A Clean Well Lighted Place – Ernest Hemmingway Summary

A Clean Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway is set in a caf late at night in Spain. In the caf are two waiters of different ages and a lonesome old man who is their regular customer. Early into the story, it is evident that the two waiters have different views towards the old man. The younger waiters behavior toward the old man is relevant to the younger waiters attitude on life. In contrast, the older waiter sees beneath the old mans exterior surface. He can identify the sense of loneliness the old man has.

As the two waiters are working the late shift, it becomes obvious the young waiter is impatient to leave. He repeatedly makes the remarks, I want to go home and into bed. With his wife waiting for him at home in their bed, he attains a sense of security without realizing it. He is anxious to be out of the caf and free of the old man so he could continue his night the way he chooses. Loneliness is not present in the young waiters life. He does not understand various people grow older without family or friends. When the young waiter serves the old man his last drink, he speaks to the old man as if he were foreign or stupid. Not understanding what type of refuge the caf provided the old man, the young waiter viewed the old man as a burden.

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Unlike the young waiter, the elder waiter can empathize with the old man. The old man presents himself with dignity while drinking in the caf. The old waiter sees and understands the old mans ways. Since the old waiter is alone as well, he shares the life of solitude that the old man lives in. He attempts to explain this to the young waiter as he comments, You have youth, confidence, and a jobYou have everything (94). The young waiter argues with the old waiter that they share the same qualities of life but then he is quickly detoured from the conversation because he wants to proceed with closing the caf. With the caf closed, the older waiter knows that he must go into the night alone. Without the company of a person present, he still seeks an environment where the presence of people is enough to fulfill his solitude. The older waiter can connect to the old mans feeling of loneliness. He knows the light in a clean environment, such as the caf, is a refuge that many share. The light in the caf brings life to those who decide to embrace it.
Though it appears the old waiter is embraced by the light, once alone his true thought surfaces when he cites a prayer. Nada y pues nada y pues nada, gives insight into his sense of hopelessness illustrated by his unhappiness (94). His prayer suggests his outlook on life is not positive. All hope he once attained has now diminished. When he lies down to sleep, he tells himself that he has insomnia and believes others have it as well. In doing so, he conceals his hopelessness as insomnia. He may understand and live in the solitude the old man does, but he does not want to accept it.
Age reveals how differently the two waiters outlook on life are from each others. The young waiter is nave when he considers the effects the future can have on an individual. Only what he posses and is close to him is what he is concerned with. The older waiter understood the old mans presence in the caf. He recognizes the role each of them participate in to help ease the sense of isolation age can bring forth. Both men do not personally know the old man but it is the older waiter that can relate to him. The shadows the leaves made in the dark were a comfort only the old man would know. His demeanor proved he was a man of dignity. Dignity the young waiter failed to notice inside the shadow of the leaves. Nighttime allows the vast darkness to engulf the lonely soul but the older waiter knows the light the caf provides is just enough to feed their souls from the emptiness until daybreak.

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