Symbolism In Ernest Hemmingway's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

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Symbols are always open for interpretation. The same object can represent two completely different things in different stories; what matters is the context of each situation. In Ernest Hemmingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” the symbolism of light and dark can be used to explore the themes of isolation, depression, and the idea of nothingness in a man’s life and how this has a monumental impact on the way he lives it, invading every crevice and taking over. Although the story seems quite mundane, it is an ode to those who live in a world of darkness and shadow and struggle to find worth in life. It introduces the reader to the world when you’re depressed and emotionally vacant, crushed by all the nothingness.
In the first few lines of the
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This is not nothing as in he had no reason to do it, but literally because of nothing. The nothingness – the lack of love, light, meaning, everything – drove him to attempt suicide. The young waiter says that because he had a lot of money that this somehow invalidates any reason the old man had – as if money is the only thing that matters in the world. He doesn’t understand the old man, and really, by extension, life, like the older waiter who appreciates what the old man is trying to get out of the café. He tells the younger waiter “[y]ou do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant café. It is well-lighted. The light is very good, and also, now, there are the shadows of the leaves.”(923). In this sentence the shadow becomes a positive aspect, instead of a negative representation of emptiness. It offers a middle ground that is not so far out of their comfort zone but still lets them enjoy the break the café offers. Almost as if one needs darker times in order to appreciate the light. In their world of darkness this clean well-lighted café is an island of hope for them, a beacon of light in the dark night. It offers a place to escape from the nothingness they feel and brings light into their otherwise empty, dark lives – if only temporarily. He knows “a well-lighted café [is] a very different thing” (924) compared to bars and bodegas and recognizes something in the need to have a place like this to go to as he also struggles with

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