The old waiter doesn’t want to go home because he is afraid of staying with his thoughts one-on-one. He has lost meaning in life, and religion doesn’t help him anymore. He mentions the fear of “nothing” that chases him. Thus, staying among other people distracts him from his depression.
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Have you ever felt so depressed that you were ready to do anything to avoid going to bed? You watched TV series, flipped through the Facebook feed, ate several times, and texted all your friends who were online. But although it was past midnight, you didn’t just lie and close your eyes. Why did you do so?
Psychology calls it a coping mechanism. When people go through any kind of stress, they develop strategies that help them to recover. Such problem-solving behavior can bring relief or the feeling of equilibrium. People can lower their expectations, dissociate from stressful situations, or engage in unnecessary problem-solving.
The characters of the short story selected different avoidance mechanisms. The deaf visitor abuses alcohol and creates an illusion of company staying at the restaurant. The younger waiter keeps his mind off troubles, immersing in his relationships with the wife. The older waiter stays at work, reluctant to go home.
Hemingway shows that all people face grim thoughts about the lack of meaning in life. And everyone develops strategies of coping with them. The old waiter understands that the visitor struggles through the “nothingness” and sympathizes with him. After all, he is in the same situation.