Essay, Research Paper: Clean Well-Lighted Place

Literature: Ernest Hemingway

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In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”, Earnest Hemingway focuses on the pain of
old age suffered by a man that we meet in a cafй late one night. Through
the use of dialogue, Hemingway creates three characters that symbolize the
stages of life: birth, living, and death. Additionally, the tone of the story is
created in three ways. First, he contrasts light and dark to show the difference
between the difference between this man and the young people around him.
Secondly, he uses the old man’s deafness as an image of his separation from
the rest of the world. Lastly, Hemingway uses the image of “nada” or
nothing. Hemingway’s tone and choice of language leaves the reader feeling
that they too cannot escape from the doldrums of the “dead” years of their
own life. Through the language of dialogue, three characters emerge creating a
symbolic illustration of the progression of life. The young waiter states, “ I
have confidence, I am all confidence”(258). He displays his eagerness to
conquer the world. When we are young, we live for today, for ourselves, without
regard for what the future may hold. Tomorrow is a dream; tomorrow is something
left to the old. However, in all his confidence he lacks patience and
understanding, which can only come with the experience of life. Because of this
lack of experience, he is not capable of compassion for the old man “You have
youth confidence and a job” the older waiter replies (258). The older waiter
symbolizes the “living” stage of life. He is filled with despair, but not
yet completely devoid of hope. He is uncertain of what the rest of his life may
bring, but a modicum of hope still exists. The old waiter has the omniscient
view of the three progressions of life. He has lived beyond his “birth”
stage, is teetering in the “living” stage, and through the unfolding life of
the old man, is painfully aware of the future. Is it fear of growing old, the
loneliness, or despair, which delivers the old waiter into his dark, unclean
world of nothing? His mockery of the “Our Father” is the cumulative answer
to the question. He has lost his own meaning of life. When hope has waned,
despair overwhelms and we see the transition from the living to the time of
dying. The old man has journeyed through all the progressions of life. The old
man’s death wish is further played out through the metaphor of insomnia, an
ailment that he apparently shares with the older waiter. Along with the
development of three characters, Hemingway creates the overall tone of the story
by first contrasting between light and dark. The most obvious image is the cafй,
“ A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”. It is a refuge from the darkness of the
night outside. Darkness is a symbol of fear and loneliness. The light symbolizes
comfort and the company of others. There is hopelessness in the dark, while the
light calms the nerves. Unfortunately for the old man, the light is an
artificial one, and its peace is both temporary and incomplete. “… the
tables were empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves of
the tree that moved slightly in the wind”(256). Possibly, the old man hides in
the shadows of the leaves because he recognizes the shortcomings of his refuge.
Perhaps he is drawn to the shadows so that the darkness of his own age will not
be so visible. Unlike the young waiter who is not frighten by the darkness
because of his companion that waits for him in the dark, the old man has lost
his wife. Even his ears bring him a sort of darkness as they hold out the sounds
of the world. The old man’s deafness is also a powerful image that contributes
to the tone of the story. “ …the old man liked to sit late because he was
deaf and now at night it was quiet and he could feel the difference”(256).
Deafness ostracizes the old man form the rest of the world. In the day,
everything must be a reminder to him of his disconnection from the world. In the
cafй so late at night he is not missing much. One might even conjecture
that the old man chooses to be deaf rather than face the nastiness and
disrespect spoken by his juniors. Lastly, Hemingway uses the image of
“Nothing.” The old waiter, who sometimes acts as the voice of the old
man’s soul, states, “It was all nothing and a man was nothing, too… Some
lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was nada y pues nada y pues
nada”(258). The nothing is a relentless monotony, unbroken by joy or sorrow.
Th old man’s loneliness is empty. His days of retirement without useful work
or purpose are empty. The emptiness if a life without progress of meaning is
nothing. The only escape from this nothing is blissful unconsciousness
(drunkenness), permanent only in death. Even when the old man tries to commit
suicide, his niece cuts him down. He wants to rest, but it is withheld from him.
The story’s tone and use of language suit effectively fit the story’s
presentation of human condition. The story is filled with images of despair. The
contrasts between light and dark, youth and age are harsh and well defined.
Through the use of dialogue, Hemingway creates three characters that each
symbolizes a stage in the progression of life. The image of deafness represents
the separation the old man has from the rest of the world. By the end of the
story, Hemingway has shown us the desperate emptiness of a life near finished,
and the aggravation of the old man’s restless mind that cannot find peace.
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