It would be wrong to limit the short story to a single theme. Still, the central one would be the theme of nothingness. But loneliness, old age, meaning, and depression are also critical. They result from the feeling of emptiness that makes people seek the illusion of company and avoid the darkness of their bedroom.
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The central theme of the story is nothingness. It shows up in the Spanish word “nada,” which appears in the text 22 times. Its English equivalent, “nothing,” is used only eight times.
Why was the Spanish version better? The author chose the foreign word for its mysticism and the ancient Catholic tradition in Spain. The narrator and the protagonist repeat it as a mantra. After all, when a phenomenon is given a name, it becomes less scary. We need to define our fear to look for a way to overcome it.
Nothingness is what stays once a person loses faith in God. They become lonely, as there is nobody to listen to their prayers. Loneliness brings depression, making things even worse. Unfortunately, these events usually happen when a person is old. The friends and children already have their families. Many close people pass away each year.
What is the point of life for a lonely person? Many people find meaning in helping the poor or creating art. But if you are frustrated, nothing seems worth your effort. You cannot help everyone, and art will fade with time. Helpless thoughts can suck you down as a slough.
Hemingway does not tell us what can be done. Everyone has to find their own way out.