“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Essay, Research Paper
Dark Against Light in ?A Clean, Well-Lighted Place?
The main character in ?A Clean, Well- Lighted Place,?
written by Ernest Hemingway, is the old man. The old man, who
remains nameless throughout the short story, comes to the caf?
for the light it provides him against the dark night. He stays
late into the night, and sits ?In the shadow the leaves of the
tree made against the electric light.? The old man is deaf and
finds comfort in the ?difference? he feels inside the quiet caf?.
The old man struggles with old age and the feeling of nothingness
which is representative of the darkness outside of the caf?.
The well-lit caf? represents order and cleanliness. Outside
in the dark, a young soldier and a girl hurry along the streets.
Apparently, the couple intend to go off alone. They symbolize
the excitement that can go on in the night between two people.
The old man is around eighty years old, and does not have a wife.
He doesn?t experience this type of relationship in the dark.
Rather, he finds company in the clean, well-lighted caf?.
Although the only other two people in the caf? at the late hour
are the two waiters, the old man finds it content.
The two waiters comment that although he is ?A good client
they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without
paying.? The younger of the two waiters wants to go home. He
has a wife and claims he never gets ?into bed before three
o?clock.? He treats the deaf old man as if he were dumb. He
speaks to him ?with that omission of syntax stupid people employ
when talking to drunken people or foreigners.? The young waiter
knows that the old man tried to commit suicide last week, but
feels no remorse for him. He is too preoccupied with closing the
caf? to get home. It is not important to the young waiter that
the old man has a clean place to stay. Unlike the old man, the
young waiter says he has ?confidence.? ??You have youth,
confidence, and a job,? the older waiter said. ?You have
everything.?? He has no reason to hide from the dark. He like
the soldier and girl, can find excitement in the dark. He is not
lonely like the old man. The young waiter resents the old man
because he does not want to sit in the caf? all night as he
watches him get drunker and drunker. When the older waiter
questions what the matter of one hour is to the younger waiter,
the younger waiter responds that an hour is ?More to me than
him.? The young waiter says to the older waiter that the old man
can ?Buy a bottle and drink at home.? But then later agrees with
the older waiter that it is not the same.
The older waiter, on the other hand, feels sympathetic
towards the deaf old man. He is not as old as the old man, but
can comprehend with the aging process. He is not youthful like
the younger waiter. He knows that the old man is lonely. That
his wife has died and his niece looks after him. The older
waiter understands that even though the old man has plenty of
money he is alone in the world. He realizes that it is important
to keep a clean, well-lit caf? open for people like the old man
who can not sleep. The older waiter recognizes the difference in
his caf? and that of a dark bar or bodega. He knows that ?Light
was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order.? He is
?reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the
caf?.? The reader finds out at the end of the story that the
waiter is like the old man in need of light and cleanness, when
he goes to a bar after closing and comments that although ?The
light is very bright and pleasant but the bar is unpolished.?
The waiter blames it on insomnia, but he like the old man is
alone. In a way, the company of the old man is good for him just
as it is to the old man. He admits to the younger waiter ?I am
of those who like to stay late at the caf?,…With all those who
need a light for the night.? He also, tells the younger waiter
that he lacks everything but work. Similar to the old man, he
lacks youth and confidence.
One characteristic that neither the old man nor the older
waiter lack is dignity. Even though the old man is drunk when he
leaves the caf?, he still walks down the street in a
distinguished manner. Likewise, the older waiter comments that
you can not stand before a bar with dignity even though ?that is
all that is provided for these hours.? For both the old man and
the older waiter life held nothing, nada. The light, the
pleasantness, and cleanliness of a late night caf? is the only
sense of being for the two men. They are both alone. And
although at night they find themselves alone, it also brings a
peacefulness and consolation from the busy day. The light that
they find in the night brings them a strong sense of relief from
what they are missing in the dark. Both of the men are older and
know the reality of darkness. The youthful young waiter lacks
experience which does not intimidate him from the dark. The
order of the light keeps the two others up, and away from the
loneliness. The dark holds nothingness, while the light is
inviting and being.
Regardless of the old man?s pursuit of light, he sits in the
shadows created by the leaves. Almost as if he is an outsider or
onlooker of the light. In this aspect, he is slightly similar to
the younger waiter who awaits the darkness of his wife and their
bed. It is as if the old man is stuck in the middle: he longs
for the brightness of the electric light, but he can not
completely pull himself from the darkness of the shadow. The
shadow stands for a shelter from the complete light or darkness.
It is a middle ground for him to be guarded in.
At the end of the short story, the older waiter blames it
all on insomnia. He claims ?Many must have it.? Like the old
man, the older waiter and many others who have experienced the
nothingness of darkness, long for the light and cleanness of a
caf? open late at night. Maybe it is insomnia. Whatever the
case, it is like an illness which the victim suffers from the
fear of nothingness and of being alone that comes with old age.