Quest for Sanctuary in On the Road and A Clean Well-Lighted Place
The biblical chapter of Exodus outlined man's struggle to find sanctuary in a world tormented by greed, doubt, and the prospect of death. "On the Road" by Langston Hughes, and "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway are two fine examples of such a quest. Although told through different perspectives in vastly different situations, the themes of both stories are the same: man's desire for acceptance, the loss of faith and the pain of loneliness and aging. Perhaps society has changed since these stories were written, yet their timeless themes still pertain to each and every individual facing a situation in which he or she craves solace.
"On the Road" begins with the image of a cold, black, homeless man searching for comfort out of a snowstorm. He first seeks relief in a shelter but he is turned away by a priest. This is symbolic of the hypocrisy and apparent racism of the times. The era is so infected by prejudice, even members of the clergy have adopted such an evil ideology. Searching for more solace, the man finds himself directly in front of a church. When the locked doors do not give way to his desire to enter and warm his body, the townspeople try to pull him away. The citizens battle with him to block his access to shelter. Like Sampson, he tears the building down, and with the church, Jesus is torn from the crucifix. As later demonstrated through dialog, Jesus is merely a traveler whose work isn't being done in the town. He makes his way to Kansas City and the homeless man ends up in a jail cell.
Langston Hughes, one of the most prominent authors of the famed Harlem Renaissance, understood the themes of injustice and intolerance. Being an African American man in the early portion of this century, he faced discrimination every day. His central character is a victim of society's prejudice as was Jesus. The central character also faced the prospect of certain death if not rescued from the cold. As long as intolerance shamefully still exists in America, the themes of "On the Road" will always be socially relevant.
"A Clean Well-Lighted Place" serves as Hemingway's ideal solution for the lonely individual. The story begins with two waiters in a Spanish bar observing an intoxicated elderly gentlemen who can not hear what the waiters are saying about him. The younger waiter grows impatient as the hours slide by and hopes the old man will leave so he can return home to his young wife. The older waiter sympathizes with the man and explains that the clean well-lighted bar provides a sanctuary for all those with loneliness and insomnia, from which the waiter obviously suffers.