Explicateone of the stories we have read. Break the story down by analyzing it partby part. Look at how the plot and symbols express the central theme or themesof the story.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”This story was written byHemingway in 1933. It details an evening’s interaction between two waiters,and their differing perspectives of life. Hemingway uses an old man as a patronto demonstrate the waiter’s philosophies. Hemingway is also visible in thestory as the old man, someone who society says should be content, but has asignificant empty feeling inside. What follows is a line-by-line analysis,putting emphasis on the philosophies of the waiters.
This story focuseson two waiters at a cafe in Madrid, and their differing outlooks upon life.
Their views are shown as they talk about an old man in the cafe, and eachcontemplate their life.
The old man, who may be a reflection of Hemingway’santicipated aging, enjoys drinking in the cafe late at night. This may bea reflection of Hemingway’s own writing in cafes in Paris.The old man prefersdrinking late at night when the atmosphere is much more settled.The waiterskept a careful eye on the old man, as he has been known to leave without payingafter too many drinks. As the two waiters monitor the old man, they youngerwaiter mentions that the old man tried to kill himself in the previous week.
The older waiter asks why, and the younger tells him that he had no reasonto kill himself because he had “plenty of money.” The older waiter lets theconversation drop after he hears this, because this statement shows the youngerwaiter’s perspective. The older waiter seems to have empathy for the olderpatron, where the younger waiter has ill feelings to the customer. The olderwaiter seems to be more aware of a larger sense of existence where everyoneplays their role, and the younger waiter seems to believe that he has to simplylook out for ‘number one’ and really couldn’t be bothered to go out of hisway for the old man. The younger waiter quickly argued that the old man’sjustification for living should have been his money, and it is interestingto note that the younger waiter considers nothing else in his evaluation ofthe attempted suicide. As the two waiters sit at a table, a soldier walksby with a prostitute. The older waiter comments that they’ll get stopped bythe local guard, and the younger waiter replies “What does it matter if hegets what he’s after?” Again, this shows the older waiter’s awareness, andthe careless attitude of the younger waiter.
The old man signals the youngerwaiter over for another drink, and the waiter declines to server him becausehe feels that the man is getting drunk and doesn’t want to get stuck waitingfor him to finish. The younger waiter then comments that the old man shouldhave killed himself last week, and how the waiter is tired and simply wantsto get to bed at a reasonable hour. The older waiter, empathizing withthe old man, grabs the bottle of brandy and pours a full glass for the oldman. This, again, reflects the respect that the older waiter has for the oldman. This is the first real hint that the older waiter has a lot in commonwith the old man. As the older waiter takes his seat at the table withthe younger waiter, the younger waiter comments about the old man’s drunkennessevery night.The old man asks the younger why the old man would want to killhimself. The younger waiter replies that he doesn’t know why. They discussthe incident, and the younger waiter asks who cut the rope that the man washanging from. The older replies that it was his niece, and explains that sheprobably did it our of fear for his soul. The younger waiter questionsthe older about how much money the old man has, showing his assessment of whatmatters in life. The young waiter also expresses his desire for the old manto leave, saying how he wants to get home to go to bed. This shows the youngerwaiter’s self-centered approach. He says that he’s got a wife waiting for him,that old men are nasty, and that he old man has no respect for those thatmust work. This lets the reader see that the younger man’s concerns do notextend past himself. The older waiter counters with the facts that this oldman is always a gentleman whom enjoys a drink in their cafe, showing his compassionfor the older man. At this time, the old man requests another drink, andthe younger waiter attends to him and informs him that the bar is closing.
The old man eventually walks out after leaving a paltry tip for the waiter.
As the older waiter questions why the younger waiter closed the cafe early,the younger replies that he wants to go to bed.The older waiter questionsthe value of the hour, and the younger waiter expresses that the hour is morevaluable to him than to the old man.
The younger waiter thinks that heinsults the older waiter when he says that he is acting just like the old man.
The older waiter quickly evens the score by asking the younger waiter ifhe’s afraid of going home early, possible finding his wife with another man.
The younger replies that he has confidence. The older waiter adds thatthe younger has confidence, youth, and a job. The older waiter says how henever had confidence and is no longer young. It is clear in this scene thatthe older waiter wishes that he had his current knowledge at a much earlierage. He also states that he likes to stay late at the cafe, with others doingthe same, others who “need a light” for the night. He is hesitant to closethe cafe each night, as there may be another person who needs its warm lightand friendly atmosphere.
As the older waiter attempts to explain the specialcharacteristics of a friendly atmosphere and how it can ease the darkness ofnight, the younger waiter simply says “Good night” and leaves. The older continuesthe conversation with himself, explaining how a cafe was better than a bar,the importance of light and absence of music, all things that show not onlyhow the waiter cares about what he does and the service that he provides, butthat he is intimately familiar with receiving the comfort of a fine cafe. The older waiter explains the patron’s fear as a fear of nothingness. He evengoes so far as to diagnose all cafe customers as sufferers of nothingness,”Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was all nada y pues nada…”While the older waiter is walking home, he recites the “Our Father” prayer,replacing all of the nouns with “nada,” almost in an attempt to get so familiarwith his fear that he would no longer be afraid of it. He can see his futureas the old man who was in his cafe, and he does not want to end up with nothing,as that man has (even though he does have money, to the concern of the youngerwaiter.) The older waiter finds himself in a bar and initially ordersa “nada.” The barman dismisses it and then pours a drink to the waiter’s request.
The waiter comments to the barman that “The light is very bright and pleasant,but the bar is unpolished.” This situation now has the waiter playing therole of the old man in the cafe, and the waiter is hoping that his feedbackwill improve the bar for anyone who may need it as he does now. The waiterleaves the bar after one drink, and heads home. He resolves not to think anymore for the night. He plans on simply going home and lying in bed until daylight,some three to four hours away, and then go to sleep. The waiter justifiesthis as “…probably only insomnia. Many must have it.”The role of theyounger waiter is to show a naive attitude to society, that he simply has totake care of himself, and that’s all that will matter. The older waiter isenriched by his years to the point where he is aware enough to see that ina matter of time, he could be ( is? ) a customer in the cafe. He gets as muchout of working as he would out of drinking. He is afraid of the dark, afraidof the nothing, afraid of what may happen to him in time to come, and how hemany be treated.I think that it is also possible to see Hemingway inthis story as the cafe’s old patron. The old man is someone that has becomea success by society’s standards, but not by his own. The old man is rich,just as Hemingway was famous, but neither of the two were ever completely satisfied.
Hemingway is represented as someone always on safari, or some other showfulpastime, perhaps trying just to keep busy, to stay away from the nada. English