Short story review from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway – “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short review of short fiction. I found this collection at our library’s used book sale.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
Ernest Hemingway

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” 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?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

10 thoughts on “Short story review from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway – “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

  1. This is one of my favorite stories by Hemingway. I am a sucker for some good existential angst and the discussion of food. ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ is another good one by Hemingway.

  2. I love short stories collections. Sometimes I find it hard to get into a book(novel) but because short stories have to have a hook quite quickly I will read a short before going to sleep and look forward to another one the next night.

  3. Love this story. In fact, I wrote about this story myself during a blogging challenge. I was writing about art for the challenge and I ran across some Van Gogh paintings that got me thinking about this story. I wrote about the connections I saw here: Also, really glad I came across your blog. Looking forward to reading more of your reviews!

    1. I think Hemingway’s short fiction is great. The seemingly simple stories are always tricky, because they mean a lot more, don’t they? Thanks for commenting and for the follow!

  4. Where can you get this one now? In the larger collections? I’m thinking I read (and loved) this short story in college. Of course, that was *ahem* years ago. I do think this is the one.

    1. Hi Sarah! I got it from the collection “The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway” – which I got from our used book sale at the library where I work. Hope you can find it!

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