A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Ernest Hemingway
"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" Ernest Hemingway
American short story writer, novelist, essayist, nonfiction writer, memoirist, journalist, poet, and dramatist. See also, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" Criticism, The Old Man and the Sea Criticism and Ernest Hemingway Criticism.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is considered a prime example of Hemingway's craftsmanship and insight into the human condition. In this brief story, which was initially published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933, he evokes an atmosphere of despair and loneliness almost entirely with dialogue and interior monologue. Through these stylistic techniques Hemingway renders a complex series of interactions between an old waiter and his young colleague as the two men reflect on the ephemeral nature of happiness and the inevitability of death. Much of the critical commentary on the short story focuses on a series of unattributed lines of dialogue. For decades, commentators have speculated on Hemingway's stylistic technique in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” turning to the author's original manuscript and correspondence to determine the proper configuration and attribution of the dialogue of the story.
Plot and Major Characters
Rendered almost completely in dialogue, the main action of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is set in a small café in Spain, as two waiters prepare to close the establishment for the night. The place is empty except for a regular customer, a deaf old man drinking alone at one of the tables. Realizing that the old man is drunk, one of the waiters informs the other that the customer attempted suicide the week before. After the waiters watch a young man and woman pass on the street, the young waiter serves the old customer another brandy and voices his impatience to the old waiter, complaining that the old man is keeping him from his warm bed and the comfort of his wife. They discuss the old man's suicide attempt and his possible reasons for such a desperate act. When the old man gestures for another brandy, the young waiter tells him that it is closing time. After the old man pays his bill and leaves, the old waiter chides the young waiter for his lack of patience and empathy for the old man. He compares himself to the man, saying he understands the need for a clean, well-lighted place to be at night. After the café closes, the old waiter stops at a bar for a drink before he goes home, dreading his return to an empty room.
In his short fiction Hemingway depicted a disillusioning environment in which his protagonists address the precariousness of existence, the evanescence of happiness, and the universality of suffering. This is certainly true in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” as the old waiter shows a sensitivity to and understanding of both the young waiter's impatience to get home and the old man's utter hopelessness. Critics have noted a series of contrasts in the story: light and dark, clean and dirty, noisy and quiet, youth and age, and nihilism and religious idealism. In fact, many believe that the major thematic concern of the story is the conflict between generations. This is illustrated by the contrast between the two major characters: for many critics, the young waiter represents materialism and the callousness of youth and the old waiter symbolizes the perspective and wisdom of age, which is illustrated by his empathy for the old man's profound despair and alleged suicide attempt. Some critics have suggested that the old waiter's repetitive use of the term “nada” (translated as “nothing” or “nothingness”) suggests his nihilistic tendencies because he faces loneliness and advancing death like the old man. A few commentators have viewed the three main characters in the story as an implied progression from youth through middle age to old age.
In 1959 controversy about the dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” began when two critics noted a few confusing and illogical passages of conversation between the two waiters. Hemingway rarely identified the speaker of each line of dialogue, and confusion ensued about which character was speaking each line. In fact, some of the dialogue seemed to be uttered by the wrong character. At first, commentators speculated that there was a mistake in the text: Hemingway or his publisher, Scribner's, had forgotten or omitted a line of dialogue, throwing off the entire exchange between the two characters. In 1959, Otto Reinert challenged the prevailing theory that Hemingway employed metronomic dialogue and that each indented line implied a new speaker. Instead, he theorized that Hemingway utilized anti-metronomic dialogue—allowing a character to speak consecutive lines of dialogue in a few places. This could explain the discrepancy and allow the dialogue to be logical and idiosyncratic.
