Journal Of Short Stories

Earnest Hemingway’s "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
The main focus of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is on the pain of old age suffered by a man that we meet in a cafe late one night. Hemingway contrasts light and dark to show the difference between this man and the young people around him, and uses his deafness as an image of his separation from the rest of the world. Near the end of the story, the author shows us the desperate emptiness of a life near finished, and the aggravation of the old man\'s restless mind that cannot find peace. Throughout this story images of desperation show the old man\'s life at a point where he has realized the pointlessness of life and finds himself the lonely object of derision.

The most obvious image used by Hemingway in this story is that of the contrast between light and dark. The cafe is a "Clean, Well-Lighted Place". It is a refuge from the darkness of night. Darkness symbolizes fear and loneliness. The light symbolizes comfort and the company of others. There is bleakness in the dark, while the light calms the nerves. Unfortunately for the old man, this light is an artificial one, and its serenity is fleeting and deficient.

Maybe the old man hides in the shadows of the leaves because he recognizes the shortcoming of his sanctuary. Perhaps he is drawn to the shadows so that the darkness of his own age will not be so visible as it would be in the full force of the electric light. His body is dark with effects of illness. Even his ears bring him a sort of shadows as they hold out the sounds of the world. The old man\'s deafness is a powerful image used in the story. Deafness shuts the old man out from the rest of the world. The old man knows this and recognizes that he is completely cut off from the sounds that he probably had not thought much of as a young man. In this cafe so late at night he is not missing much. In fact, he might prefer to miss the conversation about him between the two waiters. The younger waiter is disgusted by the old man. He says, "I wouldn\'t want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing." The old man may have said the same thing when he was young.

Another tool used by Hemingway in this story is the image of Nothing. Nothing is what the old man wants to escape. The Nothing is a relentless boredom, uninterrupted by joy or grief. It is eternal emptiness without comfort or camaraderie. It is the pointlessness of each heartbeat that is just like the last and refuses to give in to death. The old man\'s isolation is empty. His days without useful work or reason are empty. The emptiness of a life without progress of meaning is nothing, and this Nothing afflicts the old man with a powerful grip. The only escape from this Nothing is death.

The old man\'s death wish is further played out through the metaphor of insomnia, an ailment that he apparently shares with the older waiter. Insomnia keeps the two awake through the hours of darkness, just as a tenacious life keeps the old man breathing when he would rather rest in his grave. In the second paragraph of the story, the older waiter informs the younger that their elderly customer had tried to commit suicide the week before. The old man is racked with despair - at his loneliness, the darkness of his life, his segregation from the world, and the Nothingness that permeates his existence. He wants rest, but it is withheld from him. Even when he tries to take his own life, his niece cuts him down from his noose. Peace is far from this man, and what little relief he may find is incomplete like the artificial light of the cafe. He tries to drown himself in whiskey, but that also fails to bring him rest. His only hope is, as drunk as he is, that he passes out when he arrives home.

This story is filled with images