In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Hemingway describes an old, deaf man sitting in a cafe one evening as seen through the eyes of two waiters at the restaurant. While the two waiters wait for the old man to leave so they can close the cafe, they gossip about the old man’s life. The old man is depressed. His wife has died and he recently attempted to commit suicide.
The younger waiter has no sympathy for the old man. The younger waiter believes the old man’s life is worth nothing. The younger waiter fears becoming like the old man. The younger waiter suggests to the older waiter that the old man would have been better off if he had succeeded in killing himself. The younger waiter wants the old man to leave the cafe, so the young waiter won’t have to consider the nothingness in his own life (Hemingway).
The older waiter is more empathetic towards the old man. The older waiter sees how his own life is similar to the old man’s life. For this reason, the older waiter is kinder than the younger waiter towards the old man. The older waiter defends the old man’s life to the younger waiter. The older waiter tries to explain to the younger waiter how the older waiter and the old man are similar. The younger waiter refuses to see the similarities between the older waiter and the old man. He does not want to believe that one day he might be like the old man (Hemingway).The three characters in the story all face varying degrees of nothingness in their lives, but their reactions to that nothingness differ greatly. The old man’s wife has died. The old man’s money does not comfort him. Unable to cope with his loss, the old man …
… younger waiter acts confident and appears unwilling to accept that there is nothingness in life. The true winner in the story, however, is the older waiter. The older waiter recognizes and accepts the nothingness of life, but refuses to give into the nothingness. The older waiter’s ability to accept the nothingness and his refusal to give into the nothingness are what distinguishes him from the younger waiter and the older man. It is these things that make the older waiter a winner in his life and in the story.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Clean Well-Lighted Place. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933. Print.
Hoffman, Steven K. “Nada and the Clean Well-Lighted Place.” Essays In Literature 6.1 (Spring 1979): 91-110. Rpt. in Short Stories for Students. Ed. Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 9. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.