Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) is a well-known American novelist and short story writer in modern times, and one of the most celebrated and influential authors in the twentieth century. The Nobel Prize in Literature came his way in 1954 for his short story-The Old Man and the Sea. His special experience makes his works represent a generation, and still has a great influence on modern literature.
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The short story A Clean and Well-lighted Place took place in a café. The plot was focused on the old man, the middle aged waiter and the young waiter. The old man is the main character in the story. It was late at night; everyone had left the café except the old man, who was a little drunk. The two waiters were worried that he would leave without paying if he became too drunk, even though he was a good client. So they kept watch on him and began their conversation about the old man.
The old man’s is a complex character. Being depressed but still keeping dignity was the old man’s image created by Hemingway, which fits the image of “Hemingway Hero”. On the other hand, the old man was despaired and extremely unhappy. He had a lot of money but he lost hope, the hope to the future life. For him, the life was hopeless and meaningless. The old man tried to commit suicide but failed. Then he liked to stay late in the cafe to buy drunk, that clean, well-lighted place made him calm. The old, unmarried waiter understands him, they both need a clean, well-lighted place to stay, even it is a small place. The old man’s deafness is a symbol showing his separation from the rest of the world. The old man needed a place of refuge from his hopeless human life. Moreover, the old man was deaf and lonely, but he was not defeated spiritually.
The young waiter was selfish and impatient. He had a wife waiting for him to go home, so he wanted the old deaf man to leave as soon as possible. Therefore, he became angry and impolite. He intentionally poured the brandy out of the cup. His bad service formed a strong contrast with the old man’s cleanness. Furthermore, the young waiter was ignorant and blindly confident. He was so concerned with the daily routines and desires that he did not care about the others. He could not understand the old man. He did not realize what he had, such as job, wife and confidence, was unreliable because he was young. He thought that money should keep a person be happy. He meant that the old man had no reason to kill himself because he was rich. Poverty, in his opinion, would be the only excuse for suicide.
The middle aged waiter was more sympathetic. He knew the importance of a clean and well-lighted place for those who need a refuge to escape from the reality. He knew the old man’s suffering and was sympathized with him. Therefore, he did not think it was bad for the old man to stay in the cafe late into the night.
Through the analysis above, it is known that Hemingway took the two waiters as known information, and the old man as unknown information. There was a sharp contrast between the youth and oldness, between the old and young waiters. In fact, the old man, the middle aged waiter and the young waiter represent the youth, the middle age and the old age in the different stages of life. In each stage, people have different attitudes towards life and they lead different ways of life. At the same time, the three typical characters also reflect the people’s spiritual state after the WWI in American society.
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The short story A Clean and Well-lighted Place was one of Hemingway’s most compact stories. It talks about loneliness, which Hemingway considered to be the principal tragedy of modern life. Nada was an important theme of this story. Nearly all the characters live in Nada. For the old man, Nada means hopelessness, aimlessness and meaninglessness of life, which was the exact reason for the old man’s suicide. He tried to kill himself, by which he thought he could make himself get rid of the earthly affairs. The middle aged waiter was aware of what the old man suffered. He knew the old man’s today was his tomorrow. He knew the importance of a clean and well-lighted place to those who need a refuge to escape from loneliness. However, he had to leave the cafe at the end of the novel. The young waiter lived in Nada as well, even if he did not realize it. His ignorance makes a strong contrast with the old man’s wisdom. He was unaware of what he had. For him, the life was another kind of meaninglessness, because he was blindly confident with the unreliable youth.
A Clean and Well-lighted Place was a story of the coexistence of “Being” and “Nothingness”. The old man hid himself in the shadow. The undisturbed and untouched peace of night made him feel the difference. To a deaf person, the silence at night brought him relief and consolation after the day’s noise. In the short story, the lights, shadows, and the tidy cafe were full of symbolic meanings. The darkness symbolized Nada, while the lights symbolized the hope. Although Nada commonly exists in people’s life, the only way to resist the darkness is to keep a clean and well-lighted place in the soul, that is, love, dignity and sympathy.
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