A few years later, commentators began to challenge Reinert's theory. Joseph Gabriel contended that the dialogue was metronomic and that the resulting confusion was viewed as an integral aspect of the story. John Hagopian rejected these theories, maintaining that the confusion stemmed from a typographical error and urged a revision of the story. In 1965 the story was amended as recommended and reprinted in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. This revised version of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” unleashed a torrent of protest from critics who repudiated Hagopian's view and agreed with Reinert's theory of Hemingway's use of anti-metronomic dialogue. Many scholars furnished additional examples of anti-metronomic dialogue in Hemingway's short fiction and novels, discovering further evidence for Reinert's theory in the author's correspondence with friends and publishers, as well as the original manuscript of the story. In recent times, Reinert's view has become the prevailing theory, as many scholars have urged a republication of Hemingway's original version of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”
Three Stories and Ten Poems 1923
In Our Time 1924
Men without Women 1927
Winner Take Nothing 1933
The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories 1938
The Portable Hemingway 1944
The Old Man and the Sea 1952
The Hemingway Reader 1953
The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War 1969
The Nick Adams Stories 1972
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway 1987
The Sun Also Rises [Fiesta] (novel) 1926
The Torrents of Spring: A Romantic Novel in Honor of the Passing of a Great Race (novel) 1926
A Farewell to Arms (novel) 1929
Death in the Afternoon (nonfiction) 1932
Green Hills of Africa (nonfiction) 1935
To Have and Have Not (novel) 1937
For Whom the Bell Tolls (novel) 1940
Across the River and into the Trees (novel) 1950
A Moveable Feast (autobiography) 1964
Islands in the Stream (novel) 1970
The Garden of Eden (novel) 1986
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SOURCE: “Ernest Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted Heros,” in The Pacific Spectator: A Journal of Interpretation, Vol. IX, No. 4, Autumn, 1955, pp. 383-89.
[In the following survey of the major characters of Hemingway's fiction, Allen asserts that anxiety is the defining feature of the characters in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]
The Hemingway stories and novels are dominated by heroes who conduct a retreating battle with nature and the world's hostility. But they fight against their loss with pleasure, skill, and courage. The world of nature and humanity robs health, hope, and love, leaving in the end only nada, nothingness. Nothingness is opposed skillfully and zestfully with stoical integrity and courage, Hemingway's two chief themes.
This limited philosophy is not altogether satisfying, but even less satisfying is a tendency for Hemingway to mistake emotional immaturity for maturity. The “code” behavior of his stoical heroes and the motivation of the behavior are often a trifle suspect: to some degree anxiety would seem the motivation and “defense mechanism” the behavior. Both anxiety and defense are expressions of unconscious hostility.
Of course for Hemingway and his admirers the code is not defensive and the motivations are rationally and maturely rather than anxiously inspired.
Hemingway's stories usually emphasize...
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SOURCE: “Craftsmanship in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Personalist, Vol. XXXVII, No. 1, January, 1956, pp. 60-4.
[In the following essay, Bache contends that “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is “valuable both as a comment on and as a representation of Hemingway's craftsmanship and insight.”]
At first glance the short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”1 by Ernest Hemingway may seem slight; yet if it is slight, it is so only in length and not by any other standard. The intrinsic value of the story has been well recognized by Mark Schorer, who has said of it: “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ is not only a short story, it is a model of the short story, with all the virtues that attend it as a genre singularly lighted.”2 The importance of the story, moreover, not so much for itself as for its place within the corpus of Hemingway's fiction, has been noted by Robert Penn Warren. He has said that “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is the best description of the world that underlies Hemingway's world of violent action.3 The pertinent and obvious implications of this last statement are that Hemingway's subject matter is limited in scope and that his fictional world is essentially violent in nature. The purpose of this discussion is not only to substantiate what the above critics have said but also to suggest that “A Clean, Well-Lighted...
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SOURCE: “The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in College English, Vol. 20, No. 5, February, 1959, pp. 240-41.
[In the following essay, Kroeger considers the confusing dialogue in Hemingway's story.]
Ever since the first printing of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” in Scribner's Magazine (March, 1933), there has been what appears to be an insoluble problem in the dialogue. Hemingway, or someone, has been careless enough about this story so that at one time one main speaker seems to have information about the old man's suicide attempt which the other one does not have, and at another time the situation is reversed. If the young waiter has the information about the suicide attempt, all the lines which describe details of the attempt should be ascribed to him. Unfortunately, this cannot be done in the second dialogue between the two waiters, which begins right after the young waiter has served the old man and has said, “You should have killed yourself last week.” Assuming that the “He” carries through as the young waiter we have:
… The [young] waiter took the bottle back inside the café. He [young waiter] sat down at the table with his colleague again.
“He's drunk now,” he [young waiter] said.
“He's drunk every...
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SOURCE: “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” in College English, Vol. 20, No. 8, May, 1959, pp. 417-18.
