Critical Analysis Essay of Hemingway’s A Clean Well-Lighted Place
One of Ernest Hemingway’s most notable short stories is A Clean Well-Lighted Place. First published in 1933, this story is about an old man, and two waiters. The story takes place in a café where an old man continues to ask for brandy despite of being already drunk. Behind him were two waiters who were talking about how the old man tried to kill himself. The younger waiter wanted the old man to leave so that he could go home to his wife. The older waiter on the other hand, said that he does not mind staying late in his job because this was the only thing he has. While the story seems simple, the author made use of various themes in order to communicate an important lesson. Some of the themes used include the nothingness of life and despair.
One of the main themes of the story is the nothingness of life. In fact, it is in this story that Hemingway communicated the idea that life, for some people, can have no meaning and that people are but a tiny speck in a big sea of nothingness. The old waiter makes this idea evident when he states that:
“It was all a nothing and man was a nothing too” (Hawthorne 45).
This line clearly indicates that his character is someone who sees life as nothing. In the same way, the concept of nothingness of life is exemplified by the old man. According to the old waiter, the old man tried to kill himself once; but he failed to explain the reason behind his suicide. Instead, he relates to his younger colleague how he has money and how his niece tried to save him. In this case, the old man is described as a character that seemingly has everything; but despite of this, he chooses to take his own life. This suggests that similar to the old waiter, the old man also perceives his life as a nothing but a series of rituals and responsibilities. And this perspective has eventually led him to kill himself (Gerhard 12).
The theme of nothingness of life is linked by the author with another important theme – despair. And this concept of sadness was exemplified again, by the two characters. The older waiter, much like the old man was both reluctant to go home. A reason for this is the despair and sadness that the two characters are feelings. What is most interesting about this story is that the author never elaborated the reason behind the despair of the two characters. This suggests that the reason for sadness is not important; what is more important is the fact that both feels a sense of despair. The concept of despair is best expressed in the passage:
“Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the café” (Hawthorne 34).
This line shows reveals how the old waiter understands and shares the grief of other people. As such, he keeps the bar open as a sign of empathy and sympathy that he feels and shares with those who are experiencing sadness (Benson 172).
Based on the points provided, it can be concluded that in this story, Hawthorne made use of the important themes of nothingness of life and sadness. These two themes were both exemplified by the two older characters in the story. The theme of nothingness of life for example, is evident in the character of the old man who tried to kill himself once. Meanwhile the themes of sadness and despair were clear on the character of the waiter who is reluctant to close the bar because he knows the sadness of the people who comes there to spend the night.
Benson, J. New Crtical Approaches to short stories of Hemingway. NY: Duke Press, 1990
Gerhard, D. The fear of nothingness in Hemingway’s A Clean Well-Lighted Place. NY: GRIN Verlag, 2008
Hemingway, E. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. NY: Creative Education, 1990