, ” Ihave confidence, I am all confidence”(258). He displays his eagerness toconquer the world. When we are young, we live for today, for ourselves, withoutregard for what the future may hold.
Tomorrow is a dream; tomorrow is somethingleft to the old. However, in all his confidence he lacks patience andunderstanding, which can only come with the experience of life. Because of thislack of experience, he is not capable of compassion for the old man “You haveyouth confidence and a job” the older waiter replies (258). The older waitersymbolizes the “living” stage of life. He is filled with despair, but notyet completely devoid of hope. He is uncertain of what the rest of his life maybring, but a modicum of hope still exists.
The old waiter has the omniscientview of the three progressions of life. He has lived beyond his “birth”stage, is teetering in the “living” stage, and through the unfolding life ofthe old man, is painfully aware of the future. Is it fear of growing old, theloneliness, or despair, which delivers the old waiter into his dark, uncleanworld of nothing? His mockery of the “Our Father” is the cumulative answerto the question. He has lost his own meaning of life. When hope has waned,despair overwhelms and we see the transition from the living to the time ofdying.
The old man has journeyed through all the progressions of life. The oldman’s death wish is further played out through the metaphor of insomnia, anailment that he apparently shares with the older waiter. Along with thedevelopment of three characters, Hemingway creates the overall tone of the storyby first contrasting between light and dark. The most obvious image is the café,” A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”.
It is a refuge from the darkness of thenight outside. Darkness is a symbol of fear and loneliness. The light symbolizescomfort and the company of others. There is hopelessness in the dark, while thelight calms the nerves.
Unfortunately for the old man, the light is anartificial one, and its peace is both temporary and incomplete. “. . .
thetables were empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves ofthe tree that moved slightly in the wind”(256). Possibly, the old man hides inthe shadows of the leaves because he recognizes the shortcomings of his refuge. Perhaps he is drawn to the shadows so that the darkness of his own age will notbe so visible. Unlike the young waiter who is not frighten by the darknessbecause of his companion that waits for him in the dark, the old man has losthis wife.
Even his ears bring him a sort of darkness as they hold out the soundsof the world. The old man’s deafness is also a powerful image that contributesto the tone of the story. ” . . . the old man liked to sit late because he wasdeaf and now at night it was quiet and he could feel the difference”(256).
Deafness ostracizes the old man form the rest of the world. In the day,everything must be a reminder to him of his disconnection from the world. In thecafé so late at night he is not missing much. One might even conjecturethat the old man chooses to be deaf rather than face the nastiness anddisrespect spoken by his juniors.
Lastly, Hemingway uses the image of”Nothing. ” The old waiter, who sometimes acts as the voice of the oldman’s soul, states, “It was all nothing and a man was nothing, too. . . Somelived in it and never felt it but he knew it was nada y pues nada y puesnada”(258).
The nothing is a relentless monotony, unbroken by joy or sorrow. Th old man’s loneliness is empty. His days of retirement without useful workor purpose are empty. The emptiness if a life without progress of meaning isnothing. The only escape from this nothing is blissful unconsciousness(drunkenness), permanent only in death. Even when the old man tries to commitsuicide, his niece cuts him down.
He wants to rest, but it is withheld from him. The story’s tone and use of language suit effectively fit the story’spresentation of human condition. The story is filled with images of despair. Thecontrasts between light and dark, youth and age are harsh and well defined. Through the use of dialogue, Hemingway creates three characters that eachsymbolizes a stage in the progression of life.
The image of deafness representsthe separation the old man has from the rest of the world. By the end of thestory, Hemingway has shown us the desperate emptiness of a life near finished,and the aggravation of the old man’s restless mind that cannot find peace.