[In the following essay, Reinert perceives the inconsistent and confusing dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” as a result of Hemingway's utilization of anti-metronomic dialogue.]
In the February College English Mr. Kroeger and Professor Colburn find “confusion” and “inconsistency” in the distribution of speeches between the old and the young waiter in Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” I don't presume to know what “this generation of close readers has been doing” about the problem “all this time,” but I suspect they have been assuming, as I have, that the difficulty arises from Hemingway's violation of one of the unwritten rules of the art of presenting dialogue visually. The rule is that a new, indented line implies a new speaker. It is a useful rule, but it is not sacrosanct. I believe Hemingway has broken it here, possibly from carelessness, possibly deliberately. It seems to me preferable to preserve the unity and plausibility of the two waiters' characters and the consistency of their function in the moral drama, than to find “an insoluble problem in the dialogue” (Kroeger) or an irreconcilable conflict between artistic intent and execution (Colburn). We can do so if we assume that Hemingway did not observe the typographical convention....
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SOURCE: “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in College English, Vol. 22, No. 8, May, 1961, pp. 539-46.
[In the following essay, Gabriel revisits the confusion regarding the dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and contends that “there is no error made in the dialogue … in short, the inconsistency in the dialogue is deliberate, an integral part of the pattern of meaning actualized in the story.”]
Recent criticism of Hemingway's much admired and frequently anthologized “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has attempted to demonstrate that this story contains a damaging flaw. Indeed, two critics, F. P. Kroeger (“The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, Feb. 1959) and William E. Colburn (“Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, Feb. 1959), working independently of each other, appear to have arrived simultaneously at the same conclusion—that, to quote Professor Colburn, “The dialogue does not fit a logical pattern.” Inasmuch as the story consists almost entirely of dialogue (principally a brief conversation between an older waiter and a younger waiter about an old man who recently attempted suicide and who is on this occasion the only customer in their care) this charge is a serious one—serious enough to warrant careful examination.
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SOURCE: “Tidying Up Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. I, No. 2, Winter, 1964, pp. 140-46.
[In the following essay, Hagopian rejects earlier attempts to attribute Hemingway's dialogue in the story—particularly Joseph Gabriel's above—and considers the flaw in the dialogue as an obvious typographical error.]
Interpretation of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has always been dogged by the problem of the confused dialogue between the two waiters, and it seems to me unfortunate that the discussion of it remains where Joseph F. Gabriel left it in College English (May, 1961). Gabriel was responding to three earlier articles in the same journal (February and May, 1959), in the first of which F. P. Kroeger had accurately interpreted most of the dialogue up to the line “I know. You said she cut him down,” which he assumed to be incorrectly attributed by Hemingway to the young waiter because it suggests that it is he who “knows about the details of the suicide, and not the old waiter as the earlier dialogue indicates.” William E. Colburn concurred with this view, but went further in asserting that such an error raises doubts about the first conversation in which the old waiter replies “He has plenty of money” in answer to the younger waiter's question “How do you know it [the reason for the old customer's suicide attempt] was...
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SOURCE: “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays, edited by Jackson J. Benson, Duke University Press, 1975, pp. 261-69.
[In the following essay, which was originally published in American Literature in 1970, Bennett proposes that Hemingway's use of verbal irony provides insight into the main characters as well as evidence as to the attribution of dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]
Interpretation of Hemingway's short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has always been confronted with the illogical dialogue sequence between the two waiters. Since analysis probably became stalled on the question of which waiter knew about the old man's attempted suicide, interpretation has tended to center on either the older waiter's nada prayer or the problem of the illogical sequence itself.1 The result seems to be a partial misinterpretation of the character of the younger waiter, a failure to see the wide play of irony in the story, and the absence of any interpretation of the story's ironic resolution.
However, before these latter matters can be successfully dealt with, the story's troubled dialogue must still be preliminarily considered. Scribner's claims that the dialogue inconsistency occurred when a slug of type was evidently misplaced in the first printing of...
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SOURCE: “Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted, Puzzling Place,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XXI, No. 1, January, 1971, pp. 33-57.
[In the following essay, Lodge contrasts the older and younger waiters in the story and concludes that Hemingway “deliberately encourages the reader to make an initially incorrect discrimination between the two waiters which, when discovered and corrected, amounts to a kind of peripetia.”]
‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place’ is one of Ernest Hemingway's best-known and most often reprinted short stories; yet until very recently its text contained a curious anomaly: curious, especially, in that it for so long apparently escaped the attention both of Hemingway himself and of his readers. For this crux is not a minor, incidental matter, but one that vitally affects one's reading of the whole story. In fact, the text which appeared in Scribner's Magazine in March 1933, and was reprinted in all editions until 1966 (and which is still appearing in textbooks and anthologies1) simply doesn't make sense.
I first discovered this for myself a few years ago in the 1963 Scribner's paperback edition of The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories. Enquiries revealed that a number of articles had appeared on the problem, beginning in 1959, and that Scribner's had emended the text in their 1967 edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway,...
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SOURCE: “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Spring, 1971, pp. 326-30.
[In the following essay, May rejects John V. Hagopian's reading of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and offers his own interpretation of the dialogue of the story.]
“Every professional artist has met the questioner who asks of some detail: ‘Why did you do it so clumsily like that, when you could have done it so neatly like this?’”
—Joyce Cary, New York Times Book Review, April 30, 1950.
Everyone seems satisfied and perhaps a bit relieved now that John Hagopian has tidied up Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (Studies in Short Fiction, Winter 1964). The dialogue discrepancy that had scholars counting lines in College English in 1959 and 1961 was only a typographical error after all—a thirty-year-old typographical error. And thus, following Mr. Hagopian's suggestion, Charles Scribner's Sons have cleaned up the messy “Place” in their most recent edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by changing the two bothersome lines:
“His niece looks after him.”
“I know. You said she cut him down.”
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SOURCE: “The Confusion Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?,” in Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring, 1973, pp. 93-101.
[In the following essay, MacDonald concurs with Charles Mays's interpretation of the dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” contending that Hemingway ignored normal dialogue conventions in several other fictional works.]
In his generally sensible, but somewhat precipitant article, “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Charles E. May shows how the long critical debate about the confusing dialogue in Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” resulted in Charles Scribner's Sons changing the text of the story.1 Until recently “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was printed so that near the end of the long exchange which has caused so much confusion, the younger waiter says, “His niece looks after him,” and the older waiter responds, “I know. You said she cut him down.” In the last few years, however, the passage has been printed so that the younger waiter says, “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down,” and the older waiter responds, “I know.” Clearly this is a crucial difference. By changing the identity of the waiter who knows about the attempted suicide Scribner's has altered much of the story. One would expect that a change of this magnitude in one of the most...
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SOURCE: “Survival through Irony: Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. XI, No. 2, Spring, 1974, pp. 181-87.
[In the following essay, Benert explores Hemingway's use of imagery and characterization in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has with justice been considered an archetypal Hemingway story, morally and aesthetically central to the Hemingway canon. But its crystalline structure and sparse diction have led many critics to judge the story itself a simple one, either about nothingness, “a little nada story,” or about the author's positive values, a story “lyric rather than dramatic.”1 I would like to suggest that it is in neither sense simple, but that the feelings and ideas which lie behind it are complex and are expressed dramatically, chiefly through the characterization of the older waiter. The latter is a man of enormous awareness continually torn between what might be called religious idealism and intellectual nihilism, a combination that surfaces in irony in several places in the story. This tension between two modes of viewing the world is developed through imagery that functions as a setting, through characterization, and, more abstractly, through a theme which I take to be the barriers against nada.
The most obvious source of imagery is the words of the title,...
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SOURCE: “‘A Man of the World’ and ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: Hemingway's Unified View of Old Age,” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring, 1974, pp. 62-73.
[In the following essay, Leonard considers the common thematic concerns of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “A Man of the World.”]
Scholars and critics lately have put to good use the companion pieces among Ernest Hemingway's short fiction. Susan Beegel has achieved insights into “The Undefeated” and “A Lack of Passion” from side-by-side analysis of these two antithetical companion stories. Robert Fleming, in “Dismantling the Code: Hemingway's ‘A Man of the World,’” opens up the riches of that short story when he aligns it with “The Undefeated” and “Fifty Grand” by interpreting all three narratives as “structured around ‘code heroes’”(6). By comparing “A Man of the World” with “The Battler,” “The Killers,” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Fleming sees an initiation story, although he concludes that the protagonist of “A Man of the World,” Blindy, is a parody of the “code hero” and, underneath “his stoic insistence on the sacredness of that [heroic] identity,” a “hollow man” (9).1 For Fleming, “A Man of the World” is an ironic code story.
