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A Clean, Well Lighted Place Essay

1510 words - 7 pages

The essence of existentialism takes a prominent role in Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by underscoring the idea of life as a void of chaotic nothingness. In the opening paragraph, Hemingway’s immediate diagnosis of the old man’s condition as a suicidal drunkard despite his wealth demonstrates the idea that despair is unbiased and those who the realization of nothingness dons upon are left with a yearning to couple their internal incapacitations with temporary physical alleviations. Hemingway’s dogma depicts the self-crippling effects of the awful awareness that one’s life is essentially meaningless, creating a deepened sense of emotional distraught and existential questioning which, by extension, renders all else is meaningless, too.
To the casual eye, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” does not appear to have much merit. It is a plotless story lacking substance on which to feed the mind, but upon careful peruse, the story’s simplicity is sufficient to breed intense insight into sentimental nullity. The first signs of this emotional oppression by nothingness are found in the opening dialogue between two waiters in a café who discuss an old man’s reason for attempting suicide. They conclude the reason is “Nothing. He has plenty of money” (Hemingway 167). It is evident that the old man is experiencing a despair that he believes cannot be quelled except by death. His plan having failed, sobriety is unbearable, so he “[sits] in the shadow the leaves of the tree [make] against the electric light” of a café every night far beyond the stay of other customers; sometimes he drinks to the point he forgets to pay (Hemingway 167). The literal darkness in which the old man is shrouded is symbolic: black, which is the absence of all light, represents the old man’s lack of the things important to him, like his wife, as well as a lack of meaning to his life. It is representative of the loneliness and solidarity he feels. On the same note, the old man’s deafness is more than just a disability. He is physically deaf but also deaf to what is around him. In the story, Hemingway states the old man likes to be out at late hours because he can tell the difference between the hurry of the day and the still of the night; the emptiness of the night resonates with his internal desolation (Bassett 1).
In the story, the older waiter comes to terms that he himself is like the old man. He, too, finds solace in routine, and he knows the routine the old man has adopted is to drink brandy until the early hours of the morning at the café. Routine, like light, brings order to their lives. He understands the old man on a level the younger waiter is too oblivious to care for (Bassett 1). “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,” the older waiter states to the younger waiter in defense of his ways as well as the old man’s ways (Hemingway 169). The younger...

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