The Importance Of Nothingness In Ernest Hemingway's A Clean Well-Lighted Place

Improved Essays
Nothing is Needed for Something
Many people judge their success on how much they have and the material possessions around them; Ernest Hemingway, however, believes people must accept they are nothing to achieve true success and happiness. Nothingness is a difficult concept for many to grasp, but it becomes more clear with age what nothingness means. People also often do not want to accept or believe they are nothing in the world. Most believe they have a specific purpose and are in some way important, when in reality, they are nothing in the big picture. Before they can become important, they must realize their insignificance. In A Clean Well-Lighted Place, Hemingway conveys his message people can only become something once they realize they
…show more content…
The story begins with the scene being set. The old man, "sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light" (Hemingway). As stated before, he is okay with sitting in the darkness because he has already experienced the light. Hemingway proceeds to write about the old man's attempt at suicide. The two waiters discuss why he tried to do it, saying he was in despair about nothing, and it was nothing because the old man had plenty of money. Hemingway did not write which waiter said what, but it is assumed the younger waiter said, "He had plenty of money," (Hemingway) because throughout the story Hemingway develops the young waiter's appreciation of material belongings and ignorance of nothingness. After refilling the old man's cup a few times, the young waiter finally kicks him out. The young waiter does not care about the old man's comfort, all he wants to do is go home to his wife. After the old man leaves, the two waiters dispute about letting him stay, "'Why didn't you let him stay and drink?' the unhurried waiter asked. 'I want to go home to bed.' 'What is an hour?' 'More to me than to him.' 'An hour is the same,'" furthermore displaying the young waiter's ignorance and the old waiter's compassion (Hemingway). Once the waiters close the café, the old waiter moves to an unpolished bar, while thinking about nothingness on the way. He observed, "It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada…" The old waiter knows he is nothing and everything is nothing. Through the plot of his story, Hemingway establishes wisdom and the idea of nothingness comes with age and nothingness is required to become something. Because of the omniscient narrator, the reader can clearly see all

Related Documents

  • Improved Essays

    The old waiter is not rushed in his actions at the café, as he knows the struggles of the old man, and this causes him to drink alone at a bar. Old age supports the delay in critical actions. The old waiter is not rushed in his actions The old man is finally leaving the cafe and the two waiters are closing up for the night. "’Why didn't you let him stay and drink?’ the unhurried waiter asked. They were putting up the shutters.…

    • 750 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    He is drowning his sorrows in alcohol, but he gets some solace and peace in being in a quiet, warm, public place. The old man's problem is clearly defined by the older waiter: He is old, deaf, alone in the world since his wife died and, though he has "plenty of money," he has "despair." This despair is not a despair related solely to loneliness and old age but rather is related to the existential condition of the world that his wife, the older waiter suggests, helped him stave off and keep subdued. The young waiter's problem is that his job keeps him up and away from home until the wee hours of the morning; he never gets home until 3:00 a.m. He has a wife whom he never sees yet who waits for him nightly in their bed.…

    • 1319 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    I am all confidence’” (63). He doesn't care to understand what the old customer finds comfort in. Hemingway uses this character to show the younger person's point of view; this young waiter has not had a lot of life experiences to make him see that it is all meaningless. The young waiter is immature and lets his frustrations of being at work out on the customer; while pouring his drink he tells him that, “‘he should have killed himself last week’”(16). He believes he has everything, and maybe he does, but he hasn't figured out that everything is also…

    • 819 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    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.…

    • 1901 Words
    • 8 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Superior Essays

    The younger waiter disregards the extenuating circumstances of the old man’s life, and callously tells his colleague, “I don’t want to look at him. I wish he would go home” (Hemingway, 160). No judgement whatsoever is placed upon him by the other waiter: Hemingway simply reports what has been said, and nothing more. This is intrinsically connected to the deeply nihilistic theme, because if the older waiter is correct in his analysis of the world, what has been said is not morally reprehensible because morality does not exist. Therefore, why bother passing judgement based on a few cruel words?…

    • 1347 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Superior Essays
  • Improved Essays

    Even though the old man was drunk and the two waiters was discussing about him, the older waiter still don’t judge the old man because he know that the old man was going through a depression. So he ignores the old man and let him drink. Unlike the old waiter, the younger waiter was cranky and was tired of working. He called the old man a “nasty thing” and even says "You should have killed yourself last week" (Hemingway 1). He judge the old man based on the conversation he had with the older waiter and the time of day.…

    • 1136 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    The old man gets into the café because he wants to be around people, even though he is sitting alone. When the older waiter jokingly asked the younger waiter if he was afraid to go home alone, the younger waiter affirmed by saying that he was confident and was just like him which they continue disputing between themselves. Later on, in the story, the older waiter attempted to connect with the bartender, and such tendencies emphasized the sense of loneliness which was the prevalent theme in the…

    • 986 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    He is the one to start the conversation about the older man who sits idly by, getting more drunk as time passes, attempted suicide. The older waiter claims it was over “nothing” and the younger waiter believes that the older is using it in its everyday meaning when he is actually using it in a much broader sense. The nothingness is what the older waiter is referring to, the idea that the world has nothing to offer him. He has spent time thinking about it, and has had more time compared to the younger waiter to learn about how the world around him runs. This is why the older waiter takes the time to understand the old deaf man and show a little sympathy for him.…

    • 713 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    This is because no one would have to work late to babysit him and could move on to bigger and better things. The young waiter is unaware that he will not be young forever and that in the future he may need a place like the cafe to search for the meaning of his life when he becomes old and lonely himself. When he tells the old man “you should have killed yourself last week” (Hemingway 166)displays that he is insensitive and naive to his distant future. Not only does the young waiter view the old man as underneath him, but stupid and discussing while the older waiter appreciates the old man 's daily…

    • 1159 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    The older waiter sympathises with the old man’s troubles and understands his need to stay in the café. He empathises telling his colleague that “I am one of those who like to stay late at a café.” The older waiter is unhurried and would not have mind staying late and allowing the old man to continue drinking. On the other hand, the younger waiter was unsympathetic, harsh, and hurried. After hearing that the old man had tried to kill himself, while pouring the old man’s last drink, the waiter said “you should have killed yourself last week.” Even though it was not yet closing time, the young waiter would not serve the old man the drink he ordered forcing the old man to pay and…

    • 1003 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Improved Essays