The Hemingways novel A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is one of his best shot stories which in a full manner demonstrates the literary talent of the writer. This is a novel about loneliness and this main theme is revealed in a full manner with a maximum economy in stylistic means.
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The names of the main characters of the novel are not even mentioned by Hemingway. They are simply the old man, the older waiter and the younger waiter. The action is practically absent. It is just a single episode from the everyday life of the characters. However, due to the artistic skill of the author a reader can easily imagine the inner world of every character of the novel. Hemingway is famous for his ability to find something unusual in the most ordinary things and to represent it in the original and inherent only to him manner.
The plot of the novel is very simple. The old man drinks whisky. It is rather late and he is the only visitor in the café. And it is far from being the first glass of whisky he drinks. During this process, two waiters are speaking about him and from their conversation, it is clear that the old man is a frequent visitor of this establishment. The writer gives few information about the old man. It is known that he is rich, deaf and lonely. He has had a wife but at the present moment the only person who takes care of him is his niece.
From the talk of two waiters, it is known that recently he has made at attempt to commit suicide. The younger waiter is eager to get home as quickly as possible and he wants the old man to leave the café. The older waiter understands the emotions of the old man. The plot of the novel is revealed mainly through the dialogues of the main characters. A great attention is given to symbols and the meaning of the metamessage.
The theme of loneliness runs like a golden threat through the novel. It is very symbolic that the old man is the only visitor of the café. He is sitting alone and his only interlocutors are empty glasses. It seems to me that the fact that one of the main characters of the novel is deaf has its own hidden meaning. The old man does not hear the sounds from the surrounding world; he just feels the changes in his environment. “He was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference” (Hemingway, 1933, p.1).
The old man is completely deprived from the world. The older waiter, unlike his colleague seems to understand his visitor. When the young water asks the old man to leave the older water is trying to protect him. At first thought is seems that he does it just out a sense of pity. Nevertheless, later on it finds out that the old waiter is suffering from loneliness too. He does not want to leave the café too and even goes to bar on his way home. In his conversation with his colleague he says “I am of those who like to stay late at the café. With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night” (Hemingway, 1933, p.3).
The writer describes loneliness as something inevitable and something from which it is impossible to escape. Though the older waiter does not recognize the fact he is lonely it is obvious judging from his conversation with the young waiter who is represented as a distinct opposition to him. “Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the café” (Hemingway, 1933, p.3).
This image of the light and quiet café is very important for understanding the sense of the novel. It is a symbol of an asylum, in which two old men are trying to hide. It is no mere chance that the action of the novel takes place during hours of darkness. This darkness is used to emphasize the loneliness of the main characters. The only place where the old man can weaken his depression is this café. He does not want to leave it because in such a case he has to face his fears and despair. The old waiter does not want to confess his loneliness. Instead he thinks that he is suffering from insomnia. The younger waiter does not understand it. He cannot even imagine that he may also face the same problems.
It is also very important that in the novel a prayer, which is a symbol of faith and the unity of a person with God, is interpreted in rather strange and even sacrilegious manner. By inserting the word nada into the prayer, the older waiter demonstrates his complete disappointment with life alongside with his impiety. This transformed prayer is used as a symbol of the loneliness and exinanition. The tragedy of loneliness is emphasized by the word nothing which is repeated in Spanish several times. The novel “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a story about loneliness and the importance for a person, especially for an old one, to find a light and order in his life.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, 1933. PDF file.