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The older waiter, like the old man who drinks alone at the cafe until late into the night, suffers from a condition far more profound than physical insomnia. His is a condition of the spirit. He lives each day enduring an overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation. He finds no meaning in his own life or in life itself. Like the old man with whom he identifies so strongly, the old waiter needs the light of the cafe to ward off the darkness which he must eventually confront each night. With the darkness, facing his loneliness and his sense of "nothing" can no longer be avoided. Unlike his brash and arrogant young counterpart, the old waiter has lived long enough to know that at the end of the day, literally for some and figuratively for all, each man is alone.
The ironic "nada" prayer at the story's conclusion emphasizes the idea of "nothingness" which has functioned throughout the story as the main thematic motif. There is no God and there is no plan or meaning in the universe itself. Life cannot be understood; it can only to be endured. This theme of enduring life with grace and courage is fundamental in Hemingway's work.
The older waiter explains why he wants to keep the cafe open for some more time: "Each night I am reluctant to close up because there maybe someone who needs the cafe."
As one grows old and death draws near one becomes more and more painfully aware of the meaninglessness, the nothingness-nada- of life. Religion which is meant to be a source of strength and comfort proves ineffective in the present situation.
Hemingway reveals the thoughts of the older waiter through an interior monologue:"What did he fear? It was not a fear or a dread, it was a nothing he knew too well. It was all nothing and a man was a nothing too." A feeling of numbness which is worse than the fear of death overwhelms the older waiter and in a desperate attempt to overcome this feeling of numbness he tries to repeat the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary but ends up repeatedly using the word 'nada' and 'nothing,' thus foregrounding the ineffectiveness of these two prayers.
It is this overwhelming feeling of 'nothingness' which makes the older waiter sympathise with the old drunken customer. The well lighted cafe offers a temporary refuge from this cruel nothingness which has already driven the old man to attempt suicide.
The older waiter wants the cafe to remain open as long as is possible so that many other old men like the drunken old man and himself can escape atleast temporarily from this paralysing mind numbing 'nada.'
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