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In both short stories, Hemingway captures the tragic essence of life. In "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," the older waiter whose sympathies lie with the old man point to the existential condition of a man whose life has been simplified to "nada"--nothing with meaning--and he must struggle to find some light in the darkness of nothingness. He does this by finding a place that is clean and well-lighted where he can be with others. There, too, he can display good form and conduct. Certainly, the old man with whom the waiter commiserates displays good conduct as he sits in the cafe and "drinks without spilling."
Similarly, the wounded Harold Krebs, who has returned from World War I to his home in Oklahoma finds that he no longer can relate to his family. Also, when "[A] distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told," Krebs wants to leave town. Furthermore, he finds the girls in town "too complicated." For, they, too, require certain lies and it "wasn't worth it. He did not want any consequences." Krebs knows that he can no longer talk to the girls because the world in which they exist is not the same as the world he inhabits.
So, Krebs, sensing the tragic essence of life, tries to "keep his life from becoming complicated." So, he packs his things to travel to Kansas City and goes one more time to watch Helen play indoor baseball. In Kansas City Harold can maintain some sort of honor and balance in his life by becoming detached.
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