Themes In Ernest Hemingway's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

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Ernest Hemingway is one of the most revered and studied American authors, famous the world over for his extensive bibliography of short stories and novels. However, Hemingway was a deeply troubled man, and many of his works are monuments to his struggles with depression. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an ideal example of Hemingway’s nihilistic view of the world: it appears to be a mirror into his very soul. The theme of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is decidedly nihilistic: life, human ideas of God and faith, and earthly possession are all ultimately of equally nonexistent value. This rather dark theme permeates the entire story, and is reinforced through the clever use of literary devices throughout. A plethora of devices such as style, …show more content…
Put bluntly, the tone of the story is devoid of emotion, much as the theme is. Regarding this laissez-faire tone, Le describes the tone as one which “…advocates no position, and lets the readers draw their own conclusions” (Le, 83). Even though Hemingway allows the reader the leeway to interpret the story as they will, he does incorporate the definitive theme of the story into the tone. A particularly noteworthy example of this is when the two waiters discuss the younger waiter’s desire for the old man to leave the bodega. 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? This unconcerned tone appears to be a window into Hemingway’s apathetic view of the world, and certainly begs speculation that the theme of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” may perhaps have been the ‘theme’ of Hemingway’s life. The very fabric of the tone is inundated with …show more content…
The titular clean, well-lighted place is seen as a place of refuge for the old man and the older waiter, who face down the barrel of existential depression. Their fear of ‘nothing’, described by Baker as being “so huge, terrible, overbearing, inevitable, and omnipresent that, once experienced, it can be never forgotten”, can never be truly alleviated, only stymied (Baker). The clean, well-lighted place serves in this capacity for the characters, but is additionally a symbol for similar places within reality. The troubles of modern life are legion, and most people find it prudent to escape from their ‘lives’ on occasion. In this capacity, everyone has a ‘clean, well-lighted space’ to which they retreat for solace, whether it be a bar or a tropical beach. However, Hemingway makes certain to note the fact that these solutions are temporary in nature. This factor is why Geismar has labelled this story as one which is a “tale of suffering without catharsis, of the opiate that fails, of the drugged consciousness that remains sensitive only to pain”; Hemingway means to convey that no matter how one attempts to escape their troubles, the only solutions available in life are nonpermanent (Geismar). This crushing revelation is in line with the theme of the story, and truly manages to impart the bleak concept that all human action is futile in the face of eternal nothingness. This symbol

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