ERNEST HEMMINGWAY: A CLEAN, WELL-LIGHTED PLACE
The story’s setting is in a Spanish café where two waiters one old and the other a young one are working late. The two are engaged in a conversation discussing a deaf old man who comes into the café every night and drinks till late. The young waiter then mentions that the old man tried to commit suicide unsuccessfully in the previous week. When asked about the reason for having committed suicide, the young man says nothing made him commit suicide. According to the young man, the old man has money and thus has no reason to commit suicide. The old waiter knew better, as he empathized with the man for staying so late in the night since he felt the same way. This feeling of nothingness that the old man and the older waiter felt was what Hemingway showed as the cause of despair. When the old waiter changed the prayer from ‘our father who art in heaven’ to ‘our nada who art in nada’; it showed that religion was no longer comforting. Nada is the Spanish term for nothing; this showed that even the religion that comforted many did not appear to help them out of their despair.
Despair is also a significant theme that manifests in the short essay. The old waiter together with the old man is trying to find ways to deal with the despair that their lives have brought. They have both struggled to cope with the desperation in various ways. The way the old man deals with despair is to sit down in a well-lit café and drink till late. The elderly man is said to have money, but even that money has not removed the despair out of his life. He tried committing suicide unsuccessfully in an attempt to quell the desperation. He also had a wife at one point, and now he does not. The young waiter believes this is the reason or the man’s loneliness and desperation. The old waiter also prefers to sit late into the night in a well-lit café; the routine of sitting in cafes and bars drinking is what helps them to deal with the despair that they face.
Loneliness is a major theme in the short story; the young waiter refers to the old man as lonely mainly because he has no wife. The same predicament is faced by the old waiter who has no one to wait for him at home as he goes to lie in his room and lacks sleep till morning. The young waiter refuses to give the old man more drinks and the old waiter opposes this as he knows what it feels like to go home in the dark with nothing or no one waiting for you. The old waiter knows that the only way to combat the feeling of nothingness and loneliness; is to sit in a well-lighted place for the night, have a certain level of cleanliness and dignity (Mukesh, 2008). This is meant when he says that he is one of those who prefer to stay in cafes late in the night; ‘…with all those who do not want to go to bed. He says he has insomnia, but the readers know better especially when he says it is only insomnia, and many must have it. The fact that he thinks many people experience insomnia shows that he feels comforted in knowing that he may not be the only one struggling with loneliness.
Mukesh, W (2008) The refuge of the Spanish café in Hemingway’s ‘ a clean well-lighted place’ p 53