How Does Hemingway Reveal His Tone in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place?

It may seem that Hemingway abstained from showing his opinion in the short story. But at a closer look, the author’s tone reveals itself in the characters’ dialogues, nature description, and a few events. The author lets the readers form their opinion about the text independently from what he believes.

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Hemingway’s style is terse and journalistic. The author hides behind the letters, leaving the reader on his own with the text. About two-thirds of the story is a dialogue, and all the indirect speech is in short sentences. The only long and hard-to-read passage is the older waiter’s version of The Lord’s Prayer. His praying is mixed with depression and helpless thoughts. It suddenly ends, as if there is no point in continuing.

So, Hemingway selects the matter-of-fact tone, as if he is just telling us pure facts. The old visitor drinks brandy. Two waiters gossip about him and quarrel about some points. Then one of them leaves for home, and another goes to a bar. That’s the entire plot. Which facts here could be so crucial that Hemingway would write a short story about them?

The thing is that the plot is a smokescreen to hide the author’s disillusionment and disbelief. The readers are given a chance to take the side of one of the waiters, as they would please. If they sympathize with the older waiter, they would feel the same nothingness and despair, wondering what they live for. If they prefer the young waiter, they would be irritated by the depressive thoughts of the other two characters. Hemingway does not insist on either point, but we feel whose side he supports.

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