Applying the same critical method, I offer a comparison...
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SOURCE: “The Iceberg in ‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place,’” in Lost Generation Journal, Vol. IV, No. 2, Spring-Summer, 1976, pp. 14-15, 21.
[In the following essay, Broer explores the bond between the old waiter and old customer in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]
“I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg,” Ernest Hemingway said about his craft. “There is seven-eights of it under the water for every part that shows.” In drawing attention to the often unsuspected depths in his work, Hemingway provides the ground for instruction in one of the major aesthetic principles of modern fiction: the art of indirection. What most modern writers have realized, and what Hemingway achieves so well in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” is that it is possible to convey a great many things on paper without stating them at all. The art of implication, of making one sentence say two or more different things with a minimum of description, and the possibilities of conveying depths of emotion and the most intimate and subtle of moods through the interplay of image and symbol are grasped by Hemingway as well as by any writer of our time.
Especially in the case of a story like “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” must the reader be warned against a too easy acceptance of what happens literally in the tale. The tale begins as an infirm old man drinks alone one night in a café that is...
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SOURCE: “The Attribution of the Waiters' Second Speech in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Winter, 1976, pp. 81-5.
[In the following essay, Hurley takes issue with Hagopian's attribution of the some of the dialogue in the story, maintaining that the dialogue should be “consistent with the characters as revealed elsewhere in the story.”]
John V. Hagopian's emendation of the much-disputed dialogue of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” establishes that it is the older waiter, not the younger waiter, who knows of the old man's suicide attempt.1 Each of the waiters' statements can now be identified unequivocally, except the controversial second exchange concerning the soldier and the girl. This passage, made more difficult by the omission of all explicit identifying tags, must be attributed correctly if the waiters are to be viewed as separate character types. But despite the lack of identifiers, the text contains several patterns that differentiate the speakers of this crucial exchange and maintain the waiter's distinctiveness, which, according to the older waiter's remark to his colleague, “‘We are of two different kinds,’” is what Hemingway intended.
Professor Hagopian's solution to the problem of the dialogue, since adopted by Scribner's,2 is to move the words, “‘You said...
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SOURCE: “Perpetual Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: The Manuscript Evidence,” in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1977, pp. 115-18.
[In the following essay, Kann examines Hemingway's original manuscript and concludes that it was the author who inserted an uncharacteristic line of dialogue for the older waiter.]
Ever since the appearance of the first articles by F. P. Kroeger and William E. Colburn in 1959,1 it has been clear that, apart from the apparent ambiguity in the first dialogue, the third dialogue section of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is obscure (or even messy) at the end. Numerous attempts have been made2 to explain the contradiction and to restore order in the two waiters' dialogue. Otto Reinert wanted to have two indented and quotation-marked lines read as one line of dialogue; Joseph F. Gabriel saw the confusion as an intended literary device; John V. Hagopian pleaded for splitting the line, “I know. You said she cut him down,” and redistributing the two sentences (the 1965 Scribners edition of the stories followed this advice); in 1973, Scott MacDonald3 argued in favor of reverting to the original text; in between, Warren Bennet4 suggested as a solution the assumption that a slug of type was misplaced5 and Nathaniel M. Ewell6 saw two slugs of type lost.
The tearsheets from the first...
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SOURCE: “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, Vol. 50, No. 4, January, 1979, pp. 613-24.
[In the following essay, Bennett reiterates the importance of Hemingway's original manuscript of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and asserts that it shows “evidence of two mistakes, one by a typist or typesetter, and one by Hemingway himself; and it clarifies Hemingway's intention as to which waiter knows about the old man's suicide attempt.”]
The known manuscripts of Ernest Hemingway are in the possession of Mrs. Mary Hemingway, who on several occasions since 1972 has deposited short story material at the John F. Kennedy Library. This has been inventoried and arranged for examination, and was opened to research in 1975. In this material is a previously undiscovered pencil manuscript of Hemingway's much debated short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”1 This discovery seems to resolve many of the questions about the original dialogue sequence and how the confusion in the story came about.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933. It has been the subject of a critical debate concerning the inconsistent dialogue between the two waiters since F. P. Kroeger and William E. Colburn first drew attention to the...
