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Hemingway's "A Clean, Well Lighted Place" Essay

1335 words - 6 pages

“Hemingway’s ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’”
While reading Earnest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” the main focus can often be considered of the two biggest opposites in the story; two of the three main characters. The story itself contains very few characters, which are made by the drunken man, the old, and the young waiter. The story sets out in the café in which the two waiters work, where they are having a dialogue about the only customer – the old drunken man. The characters can easily be placed in order in a happiness scale, which is relevant because the feelings of the characters are the most important part of the story, as they underline it from beginning to end. The ...view middle of the document...

When he watches the man drink he says "Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him" (2). Followed when the man is walking down the street he describes the man as “walking unsteadily but with dignity” (3). By feeling “nada” he becomes neutral to the two other men, both of them being extreme in their own ways. For example: the younger waiter’s way of talking to the old death man is very harsh. “You should have killed yourself last week” (1) he says right to his face at one point in the story. Despite the young man’s roughness, the older waiter tries reasoning with him about the condition and feelings of the old man. He especially praises the café as a haven for him “This is a clean and pleasant café. It’s well lighted” (4). The café is presented as something more than a café in the story, the waiter talks about it like a place to escape the usual dreadful life of old men.
The comparison of the three characters has been done more than once, and Warren Bache wrote in his analysis of Hemingway’s story from 1956 named “A Comparison of the Waiters”; “the young waiter standing for a materialistic way of life; the old an and waiter stands for a nihilistic way of life.” He claims that the café also represents the nihilistic and spiritual substitute along with the two older men, and that its minimalistic attributes (no music, clean, and well lighted) can be connected to “nada.” In his analysis he writes “It signifies a nothingness, but a known and tangible and dignified nothingness” about the cafe, which is inferring that it has an obvious connection to nada (Bache, 1956). He means to say that the best traits of the café are something small, “intangible” he describes it as. However, he also claims that the conflict is between the two old men together and the young materialistic waiter. In a way, he is right, the old and the young waiter is arguing about the rights of the old man to drink at the café. However, it can’t be drawn as far as to the dialogue being a conflict. As mentioned earlier, the way the older waiter discuss it, he seems to be using reason to make the younger man to understand the situation of the only customer in the bar.
While Bache uses the acronym “materialistic” for the young waiter, and as mentioned earlier, I used words as happiness and life-satisfaction. However, one thing doesn’t have to exclude the other. It can be argued that happiness and materialism goes hand in hand together. The following question would be what kind of happiness he is feeling, a nihilist would probably claim for the feelings to be shallow and maybe even go as far as delusional.

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