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Dealing With Despair Essay

1118 words - 5 pages

What gives a life meaning? Some might say that family, friends, religious values, or even money give meaning to their life, but what about the people who do not have any of these things? In Earnest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” two characters are portrayed as being in despair. These older gentlemen have explicit reasons for their grief however. Hemingway presents the central theme of despair throughout the story by the use of dialogue, images, and multiple viewpoints. Through the use of these three literary tools, Hemingway is able to reiterate that without family, friends, or values life is ultimately meaningless.
One of the first elements that Hemingway uses to communicate his central theme is dialogue. Throughout the story, the central focus is put onto the main character, the old man. The reader learns that through a series of many unfortunate events that the old man is deaf, has no family, and is frequently drunk. The reader is also introduced to two other characters which are referred to as the younger waiter and the older waiter. The first instance of despair is directed towards the old man. As the younger waiter is serving the old man he claims, “You should have killed yourself last week” (143). This episode shows that the old man is in a constant state of desperation. The statement is able to evoke compassion from the reader because it is clear that the old man feels as if his life is meaningless. Unlike the old man, the younger waiter has a wife, a set of values, and he is living the life that has been granted to him. As the younger waiter is anticipating to leave he expresses his feelings to the older waiter saying, “He’s lonely. I’m not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me” (144). This fact clearly displays that the old man’s solitude has also left him in a state of despair. He has lost everyone; consequently, tragedies such as these leave people in a constant state of grief. As illustrated, being alone in life causes despair; likewise, living every day the exact same can also produce this emotion. From the beginning to the end of the story the reader learns that the older waiter does not compromise his daily routine. The older waiter retorts to the younger waiter by saying, “And you? You have no fear of going home before the usual hour?” (145). This statement proves that the older waiter has no desire to step out of his comfort zone. Each day that he continues the same routine, the more he proves to himself that his life is disappointing and meaningless. Through the dialogue spoken by each of the characters, the reader is able to clearly define the central theme; however, despair is also shown through many different images.
Throughout the entire story, Hemingway strategically uses multiple images to illustrate the theme. One of the first images shown contains the old man. The reader sees that he is sitting alone late at night with only an “electric light” illuminating the area around him (143). This...

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