Ernest Hemingway managed to fill this 990-word text with moral questions that deserve multiple-page analysis. The key themes of A Clean, Well-Lighted Place are nada (nothingness), alcohol addiction, anility, and existentialism. This article by Custom-Writing.org experts features a summary of these issues discussed from different points of view.
⚪️ Nada (Nothingness)
The action takes place in Spain. There are many Spanish words inserted here and there throughout the text. Nada is the most frequently used one. It translates as “nothing.” At the end of the story, the older waiter quotes the Lord’s Prayer, substituting some words with “nada.”
Nada stands for the lack of something. The older waiter lost his faith in God, and he addresses the Lord as “Our nada who art in nada” and “Nada be thy name.” His loneliness is eating him up, and he has nobody to live for. When the waiter comes to the bar, he asks to give him “nada” to drink. Such a request makes the bartender think that the man is “loco” (crazy). Besides, the younger waiter also considers his older colleague a strange person who talks “nonsense.”
The younger waiter and the bartender are secondary characters who represent the general public. They avoid gloomy thoughts, filling their lives with everyday concerns. And although the older waiter has a deeper understanding of life, it ruins him from inside. Thinking about nothingness scares him. “It was not a fear or dread, it was a nothing that he knew too well.” The idea dissipated in a clean and light place but returned once he was in the darkness of his home.
Meanwhile, the author makes it clear that nothingness chases all of us. The difference is only in the extent to which the person is ready to open to a “nada.” Some build an illusion of meaning. Others look for a clean place to preserve dignity or commit suicide.
Hemingway’s Existentialism in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Hemingway did not write a single philosophic essay. Still, he made an immense contribution to the philosophy of existentialism.
The movement focused on human existence. It was an irrational reaction to German classical philosophy and Enlightenment ideas. The Industrial Revolution did not make the Earth a better place to live. The technical progress made wars more devastating and class differences more visible. If development does not improve our lives, what could do that? Nothing.
Hemingway tests his existentialistic thoughts, creating short stories with tragic characters. In A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, nada is the stained glass through which the older waiter looks at the world.
The depressed middle-aged waiter believes that life is pointless. Still, he can try to create meaning and order by entering a “clean, well-lighted place.” But as the reader may see, this method is temporary as the characters go home at some point. Going home is a symbol of death (and sleep is a little death), which inevitably comes to everyone.
Hemingway’s existentialism is inseparable from nihilism. Life is meaningless, and nothing can be done about that. Meanwhile, every person is unique. The only way to live in peace with oneself is to find a distraction that works for you. The author introduces fatalistic heroism, meaning that all of us are at war with the world and ourselves.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place: Quotes on Nothingness
Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada.A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
He was in despair… About nothing. He has plenty of money.A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too.A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
🥃 Alcohol & Drugs
Hemingway was a heavy drinker throughout his lifetime. In 1954, he survived a plane crash which left him in pain for the rest of his life. He relieved the pain with alcohol, making the addiction even stronger.
He wrote A Clean, Well-Lighted Place when he already drank a lot. The writer knew the many sad reasons that brought people to alcoholism. Most of them refer to the inability or unwillingness to face reality.
The short story draws an imaginary timeline of alcoholism:
- The young waiter does not drink; he has a beloved wife, a job, and a whole life ahead.
- Then, the middle-aged waiter represents the second stage: he is disillusioned and depressive; it brings him to the bar to take a “copita” (a small drink).
- The deaf old man is at the final stage: he drinks every night until he gets so drunk that he forgets to pay.
Meanwhile, the old visitor manages not to spill his drink and walks away with dignity. Should these details make us respect him? The correct answer requires us to walk in his shoes. Only if you are old and lonely can you understand his effort.
Dignity is the last human trait an alcoholic can have. It is the only connection with reality that is left for them. That is why the older waiter and the old visitor avoid drinking at a dirty bar. If they did, they would look depressed and excite pity. But they don’t want to be pathetic. They just want to escape their memories “y pues” make reality bearable.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place: Quotes on Alcohol
The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him.A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
“Finished,” he said, speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. “No more tonight. Close now.”A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
👴 Old Age
In A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, the theme of old age goes hand-in-hand with those of lateness, tiredness, and deafness.
An old man sits at a café late at night. He could be sitting there early in the morning (after all, insomnia can have various signs). But the author chose the time after midnight. When you are old, everyone is busy with their own families. Children have become adults and dedicate themselves to their new families and work. Your friends are either dead or too weak to visit you. Late at night, people are also busy sleeping or staying with their close ones. Who could look for a company at such an hour? Only a desperately lonely person.
The young waiter is tired of work and wants to go to bed and his wife. The older one is tired of life and avoids staying alone. But both of them strive for authenticity. The younger waiter wants to feel loved and alive. This option is unavailable at old age, especially if you are lonely. That is why authenticity means dignity for old people. Staying clean and proper makes life bearable and helps to preserve one’s self.
Many old people lose their hearing. The deaf visitor can speak, which means that he used to hear but lost this ability. But deafness here has a symbolic allusion to religion. The old man and the old waiter do not “hear” God. They have lost their faith and are absolutely alone in this “godless” world.
The visitor is also deaf to other people, including his niece. It represents his inability to find comfort in human relations. Small talk and other minor interactions that add color to our existence are unavailable to him.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place: Quotes on Old Age
I wouldn’t want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
You talk like an old man yourself. He can buy a bottle and drink at home.A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
No. I have never had confidence and I am not young.A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Thank you for reading this article! If you need more information about literary themes, check the article about themes in literature. You might also want to take a look at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place essay topics collection. And if you need to make the text of your essay more colorful, try our paraphrasing tool. Any questions left? Check the QA section!