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Existentialism is a philosophy about life that says being is more important than the indispensable everyday occurrences. It acknowledges an individuals freedom to choose and says with this knowing there comes an immense sense of responsibility. Despair, hopelessness and anxiety are characteristic of a person struggling with existential thoughts. Nihilism sums up this condition by stating that all values are baseless, nothing is foreseeable and that life itself is meaningless. The characters in A Clean Well Lighted Place and A Day's Wait show signs of being both aware and unaware of these elements of existentialism.

In the first story, A Clean Well Lighted Place, the old drunk man represents someone who realizes he has no actual plan or fate. His despair is over the realization that theoretically the afterlife does not exist. The drunken man and older waiter share this despair not only because they both realize a man's need for a clean, well-lighted place but also because they both struggle to fill a void. The older waiter's acknowledgement of nothingness in life is evident when he recites the prayer but fills in the perceived nouns God and heaven with nada or nothing. He feels a void with this realization that keeps him awake at night. His assumption that others share his insomnia is somewhat correct but what they, the drunken man and the waiter, actually share is a void. The young waiter has a wife to go home to and a bed, the old drunken man has a bed to go to and a niece that looks after him. However, the young waiter has a connection with his wife, a perceived similar view of life while the old drunk bares his anxious perception of the world alone because he is well aware that no one can share his world with him. His peculiarity reinforces his aloneness because the more he tries to understand himself and his own choices the farther out of reach he is from another person. The old drunken man serves as a catalyst for the older waiter, who himself is also...
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