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What is the tone and style of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

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xchronicleryu | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 27, 2008 at 7:38 AM via web

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What is the tone and style of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

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kimfuji | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted October 8, 2009 at 2:05 PM (Answer #1)

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The telling or narration of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" lets the reader to understand the depth of what the characters are saying. The story is mostly dialogue, and a lot of nothing or nada.  "nada nada nada" Hemingway style is referred to as the understatement which presents a tale, stripped of it's emotion and reactions; as a result the reader is jolted to recognize the power of the situation. He does not overtly judge his characters; for example, when waiter tells the old man, "You should have killed yourself last week", another style of writing would use adjectives to display the rudeness of the waiter.  Hemingway, however, just leaves the dialog and simple understated, style stand for itself: "'You should have killed yourself last week,' he said."

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 8, 2009 at 2:43 PM (Answer #2)

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The tone of Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Ligthed Place" is completely dispassionate.  Using his journalistic objectivity  and minimalist style, Hemingway simply reports what the waiters do and say in staccato dialogue. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the "waiter who is in a hurry breaks the rules of orderliness and adds to the chaos when he speaks

with that ommission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. 'No mor tonight.  Close now.'

That Hemingway disapproves of the waiter who hurries the old man is apparent in the question and description of the second waiter:

'Why didn't you let him saty and drink?' the unhurried waiter asked.

'I want to go home to bed.'

'What is an hour?'

'More to me than to him.'

'An hour is the same.'

The young, hurried waiter tells the other that he talks like an old man himself, for he can just buy a bottle and drink at home.  But the older waiter argues, "It's not the same.'  The younger waiter agrees.  For, even he knows that there is no order to this taking a bottle home.

So, while the tone is dispassionate, there is yet an undertone of an existential act of order. The older waiter speaks of the ceremony of order to the younger waiter:

You do not understand.  This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted.  The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.

After the young waiter goes home, the older one continues the conversation with himself: 

It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too.  It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order.

This orderliness is what sustains a person; a "clean, well-lighted cafe was a very different thing."

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bmadnick | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted June 27, 2008 at 8:24 AM (Answer #1)

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Hemingway's style for this short story is called "minimalist" because it is brief and simple in every aspect of the story. The sentences are simply, clearly written, there is very little in figurative language (similes/metaphors), and the diction, the writer's choice of words, consists of words with only one or two syllables. The only description we get of the setting, the cafe, is what the title tells us, "clean" and "well-lighted". The characters aren't fully described either. Because the story is simplistic, the reader must be careful not to overlook any of the words and sentences in it because everything in the story becomes important to understanding it.

Throughout the story, we get a sense of loneliness and desperation from the older waiter who wonders if his life has ever been meaningful. He never sleeps at night, but as he's lying in bed that night, he has some hope that he's not alone in his feelings. Somehow, he feels better thinking that other people are having the same doubts and fears he does.

Go to the links below to read much more about this story.


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