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This celebrated story is a study in contrasts: between youth and age, belief and doubt, light and darkness. To the younger waiter, the café is only a job; to the older waiter, it is a charitable institution for which he feels personal responsibility.
Of course, he himself (the older waiter) has need of it: it is his refuge from the night, from solitude, from a sense that the universe is empty and meaningless, expressed in his revised versions of the Hail Mary and the Lord’s Prayer.
The older waiter feels kinship for the old man, not only because the waiter, too, is alone and growing old, but because both men are apparently atheists. Willing to commit suicide, the old man (unlike his pious daughter) evidently doesn’t think he has any immortal soul to fear for.
At the heart of the story is the symbol of the café, an island of light and order surrounded by night and nothingness. Contrasting images of light and darkness begin in the opening paragraph: the old man, not entirely committed either to death or to life, likes to sit in the shadow of the leaves. Every detail in the story seems meaningful.
The story has been much admired for Hemingway’s handling of point of view. The narrator is a nonparticipant who writes in the third person. He is all-knowing at the beginning of the story: in the opening paragraph we are told how the old man feels, then what the waiters know about him. From then on, until the waiters say “Good night,” the narrator remains almost perfectly objective, merely reporting visible details and dialogue. (He editorializes for a moment, though, in observing that the younger waiter employs the syntax of “stupid people.”) After the waiters part company, for the rest of the story the narrator limits himself to the thoughts and perceptions of the older waiter, who, we now see, is the central character.
Hemingway begins by narrating his short story "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" in the 'Third Person Omniscient Author' point of view but soon switches over to the dramatic method. Most of the story is presented as a play in two scenes which is being enacted right in front of our eyes.
The first scene begins with 'Last week he tried to commit suicide," one waiter said' and ends with 'The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.'
The second scene is the conversation between the married waiter whose wife is waiting for him at home and the older but lonely waiter. This scene begins as soon as the old drunken customer leaves the restaurant. It begins thus, ' "Why didn't you let him stay and drink?" the unhurried waiter asked. They were putting up the shutters. "It is not half-past two." ' and ends with ' "No, thank you," said the waiter and went out. '
In the middle of this second scene is the most interesting portion which Hemingway foregrounds by resorting to the technique of 'Stream of Consciousness' to dramatise the consciousness and thoughts of the older and lonely waiter who is under tremendous amount of stress because of his realisation of the futility and meaninglessness of old age. It begins with, ' Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself' and ends with ' Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. ' Hemingway has foregrounded the bitterness of the older waiter by parodying two of the most important daily prayers of Christians all over the world by the repeated repetition of 'nada' meaning 'nothing' to highlight the fact that in old age even religion does not provide the necessary comfort for the older waiter.
Hemingway concludes his story by once again resorting to the 'Third Person Omniscient Author' method of narration which begins with 'he disliked bars and bodegas' till the end 'many must have it.'
Thus Hemingway has used three 'points of view' in his short story:
1. The Third Person Omniscient Author point of view which is functionally more narrative and descriptive .
2. The dramatic point of view in which the readers themselves are able to see the story being enacted right in front of their eyes.
3. Perhaps the most important, The Stream of Consciousness method which takes us deep into the mind of the old and lonely waiter so that we get to know his innermost thoughts from his own point of view. The irony of situation being of course, that only the readers and the old and lonely waiter know what is going on within the mind of the old and lonely waiter and not the married waiter who is impatient to go home soon.
It's third-person limited omniscient, as it's seen from the point-of-view of the older waiter. He's the only character whose thoughts are revealed to the reader.
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