Clean Well Lighted Place
Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21st, 1899. He was the son of Dr. Clarence
Edmonds and Grace Hall Hemingway.
He grew up in a small town called Oak Park,
Illinois. Hemingway was brought up in a somewhat conservative household by his
parents who pushed the value of politeness and religion. It wasn’t until he
began English classes in school that his writing talent began to shine. After he
graduated from high school Hemingway turned his back on university and he
decided to move to Kansas City.
It was there where he got his first job as a
writer. He was a reporter for the Kansas City Star. The Star was the first to
introduce to him the news writing format which demands brief, to the point
sentences and the smooth flowing of ideas. It seems that Hemingway adapted this
style to his fiction writng.
Hemingway demonstrates this talent in a short story
called “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”. When he was 19 Hemingway enlisted
in the army. He was rejected due to a defective left eye. He then turned to the
Red Cross in which he became a second lieutenant.
The Red Cross brought him to
the front lines of the war in Italy. It was here where he saw many disturbing
sights which probably had a hand in shaping his character. After extensive
injuries from the war, Hemingway returned unhappily to Oak Park. The impression
left on him by his participation in the war had greatly changed him.
living at home again but refused to get a job, even when his mother ordered him
to. Soon she kicked him out and he moved to Chicago. Here he made a living
writing for the Toronto Star and working as a sparring partner for boxers. While
he was in Chicago he met his first wife, the young and innocent Elizabeth Hadley
Soon the young couple were married and they moved to Paris. It was
here where Hemingway encountered many of the greats, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra
Pound, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, John Dos Passos and Ford Madox Ford. It was
Stein who took him under her wing.
She was first to point him in the direction
of the simple declarative sentence, which was another great influence on his
style. It seems to me that it wasn’t until Hemingway developed an interest in
bull fighting that the idea for “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” may have
come around. Bull fighting seemed to trigger a whole new interest in Spain. The
short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was set in a small cafe in
There is an old deaf man who sits alone on a patio, sipping
brandy. Together two waiters observe the old man who is their last customer. The
old man is comforted by the peaceful atmosphere of the cafe but the younger
waiter wants him to leave. Hemingway may have seen himself as the older waiter,
he was about thirty-five years old when this story was written.
In the story the
older waiter comes from the stand-point that he is getting old and he does not
really have anything to show for life, no friends, not very much money, and no
real love. At this point in his life, Hemingway may have seen himself here.”A Clean and Well-Lighted Place” originally appeared in a short story
book, To Have and Have Not. This is a good summary phrase for this story.
have happiness or you don’t, you have friends or lovers or you don’t, you have
money or you don’t, and for those people who don’t, there must be a place where
they can seek a false sense of comfort, like a quiet cafe in Spain. I feel that
Hemingway might have been feeling lonely and unfulfilled when he wrote this
story. The cafe might have been a fantasy place where he may have liked to go to
comfort himself. It seems that he puts himself in the place of the older waiter
who really has nothing but his work.
Hemingway probably felt that he had nothing
but his writing. There was an interesting part in the story that slants towards
a religious theme. He writes, “It was nothing that he knew too well. It was
all a nothing and a men was nothing too.
It was only that and light was all it
needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but
he knew it all was nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name..
he goes on from there. It first seemed like gibberish to me but when I asked a
friend who is fluent in Spanish, if “nada” was a word in Spanish she
said, “sure, it means ‘nothing'”. I think he wants the story to flirt
with sacrilege by saying there’s only emptyness in the end.
I liked this story
because Hemingway is such an amazing writer. He can make you think about huge
themes in the space of a short story. The dialogue is sparse yet he can still
create characters so vibrant it is like watching a movie. Hemingway’s short
stories are very well thought out.
In the story there is also talk about the old
deaf man trying to commit suicide. This interests me because suicide seemed to
fascinate Hemingway. Earlier in life his father disgusted him by committing
suicide and then there is mention of it in the story. Hemingway may have felt
that suicide was the only way to deal with a problem.
Sadly enough Hemingway
started suffering from mental problems later in life and he was admitted to a
mental hospital. There he was treated and released sometime later. Hemingway
committed suicide on July 2nd, 1962.