A clean, well-lighted place is a description of a Spanish café where the action of the short story takes place. It has a symbolic meaning that represents any place where one can feel comfort and security. It is where a person has nothing to fear and can put away their grim thoughts.
Emotional darkness is the central theme of the story. It is the symbol of a meaningless life that surrounds the older waiter and the café visitor. They are victims of inner loneliness, fear, hopelessness, and “nothingness.” In all this despair, they perceive the clean, well-lighted café as a refuge from the emotional darkness. The café, with its cleanliness and light, is the only oasis in the darkness of night where they can shed off their fears.
The older waiter says, “This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good.” But as the author repeatedly underlines, the light comes from electricity. It is a temporary source of illumination. Besides, they will not sit in the café forever. It has its working hours and a waiter wanting to go home to his wife. They are only visitors and will have to leave sooner or later.
Each word of the description has a meaning. “A” shows that it is an unspecified location. Any place can be proper and light. “Clean” stands for decency. When your life falls apart, you want to have at least one place in order. “Well-lighted” means security. People are afraid of the darkness because it hides the unknown. But if we turn on the light, our fear leaves.
Our world could be a clean and well-lighted place. But for the most part, it is not.