Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver are two of the most influential authors of American literature. Carver’s literary works are often considered to have a close connection to Hemingway’s, because of their similar writing styles, such as simplicity and clarity (Mclnerney, 1989). However, though their works share the same aesthetic feature, their works convey fairly different philosophical inquiry on values of faith and existence. Ernest Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-lighted Place and Carver’s Cathedral are two works with distinctive views on questioning the life and manhood.
As Gillespie (2010) suggests biographical and historical backgrounds largely influence on literary works, which should not be omitted when considering their philosophical outlook. Therefore, the personal life and specific historical period that the two authors experienced might provide hints for their individual perspective on life and existence meaning. In spite of the enthusiasm on war during almost his life, Hemingway suffered from his physical ailments and mental deterioration and solitude (depression and paranoia) in his late years, which was a hangover from his engaged experience in World War I and World War II (Burwell, 1996). Hemingway was one member of the “Lost Generation”, who were victims of the World War I and struggled with moral and psychological aimlessness when searching for the meaning of life, while A Clean, Well-lighted Place was created at that time. In 1961, Hemingway committed a suicide to end his life. On the other hand, the majority of Carver’s life was in a relatively peaceful post-war period. Though Carver was addicted to alcohol and experienced his unhappy first marriage, in 1983 when Cathedral was published, he has started new life with his muse, the later wife, and quited alcoholism (Carver, 2006). Despite that late in his life he suffered from lung cancer, Carver kept writing until the last day of his life (Carver, 2006). Their different life experiences are probably one of the vital reasons that they developed very different perspectives on the values of life, which to large extent influences their respective writings.
In A Clean Well-lighted Place, the old waiter is likely to be the central character of this story. Unlike the energetic young waiter and the depressed old man, the old waiter is experiencing the middle point, and shows sensitivity to all the stages of life. Contrast to the young waiter’s reluctance and impatience in staying late in cafe, the old waiter understands the old man and attempts to explain, “He stays up because he likes it” (Hemingway, 1997, p. 4). Rather than going ahead home, the old waiter prefers staying outside. An unnamed anxiety haunts the old waiter, leading to his insomnia, which he thinks is common to many people.
Hemingway, through the description of lonely and pathetic characters who is, or will ultimately be disconnected to the world, transmits the message that life is filled with emptiness and...