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A Clean Well-Lighted Place

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place holds a special place in the Hemingway short story canon, for it is the only one that completely presents his worldview and the dilemma of his heroes in a microcosm. This microcosm involves the nothingness, or nada, that represents the essential meaninglessness and emptiness of modern life. All Hemingway heroes virtually spend their lives trying not to think about it. At its core, the theme represents Hemingway’s portrayal of his vision of modern existence as a spiritual wasteland.

The plot of the story is simple. Two waiters serve an old man brandy near closing time. The young waiter is anxious to get rid of the deaf old man while the old waiter is sympathetic to his need to have a refuge of cleanliness and light against the nada of the world outside. The dark imagery of the story, it is set at night, and its location, Spain, a primarily Catholic country, are meant to reinforce modern man’s dilemma of being lost in a spiritual and moral wilderness. Any light provided in the story does not come from spiritual enlightenment or faith, instead it comes from an electric (i.e. artificial source). The cabin symbolizes a harbor of light in the darkness. However, the old man in the story is a lonely refugee from the world of God. He sits contemplating death, alone, and his contemplation of suicide shows that he has completely abandoned the world of God where such an act is viewed as mortal sin. The old waiter knows what occupies the old man’s thoughts. As he says near the end of the tale “It was a nothing he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it [like the young waiter] but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada” (Hemingway 383).

The old man disappears in the middle of the story, but the old waiter who has defended him, empathizes ...

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A Clean Well-Lighted Place. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 17:27, December 07, 2021, from