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Analysis of “A Clean Well-lighted Place”

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    Analysis of “A Clean Well-lighted Place”


                Fiction, whether it is a movie, play or a story depicts an assortment of human emotions. Emotions like love, hatred, jealousy, pride, despair, loneliness and anger are portrayed through the characters. The plot revolves around these emotions, for the characters are gripped by the emotional influences which add intensity to the story. The emotions of loneliness and despair, which are part of human lives, have been depicted in numerous literary works. Although no human being wishes to experience these emotions, life creates circumstances in which one has to face these depressing emotions. Old age is one such stage of human life which is supposed to harbor loneliness and despair. The feeling of despair experienced by old people is portrayed in the short story “A Clean Well-lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway. The setting in the story is a clean well-lighted cafe where a deaf old man is having his drinks. The conversation between a young waiter and an old waiter reveal the state of mind of the drunken old man. The old waiter and the young waiter are expressing their individual thoughts regarding the deaf man’s habit of staying in the cafe for a long time. The setting in the story is crucial, as it reflects the thinking of the lonely old men who aim to escape from the world of darkness and despair.

    The story focuses on the plight of old men who are overwhelmed by the feeling of despair and loneliness. The setting of the story is crucial for the portrayal of the theme of the story. The cafe which is bright and clean is a place which provides comfort to the deaf old man grappling with isolation and hopelessness. The feelings of the deaf man are understood by the old waiter, for he is also experiencing similar feelings in his life. And for both them, the cafe is a place which aids them to escape from the gloomy world of despair. Young people fail to realize the significance of well-lighted and clean place in the life of old people, battling with despair. The young waiter represents the thoughts of youth who are unable to comprehend the suffering of the old people. All the characters are present at the same setting but the way they look at the setting differs vastly. For the old waiter and the deaf man, the cafe is a source of succor and comfort. They view the cafe from same perspective, for they are experiencing similar feelings. On the other hand, for the young waiter, the cafe is just a workplace. So he is eager to finish work and go to his house where his wife is waiting for him.

                The deaf man seated in the cafe and having his drinks serenely, point towards his quest for tranquility. “The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client” (Hemmingway). He chooses the night time to visit the cafe, for he wants to avoid the crowd that would be present in the cafe during the daytime. “The first was that the deaf man enjoyed the cafe the most when it was empty, because it gave him a sense of peacefulness…… shadow the leaves of the tree made, which gave the idea that he was almost hiding from the world that was surrounding him.” (Brown).  The deaf man’s wish to keep away from the eyes of other people is expressed through the seat he selects in the cafe. The deaf man is isolated from the society he is living in and even in the cafe he desires to be alone, enjoying the brightness and calmness of the cafe in the night.

                The cafe is an integral part of the plot of the story; it is here that all the action in the story is taking place. The deaf man’s suicide attempt and the thoughts of the young waiter and old waiter, all are being revealed in the cafe. “Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said. “Why?” “He was in despair.” (Hemmingway). The views of the characters regarding the setting of the cafe bring forth the theme of the story which is centered on the loneliness of the old people. The interaction of the characters in the cafe provides an insight to their thoughts and attitude towards life.


                The contrast in the setting of the cafe and the world of old people aids in depicting the sorrow and suffering of the old people. The cafe is bright and clean whereas the world of the deaf man and the old waiter is full of darkness. It is this contrast that compels the deaf man and the old waiter to spend more time in the cafe. The brightness of the cafe brings light into the dark world of the deaf man. “For a lonely, old man, the clean, well-lighted cafe is a slight respite from the darkness. He drinks himself into a drunken state, hoping that sleep will come–taking him from the quiet desperation that has already caused him to attempt suicide once.” (Lombardi). Even for the old waiter the brightness of the cafe relieves him from the feeling of despair for some time. He is free from depressed thoughts when he is in the well-lighted cafe. The moment the deaf man and the old waiter leave the cafe, they feel lonely and gloomy.

                Another contrast that is presented through the setting in the story is the divergent views of old people and youth. The deaf man and the old waiter view the cafe in a perspective which differs from the outlook of the young waiter. The contrasting views of the old waiter and the young waiter prove that young people fail to realize the feelings and loneliness of the old people. The young waiter thought that the deaf man had no cause for being depressed, as he was wealthy. “How much money has he got?” “He’s got plenty.” (Hemmingway). He believed that money brought happiness and contentment. It is this different attitude of the young waiter that makes him to treat the cafe just as a place where people came to satisfy their drinking needs. The significance of the cafe in the lives of the deaf man and the old waiter is in contrast to the views of the young waiter who wants to leave the cafe as early as possible. The young waiter seeks respite from the cafe whereas the old man and the deaf man find relief by being in the cafe.


                The setting of the cafe and the manner in which each character in the play looks at the cafe brings forth the feelings of the characters. The feeling of despair and loneliness, on which the story focuses, is presented through the setting of the cafe. The deaf man is lonely and engulfed in sorrow, so the bright cafe seems to provide him some relief from his dark world. He aims to spend more time in the cafe instead of going to his home where loneliness prevails over him. The old waiter also experiences the same feelings of despair and so he also wants to stay in the cafe for more time. The bright cafe produces same feelings in the deaf man and the old waiter. “It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order.” (Hemmingway)

    But in the young waiter, the cafe fails to arouse any such feelings. The young waiter has a wife who is waiting for him in his house. He is eager to leave the cafe and go to his house, as his wife is present there to provide him company. For him, the cafe is just a place where he comes to earn his livelihood. The setting of cafe is an important element of the fiction in the story, for it aids the reader in comprehending the feelings of the characters and it is these feelings that portray the theme of the story. The cafe with its bright interiors attracts the deaf man and the old waiter towards it, and the reason behind this attraction conveys the message of the author. The understanding of the story lies in the significance of the cafe in the lives of old waiter and the deaf man. The isolation of the old people from their societies is depicted through their feelings towards the cafe.


                The short story “A Clean Well-lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway depicts the struggle of the old people to cope with the loneliness and despair in their lives.  A well-lighted cafe is the place where the whole plot of the story unfolds. The deaf man who is having his drinks in the cafe is the subject of the conversation between the young waiter and the old waiter. The views of the old waiter which shed light on the importance of the cafe in the life of the deaf man, present the loneliness and suffering faced by old people. The setting of the bright cafe, which stands in contrast to the dark and gloomy world of the old people, assists in  bringing forth the circumstances in which the old people are leading their lives. The young waiter whose thoughts regarding the deaf man and his habit of staying late at the cafe, reveal the insensitivity of the youth towards the problems of the old people. For the old waiter and the deaf man, the cafe is a source of temporary relief from their dark world. The theme and significance of the story is depicted through the setting of a well-lighted and clean cafe.

    Works Cited

    Brown, Charles. The Search for Peace in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”.  23 April 2009.



    Hemmingway, Ernest. A Well Lighted Place. 23 April 2009.


    Lombardi, Esther. A Clean Well-Lighted Place. Classic Literature. 23 April 2009.


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