A Clean Well-Lighted Place

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Hemingway's short story, "A Clean Well-lighted Place", takes place at a cafe very late at night. Two waiters are watching their last, lingering customer, an old man, who is by now very drunk. The younger waiter's impatience and the older waiter's understanding toward the old man carry out the theme of the story: "It [life] was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too."(114) Man must consequently find something to distract himself from his horrible truth. For the old man and the older waiter, "a clean and well-lighted" cafe is such an escape.

The pervading metaphor in this story is predictably, the "clean well-lighted place." The story's image of the sea of dark nothingness perfectly symbolizes a world with no hope, no solace, but darkness of reality. The lighted cafe in the sea is such an escape from the darkness of the world.

It seems the old, wealthy, deaf gentleman drinks at the cafe every light, alone, to pass the time in a clean, well-lighted environment. The waiters gossip with one another about the man's attempted suicide the previous week, and speculate about other aspects of his life. The younger waiter, who has "youth", "confidence", "a job", and a wife, is impatient with the old man. He doesn't understand why the old man attempted suicide while he has plenty of money. All he hoping is to return home to his wife on time. The older waiter understands the deeper things in life. He says to the younger waiter, "I am not young...[I lack] everything but work."(113) He watches the old man's life as an outlook of his own life because he sees that himself is getting closer and closer to the steps of the old man's. The old man once had "youth", "confidence", "a job" and a wife. However, by now, he has nothing but money, which is not able to comfort his loneliness; he has nothing but an old body, which people think that it is nasty. His niece looks after him. But all they care about is his money. The reason that they saved him from the...
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