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SOURCE: “Nada and the Clean, Well-Lighted Place: The Unity of Hemingway's Short Fiction,” in Essays in Literature, Vol. VI, No. 1, Spring, 1979, pp. 91-110.
[In the following essay, Hoffman explores Hemingway's thematic concern with “nada,” or nothingness, in his short fiction.]
One of his most frequently discussed tales, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is justly regarded as one of the stylistic masterpieces of Ernest Hemingway's distinguished career in short fiction. Not only does it represent Hemingway at his understated, laconic best, but, according to Carlos Baker, “It shows once again that remarkable union of the naturalistic and the symbolic which is possibly his central triumph in the realm of practical aesthetics.”1 In a mere five pages, almost entirely in dialogue and interior monologue, the tale renders a complex series of interactions between three characters in a Spanish café just prior to and immediately after closing: a stoic old waiter, a brash young waiter, and a wealthy but suicidal old man given to excessive drink.
Aside from its well-documented stylistic achievement, what has drawn the most critical attention is Hemingway's detailed consideration of the concept of nada. Although the old waiter is the only one to articulate the fact, all three figures actually confront nothingness in the course of the tale. This is no minor absence in...
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SOURCE: “The Foundation of the True Text of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1979, pp. 279-300.
[In the following essay, Kerner determines the possible sources for Hemingway's confusing and unconventional use of dialogue and urges a restoration of the author's original text.]
It is almost sixty years since Hemingway silently patented a small change in the way we arrange dialogue; but many readers still refuse to acknowledge the innovation, so that we have had, over the past twenty years, not only twenty conflicting articles on the dialogue of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” but even the publisher's unwarranted emendation of the text. Like the justice of the peace at the end of Faulkner's “Spotted Horses,” we want to cry, “I can't stand no more! This court's adjourned! Adjourned!” The latest misleading testimony, from both sides of the North Atlantic, is that the “error” has been traced to the pencil manuscript: inserting a one-line speech, Hemingway gave it to the wrong waiter. Hans-Joachim Kann suggests we advise students to ignore the insertion as obvious filler, intended merely to restore the conventional alternating pattern for two speakers.1 But that convention is what Hemingway's innovation modifies: at least twenty-five times—in five novels and seven stories, not counting “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”—Hemingway deliberately...
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SOURCE: “The Manuscripts Establishing Hemingway's Anti-Metronomic Dialogue,” in American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, Vol. 54, No. 3, October, 1982, pp. 385-96.
[In the following essay, Kerner finds several examples of Hemingway's use of anti-metronomic lines of dialogue in his fiction and concurs with other critics who want to restore the original text of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]
The one remaining step in the demonstration that two instances of anti-metronomic dialogue resolve the notorious crux in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an examination of the manuscripts containing the forty other instances in the books Hemingway saw through the press.1 This examination confirms beyond question thirty-eight of those passages, including—in manuscripts Hemingway wrote in pencil or typed himself—all seven instances of the pattern in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” when the older waiter is understood to be speaking both of these consecutive, unattributed lines:
“He must be eighty years old.”
“Anyway I should say he was eighty.”2
Insofar as the charge of error (elsewhere in the story) depends on the conventional alternation of speakers in these two lines, the...
(The entire section is 4489 words.)
SOURCE: “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Response to Warren Bennett,” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. II, No. 1, Fall, 1982, pp. 17-20.
[In the following essay, Hurley maintains that Warren Bennett's “misinterpretation of the waiters' speech in the problematic exchange concerning the soldier and the girl compound rather than resolve the existing debate.”]
Working from a recently discovered manuscript of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Warren Bennett resolves many of the questions concerning the story's much debated dialogue.1 As Bennett contends, the manuscript indeed “reveals how the illogical dialogue sequence may have occurred” (p. 616); “clarifies Hemingway's intention as to which waiter knows about the old man's suicide attempt” (p. 616); and demonstrates that Hemingway was himself to blame for “the problem that arises in that crucial sentence which was editorially reassigned by Scribner's” (p. 618). But in addressing “the problematic section of the story concerned with the soldier and the prostitute” (p. 622), Bennett misinterprets the evidence of the manuscript and consequently misattributes the waiters' dialogue—a misattribution that alters our conception of the waiters. As I have indicated elsewhere, however, the story's text provides a set of patterns authorizing the reversal of Bennett's attribution and...
