A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Essay
In Hemingway’s story, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, the setting is the key part of the story in relating to the characters. Simply because we don’t have much else to go by. The setting takes place in the café. Although we don’t have names, the main characters are the two waiters and the old man. The waiters stay at the café throughout the story. The café is, as the title states, clean and well lit. It's a pleasant café, and the light creates the shadows of leaves at night. The story is set late at night, and the café is quiet; only the two waiters and a single customer, the old man, sit there. Other than that, we actually don't know anything about the place. Other than majority of the story taking place in the clean café, the older waiter stops for a small time at a bar that is quite the opposite of the café. The bar is dirty and not well lighted. It is not to the older waiter’s liking. He doesn’t linger there. He heads home soon after arriving to the bar. Other than this small stop at the bar, the rest of this story is at the café. The old man, although he doesn’t say anything other than “Another,” he plays a main role in this story because without him in the story, the waiters would have closed up the café and would have nothing else to discuss. He is a regular to the café and even though he gets too drunk to pay sometimes, he is generally a good customer. We learn that the old man once had a wife and possibly a family, but now is alone with his niece, who saved him from a suicide attempt. We wonder what the old man was like before he was an old man. He is lonely and drowns his sorrows in his drunkenness and self-pity. Although the old man is a drunk, he is not a sloppy drunk. He cleans up after himself and doesn’t spill his drinks. The younger waiter is bouncing around, full of energy and impatience, while the old man waits quietly to pass out of this life. The older waiter is somewhere between these two stages of life, and observes it all from a certain critical distance. He recognizes parts of himself in both the younger man and the older one, and he's the one that makes us see that these different stages of life are universal and inevitable. He reveals to us that in despair the best thing you can do is find a clean, well-lighted place in which to pass the time, because life is simply nothing otherwise. Instead of finding sanctuary in the belief in some higher power, the older waiter believes that there's nothing ("nada") out there, and that our lives have no greater purpose. Throughout this story the two waiters have several conversations about the old man and things about him such as his suicidal attempts, his wealth, and the situation the old man has put himself in. The conversations are interrupted by the younger waiter being impatient and telling the old man to leave. During this story, we find the differences between the two waiters. For instance…”the young waiter is ‘all confidence,’"... (Milne). Hemingway portrayed the young waiter to seem cruel and negative when placed with the two older men. He is portrayed as a selfish man who thinks what he wants and needs is more important than others. He makes it seem like the younger waiter doesn’t appreciate how lucky he is or what he has in life. When discussing the old man with older waiter, he only has hateful things to say about the man. He purposely serves the old man his last drink rudely to make the old man feel unwelcomed and unwanted so that he could finish closing the café and go home to his bed. The younger waiter is just your typical young guy. Unlike the older waiter and the old man, he thinks that life is full of value. Also unlike them, he has a wife waiting at home, and he can't wait to get back to her after work. He values time highly – in his view, every hour is precious and ripe with promise. We can sympathize with him; after all, who doesn't want to stay young forever? To him, old age is pathetic and revolting, an attitude reflected in his condescending attitude towards the old man. As a young guy, he doesn't feel his own mortality yet, and can't comprehend the nothingness that both the old man and the older waiter seem to feel. The young waiter thinks he's invincible, and that the universal problems of old age and death can't touch him. However, while he is young and confident now, the implication is that once he hits a certain age and starts to feel life slipping away from him, he'll be just like the older waiter and the old man. Even though we don’t know anything about this café other than it is clean and well-lighted, we know that this is a good place to be on a dark lonely night. We can tell that the older people like to be in places like this rather than a dirty bar. The younger waiter doesn’t quite understand why people appreciate the café. The symbol of an empty, meaningless life, emotional darkness, surrounds the old man and the older waiter. They both are victims of fear, inner loneliness, hopelessness, and "nada." They consider a "clean well-lighted cafe" a refuge from the deserted night. For them, the cafe with all its light and cleanliness is as the only little oasis in darkness where they can forget their fears. The old waiter says, "This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good . . ." (Hemingway 203). Unfortunately, the light which calms their nerves and brings warmth to their souls is temporary. Their lack of confidence does not let them defeat the overwhelming darkness in their lives. "Overview: 'A Clean, Well-Lighted Place'." Short Stories for Students. Ed. Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 9. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. Literature Resource Center. Web. 17 Sept. 2013. Hemingway, Ernest. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. Prentice Hall Literature Portfolio. Eds. Christy Desmet, D. Alexis Hart, and Deborah Church Miller. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Pages 200-204.