“A Clean Well-Lighted Place” (Theme)

“A Clean Well-Lighted Place” (Theme)


“A Clean Well-Lighted Place” (Theme)

Jacqueline Rodgers

South University

Eng1300 Composition III/Literature

Week 4 Project

In the short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway, the narrator has tried to bring out explicit, precise, and concise theme of the story in a well systematic manner. These few themes hashave stood out clearly such as loyalty and solidarity; which is seen vividly when the younger waiter provides a contrast to the older waiter. The contrast helps develop Hemingway’s thesis propounded by the older waiter in his soliloquy. The author in this story has also revealed the message/theme to be precise about the inevitability of loneliness and despair; which is one of the themes that has stood out clearly in the entire story. Which, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, despair can be defined as one who has lost all hope or confidence in something or someone. This is a good introduction, but it is flipped. You might consider the hook at the beginning of the paragraph and then the thesis statement at the end.

In the story, it is depicted that the older waiter and the old deaf man some how share a common bond of disheartenment. Both men are of age and they like to be out in the dark, late at night, and to make the matters worse they stay alone. A good quote here would help. However, Ernest Hemingway explores several themes in his short story. Hemingway has tried to show and suggest these themes by showing us how life has no meaning and that man is an insignificant speck in a great sea of nothingness.

Begin the paragraph with a topic sentence. The older waiter makes this idea as vividly as he can when he says, “It was all a nothing and man was a nothing too.” When he substitutes the Spanish word nada (nothing) into the prayers he recites; he indicates that religion, to which many people turn to find meaning and purpose is also just nothingness. Rather than pray with the actual words, “Our Father who art in heaven,” the older waiter prefers to say, “Our nada who art in nada” which it deliberately wipes out both God and the idea of heaven in one breath. Not everyone is aware of the nothingness, however; for example, the younger waiter hurtles through his life hastily and happily; unaware of any reason why he should lament. For the old man, the older waiter, and the other people who need late-night cafés, however, the idea of nothingness is overwhelming and leads to despair. Comment by K P: You need your in-text citation.

The struggle to deal with his sorrow is clearly seen when the old man and older waiter in struggle to find a way to deal with their issues, but even their best method simply subdues it rather than cures it. The old man has tried to stave off despair in several unsuccessful ways. We learn that he has money, but money has not helped. We learn that he was once married, but he no longer has a wife. We also learn that he has unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide in a desperate attempt to quell the despair for good. The only way the old man can deal with his situation now is to sit for hours in a clean, well-lit café. A good quote here would help show the reader what you see. Deaf, he can feel the quietness of the night time and the café, and although he is essentially in his own private world; sitting by himself in the café is not the same as being alone.

The older waiter in his mocking prayers filled with the word nada, shows that religion is not a viable and dependant method of dealing with his problem; and he seeks to find solution the same way as the old man. He waits out the night time in cafés. He is particular interested about the type of café he likes which is a café that is well lit and clean. Bars and bodegas, are although many at times opened all night, to them it seems that it does not lessen despair because they are not clean, and patrons often must stand at the bar rather than sit at a table. Therefore, they prefer the ritualistic café-sitting and drinking which helps them deal with their depression and because it makes life predictable. The old man and the older waiter also glean solace from routine, this is because routine is something they can control and manage, unlike the vast nothingness that surrounds them. Comment by K P: This is a nice topic sentence.

The theme of solidarity is also described by the author which is one of the most touching aspect about this story and it’s seen when the older waiter expresses his solidarity with the old man. This communality structures the older waiter’s consistent thoughts concerning solidarity with the old man. He indeed understands and defends him because he too prefers clean and well-lighted cafe than bars or bodegas. While the young waiter is all “youth” and “confidence”, the old waiter and the old man seem overwhelmingly lonely and tired-out by life. He too seeks out such a place to forestall his own despair that night. Solidarity is the climax of the story itself. It comes in its final line of how “He disliked bars and bodegas and preferred a clean, well-lighted cafe which was seen as a very different thing. Now, without thinking further, he went home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia.

Many must have it.” It is the “many” of the final sentence of the story with which the story is concerning. Against the singular and selfish young waiter, the coupled old men signify the group or community that hangs together out of loyalty and a sense of common cause. Hemingway’s fiction around the time of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” frequently thematizes solidarity, undoubtedly because this principle of conduct was highly valued at the time. Much political advance was achieved in the first three decades of the century through the methods of mass demonstrations and movements (e.g., groups of workers and women bonded together for better working conditions and the vote). Solidarity fueled these mass rights’ movements and ensured their success.

Hemingway is also a writer who is totally obsessed by ethical conduct which is a theme depicted in the story. The entire bulk of his writing work is majorly concerned with questions of good versus bad actions. In this fiction, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how you play the game. This is true, perhaps, because in Hemingway’s fictional universe one rarely wins. The title of the collection from which “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” comes suggests this complicated stance. It is called Winner Take Nothing. If one has won nothing as a winner, then all one has done is played the game.

The old waiter is the epitome of someone who plays by the rules. No matter what it is, alone and drunk old man making this waiter stay up all night; the cafe offers a specific service, and is ran according to certain rules from which the old waiter will not deviate. He cuts no corners in his social responsibilities. This paragraph is a bit too short. Continue to work on adding in the details to help you explain your main point.

The centrality and repetitiveness of this theme in this author’s oeuvre costs him popularity in many camps. Hemingway’s heroes consistently detect and perform unspoken ritual, usually in trying conditions so that their upholding of these rules seems all the more admirable. These beset characters are always male, and they are usually proving themselves while pursuing very traditional male pursuits. This self-conscious cultivation of and propensity for, an agonistic and all-male world is immortalized in a title of another of his short story collections. Appropriately, it is called Men without Women. This highly gendered world of strenuous physical and moral contest makes Hemingway’s fiction seem dated in many respects.


Hemingway, E. (1926). A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. In X.J Kennedy and D Gioia (Eds.) The Literature Collection: An E-Text [VitalSource digital version] (p. 48). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Lewis, W. “The Dumb Ox: A Study of Ernest Hemingway,” in the American Review, Vol. Ill, June, 1934, pp. 302, 312. You mention Lewis here but I did not find in-text citation for this source in the paper. Where did you use this source? You want to show the reader where the information comes from.

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