Existentialism In Hemingway's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

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Hemingway first reveals life’s meaningless nature through a description of the core aspects that define humanity. Although there are many complex ways to classify one human being from another, most people can be distinguished by three simple traits: who they are, what they think, and what they do. Supposedly, these are the traits that make people unique, and allow them to create their own meaningful narrative. However, Hemingway contrasts this view in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” He starts his argument that life is without meaning by refusing to give his characters names. Often, one’s name represents his or her base identity, which gives him purpose and individuality within the world. However, the characters in this story are simply referred …show more content…
In, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Hemingway includes only three major characters: a young waiter, and older waiter, and an elderly café client. Despite being vastly different, each of these characters plays a crucial role in portraying the effects of existentialism on one’s everyday life. First, the old man in the café represents a person who understands the concept of existentialism. However, this drastic revelation has caused him to sink into a deep depression. Because he is fixated so strongly on life’s lack of purpose, the old man struggles to create his own purpose. After a failed suicide attempt, the elderly man seems to have lost hope for his life, resorting to alcohol and the light of the café to keep his misery at bay (Hemingway 2). Hemingway specifically created this character to reveal the effects of existentialism on life. While the old man may understand existentialism, he is driven mad by the thoughts it provokes, and cannot live up to its expectations of creating one’s own purpose in life. Instead, he hides from his knowledge, slowly drinking away the hours of his meaningless life. The second character in the story, the older waiter, is very similar to the lonely old man. He too realizes that life has no meaning, and actively speaks of this belief to himself, saying, “It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too” (Hemingway 4). Like the old man, the older waiter is scared of the nada that defines life, staying late at the café and then lying awake all night pondering his fate (Hemingway 5). However, the older waiter has not quite reached true despair, for he still finds purpose in some of the aspects of his life. For example, after he declares life to be nothing he says, “It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order” (Hemingway 4). Here the waiter acknowledges that while life may be

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