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A story that is quintessentially Hemingway, the narrative of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" expresses the post World War disillusionment of many literari as there was "a disaffection and avoidance of tradition" among them.
Throughout the story there is pure Hemingway minimalism of dialogue and thought: Western civilization is in confusion and the old man, symbolic of the old values and psychology, is effete and in despair. He comes to the bar that is well-lighted in order to clear his mind of the dark, confusing thoughts that cannot be resigned in the aftermath of war. All that the old man can do is hold at bay the negative experiences--the "nada"--that threatens to overcome him.
It is this nothingness to which life comes that also disturbs the old waiter, who commiserates with the worn customer, respecting the man's cleanliness and order:
....This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now drunk.
Like the old man, the old waiter seeks a clean and lighted place, a refuge from the disorder of the world. In such a place, perhaps, men can suspend beliefs in order that new and better values and pure ideals can be established from nothing so that they will not be corrupted. This is the meaning of the parody of the "Our Father":
Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing....
The future can only be of value if ethical conduct and order is re-established out of nothing, no attachments, and humanity attains a level of virtue. Otherwise, nothing becomes the only "order" (=disorder) and life becomes absurd.
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