Ernest Hemingway was an American Author who’s tone and style captivated the world, and drew plenty of attention to him. His short stories “The End of Something” and “A Clean, Well Lighted Place” struck the eyes of numerous critics. These critics analyze his writing tone and style to effectively critique his work. Looking at “The End of Something” and “A Clean, Well Lighted Place” a reader can see the correlation between the critic’s comments, and Hemingway’s writing.
Hemingway has a technique in which he opens some stories with a description of the scenery and geography of the story. In the beginning of “The End of Something, Hemingway gives his readers a description of the logging town of Horton’s Bay, describing it as a once prosperous town due to the logging business. Eventually the logging business dies down, with that, so does the town. All that is left is the decaying mill that once was a symbol of the town’s prosperity. As Laura Godfrey, a Hemingway critic pointed out, “In “The End of Something,” Hemingway evokes a particularly rich and detailed sense of the connection between the dynamic geographies surrounding his characters and the characters’ own emotional geographies (Godfrey 2). Ernest linked the geography and the setting perfectly to the characters in his story and their emotions. The story features Nick Adams and his current girlfriend, Marjorie. Like the town and mill of Horton’s Bay, their love has faded, at least in Nick’s eyes. He then proceeds to break up with her, ending their summer romance. Godfrey wrote, “Before we learn that Nick and Marjorie’s relationship is ending, we are given a dismal picture of the gradual dismantling of the lumber mill…(Godfrey 3). This pre described downfall of the mill is then easily linked to the emotions of Hemingway’s characters giving the story some intensity. As stated by Godfrey, “The setting not only serves as a dramatic backdrop for the love conflicts between Nick and Marjorie, but also in its dismantled, ruined state—parallels the human drama itself”(Godfrey 3). The mill was a center piece for the town and once the industry died, the town could not survive. Godfrey then states, “The same is true for Nick and Marjorie: Our sense is that some “center” that held them together has dwindled and then died.” Although we are never told as readers what the “center” was, we know it had to be important to Nick, if he was to base their breakup off that “center.” Hemingway’s geographies and detailed descriptions of them have also been critiqued. Godfrey stated, “Hemingway’s geographies do more for his narratives than simply elevate or give depth to the stories; these landscapes are also invested with both aesthetic and cultural meaning (Godfrey 2). In Hemingway’s “The Green Hills of Africa,” Hemingway goes into a deep description while fishing on the Gulf Stream. He states, “…This Gulf Stream you are living with, knowing, learning about, loving, has moved, as it moves, since before man…that stream will flow, as it has flowed, after the Indians, after the Spaniards…and all of the systems of governments, the richness, the poverty…are all gone.” What he did was “interweave geography with cycles of both human and natural change” (Godfrey 2). In “The End of Something” Hemingway used this style with his choice of the setting. He chose a place, Horton’s Bay, which has changed, is changing, and will continue to change naturally. It also changes because of human contact and current world cultures. Logging obviously has become less of a business especially for this town thus causing the landscape to fall apart and have a deserted feeling to it. In “The End of Something” as explained, Hemingway took it a step further linking the changes land has gone through to the characters emotions.
Countless critics have made observations on Hemingway’s short stories contents. For example, Joseph M. Flora wrote in a critical essay on Hemingway, “Like many of Hemingway’s stories, “A Clean, Well Lighted Place” is brief. Its characters are few, and its external action minimal (Flora 1). With both those statements being true, this theme of brief stories, few characters, and minimal action occurs in several accounts of Hemingway’s work. It also is true in “The End of Something. Both stories are only a few pages long, and feature few characters. Another example is Hemingway’s “A Very Short Story.” The name says it all. It is quite short in length and futures only two characters.
Flora also stated, “Hemingway’s protagonists typically battle demons of chaos. Images of light and dark pervade his work (Flora 2). “A Clean, Well Lighted place portrays his statement perfectly. The old waiter suffers depression, just like the old man drinking in the story. The old waiter is just like the old man, because he has lost hope in life, and in a higher power. They both suffer from the same depression and are falling toward the “dark.” The reader can confirm this when he mocks the “Our Father” prayer in Christianity. He replaces every three or four words with “Nada.” Olena Bassett stated, “The only thing that keeps the older waiter alive is his job. The old man's dignity is all that he has left. Everything else is just "a nothing." This is why the old man is drunk every night. This is why the old waiter is one of those who like to stay late at the cafe. They are trying to escape the wreck of nada, the nothingness that comes with existential depression” (Bassett 1). The old man seeks a clean well lighted place instead of a bar or a bodega because it is revealed to the readers as a place to escape the pain of “nada” and depression because of the light, a certain cleanness, and order (Basset 1).
Other critics have come to the conclusion that Nick Adam’s, the main character in “The End of Something” and fifteen other Hemingway stories, is a persona of himself. The article “Nick Adams and the Idealized Self” explains three stages in which Hemingway idealized himself in Adams. The second stage refers to the discovery of a masculine identity through relational experience clearly evident in “The End of Something.” Throughout the story, Adam’s idea of being masculine is negating his social attachment to others (Timeless 1). The story progresses and Marjorie never touches him, nor does Bill at the end. He just laid there trapped in his own thoughts telling Bill to “Go away for awhile.”