A Clean Well-Lighted Place | Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was one of the significant American short story and novel writers. He had an outstanding writing style and a manner to compose works in simple language with a complicated hidden meaning. The short story A Clean Well-Lighted Place falls under this category – easy to read and requires analysis and thinking in order to understand. In it, the author covers the themes of loneliness and aging, generation gap and meaning of life with the help of various stylistic devices and expressive means.
The theme of loneliness is presented through the characters of the old man and the older waiter. They both appreciate silence, light, and cleanness. The younger waiter cannot understand the old man’s habit to spend time in cafes but his colleague explains it to him as “a fear of going home” (Hemingway). The older waiter knows that there are some people who need the café and each night he is reluctant to close it as he feels those people who may need a company. Café stands as a symbol of solitude as some may visit it alone with the purpose to create an illusion of a company, to be a part of something and avoid loneliness. In such a way, the author touches upon the subjects that are familiar only for older people – isolation, insomnia, and fear – things that do not bother younger people.
The theme of aging is reflected in three characters of the story. All of them are of a different age – younger waiter, older waiter, and old man – and they have different values and issues in life. The younger waiter is sleepy, hurries home where the wife and a warm bad wait for him. The older waiter has no one at home, enjoys staying late in cafes and suffers from insomnia. The old man has no one at home, also enjoys cafes but unlike the older waiter, he drinks brandy not coffee and tries to end his life and commit suicide. These are the stages of aging that are presented with the stylistic device called a climax. The author tries to emphasize that at the old age the person loses almost everything, even the meaning of life.
Ernest Hemingway masterfully uses antithesis to underline the generation gap that exists among the characters. The idea of opposition appears throughout the whole story: “the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light,” “tables were all empty except where the old man sat,” younger waiter and older waiter, bodega and café (Hemingway). The contrast is strongly tied to the topic of age. The things that are distinctive to the young are opposed to the things that characterize the older generation. One more example of it is the scene where two waiters notice a soldier and a young girl on the street. Although to that point the reader does not know that the age of the waiters is different, it is possible to recognize to whom each reaction on that couple belongs. The older waiter worries for the soldier as the guard can pick him up. On the contrary, the younger waiter thinks that it will not matter after the soldier “gets what he is after” (Hemingway). This gap and misunderstanding will always exist between the generations and can only be understood by the people who are in the middle like the older waiter who is not young anymore but his eld approaches.
The theme of the meaning of life is equally important in the story. The old man loses it as he tries to commit suicide. He is not interested in life anymore. The older waiter is on the way to the same conclusion and he seems to be afraid of aging and of death, most precisely of what comes after it. That is why is afraid of “nothing” or “nada” as he refers to it in Spanish. The author uses repetition to emphasize it and the word ‘nada’ is repeated twenty-two times in the story.
To make a conclusion, the short story A Clean Well-Lighted Place touches upon the themes of loneliness, aging, the generation gap and the meaning of life. Ernest Hemingway wrote a story that seems to be simple at first glance, but the analysis of the symbols and stylistic devices helps to reveal his intentions and uncover hidden meaning. The author explores how age may influence the life of a person, their perception of the outside world and the alteration of their values.