Why Is A Clean, Well-Lighted Place So Short?

The short story is only 990 words long. There is almost no action: we learn everything from the dialogue of the waiters. The reason for such a concise structure is the author’s purpose. Hemingway aimed to create an atmosphere of pointlessness and “nothingness.” He wanted his readers to feel what the old man and the older waiter were going through.

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Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a short story typical of his style. It is simple, straightforward, and devoid of any embellishments. The sentences are brief and meaningful, and every detail, image, and action has a subtext. When in 1954, Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in literature, his writing style was mentioned as one of his sublime achievements. 

Hemingway’s style contrasted with British mannerisms with endless adjectives, adverbs, and semicolons. He says as little as possible. We rarely hear the author’s voice or point of view, and all the events show up through the characters’ dialogues. The direct speech looks natural, as if we overhear it in a public place. Hemingway uses repetitions in phrases to bring the reader’s focus to the essential details. 

The author worked as a journalist. He knew how to give an unbiased and concise account of events. It is also reported that he was an ardent revisionist. Hemingway rewrote his works many times, deleting everything that could be deleted. He left only the most meaningful words. For example, he edited The Old Man and the Sea about 200 times before its first publication. 

That is why his short story is so brief yet staying as profound and touching as a hundred-page novel.

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