Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

16 Dec 2011

(Short Story) A Clean Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway

(Reaction) A Place of Succor by: Antonio Conejos

View other reactions on works by Ernest Hemingway.

A Clean Well-Lighted Place is written in Hemingway's characteristic straight forward and unembellished style. Two co-workers, waiters, talk as they wait for their last customer of the night to close. This banal event is the backdrop for a reflection on how to confront a world without meaning. For as the older waiter (hereafter termed Waiter 2) affirms, nada y pues nada (Nothing and therefore, nothing) is what life is.

The younger waiter (hereafter termed Waiter 1) does not share his colleague's fatalism. Waiter 1 is impatient to get home to his wife and treats the remaining customer with indifference bordering on rudeness, 'Finished,' he said, speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners.

Where Waiter 2 is sympathetic to the remaining customer, the old man; Waiter 1 is anxious to get home and in a hurry, in a larger sense to get on with life, I have confidence. I am all confidence. Time is valuable to Waiter 1, the value of an hour is more to me [Waiter 1] that to him [the old man who is the sole remaining customer].

In contrast, Waiter 2 strikes the reader as world weary and in not in any particular rush to get anything done. Waiter 2's subdued demeanor is because he understands that nothing has meaning anymore, It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too.

To illustrate just how nada everything is, towards the end of A Clean Well Lighted Place he mumbles the Our Father (a prayer particularly special to Christians as they believe it is a prayer taught to man by God Himself). Yet the prayer is injected, perhaps the best word is infected, with numerous nadas, making the prayer almost unrecognizable, Our nada who art in nada, nada be they name... For Waiter 2 then even the Almighty has been reduced to nothing.

Ultimately A Clean Well Lighted Place answers the question of how are we to confront a world without meaning: with dignity. Even now, drunk. Look at him.... The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.


Took this story up in first year college. Wasn't really a fan but I decided to do a reaction on it as it's a neat example of a story's ability to convey volumes of meaning without being verbose or excessively intellectual.

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