“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is another one of Hemingway’s favorite short stories. It was first published in 1933 and is a simple story of an old man sitting on the terrace outside a café, drinking late into the night. He likes the café and visits it regularly and there’s a dignified sadness about him. Although he is deaf, the old man finds a distinct peace in the evening quiet as he sits “in the shadow of the leaves of the tree.”
Hemingway leaves the reader to imagine why the man spends every night drinking alone. “Last week he tried to kill himself,” the waiter informs another.
The waiters, one young and one old, watch the old man. The young waiter is impatient for the man to finish. “I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o’clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?” The older waiter understands the drinking man, however, and feels a connection to him and others who need a well-lit place to spend the lonely hours of night. “You have youth, confidence, and a job,” he tells the younger waiter. “You have everything.”
When old man leaves and the younger waiter goes home, the older waiter hesitates to close the café, reluctant “because there may be some one who needs the café.” He is alone and feels the nothingness of life, a preview of existentialist thought. Although the existentialism movement did not become popular until the middle 1900s, Hemingway has introduced this idea in his story, a tie-in to the aimless feelings of the Lost Generation.
I like this story because Hemingway uses simple dialogue to show the different viewpoints of the two waiters. And what Hemingway leaves out is just as important. He leaves the reader to guess why the old man is alone, what he has lost, why he tried to kill himself, how he became deaf. Likewise, Hemingway only hints at why the older waiter is lonely, leaving the reader to imagine.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a quick read, but one that keeps you thinking.
Have you read this one?
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