(The entire section is 2207 words.)
SOURCE: “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: Interpreting the Original Text,” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. II, No. 2, Spring, 1983, pp. 32-43.
[In the following essay, Thomson examines the controversy surrounding the waiters' dialogue regarding the soldier and the girl.]
I. THE NATURE OF THE TEXTUAL PROBLEM
Hemingway's story begins late at night in a café. An old man is drinking, watched by two waiters who are not differentiated. In Dialogue 1, comprising seven speeches, there is no way of knowing who begins the exchange, hence no way of knowing which waiter refers to the old man's attempted suicide and which asks questions about it. In Dialogue 2, comprising three speeches, there is similar indefiniteness. Only when the old man asks for another drink does the reader learn that one of the waiters is “younger,” is sleepy, and never gets to bed before three o'clock. Even at the beginning of Dialogue 3—I have for convenience divided it into two parts, 3a and 3b—it is still not possible to identify with assurance the opening speaker. Finally, with the third speech in Dialogue 3b it can confidently be asserted that the “younger” waiter says “I never get to bed before three o'clock.” Assuming normal conventions of paragraphing, it can be deduced that in Dialogue 3a the younger waiter asks the following question about the old man's suicide: “Who cut him down?”...
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SOURCE: “Wallace Stevens' ‘The Snow Man’ and Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 2, No. 2, April, 1989, pp. 61-3.
[In the following essay, Fleming speculates on the possible influence of the poet Wallace Stevens and his concept of nothingness on Hemingway's short story.]
The relationship between Wallace Stevens and Ernest Hemingway is best remembered for the one-sided fist fight between the two in February of 1936. According to a letter Hemingway wrote on 27 February 1936, Hemingway knocked Stevens down several times because he had insulted Hemingway's sister Ursula at a party. According to Hemingway, Stevens spent several days in the hospital, but an impartial witness said that the poet was seen in public the day after the fight, wearing sunglasses to conceal bruises.1
It is possible, however, that there is a more meaningful connection between the two. In “The Snow Man,” first published in Poetry in 1921, Stevens uses the same existential image that Hemingway was to use in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933.2 The image is that of nothing; not nothing as one normally uses the word, but what Carlos Baker describes as “Something—a Something called Nothing which is so huge, terrible, overbearing,...
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SOURCE: “A Note on a New Manuscript of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 36-9.
[In the following essay, Smith heralds a typescript version of Hemingway's story, known as the “Delaware typescript.”]
Some three years have passed since the last article on the controversy over the two waiters' dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” In March 1985 David Kerner returned to the argument he had entered in 1979, bringing further evidence—almost an anthology—of instances of “anti-metronomic dialogue,” including several from Hemingway himself, to argue that the text of the story should be restored to its original form. From its first publication in Scribner's Magazine (March 1933) to 1965, the crucial lines of dialogue read:
[Younger Waiter] “His niece looks after him.”
[Older Waiter] “I know. You said she cut him down.”
The inconsistency in that dialogue—earlier the Older Waiter has said “His niece [had cut him down]”—was resolved when Scribner's printed the lines in the 1965 edition of The Short Stories with this revision:
[Younger Waiter] “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”
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SOURCE: “The Characterization and the Dialogue Problem in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. IX, No. 2, Spring, 1990, pp. 122-23.
[In the following essay, Bennett compares Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio.”]
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” although long recognized as one of Hemingway's best short stories, has nevertheless been plagued by controversy because of Hemingway's proclivity for writing dialogue without identifying the speakers. The story was first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933 and then republished the same year in Hemingway's collection of stories Winner Take Nothing. In this 1933 text, Hemingway's failure to identify the speakers created a contradictory dialogue sequence which resulted in a confusion as to which waiter knew about the deaf old man's attempted suicide. No one, however, seemed to have noticed the contradictory sequence and its resulting confusion until 1956—twenty-three years later—at which time Judson Jerome wrote Hemingway about the “‘messy’ dialogue” (Monteiro 243) in the story. Hemingway replied, “oh so sorry to disappoint” (Monteiro 243); the dialogue, he said, “made perfect sense to him” (Monteiro 243). Jerome evidently did not pursue the matter, but the contradictory sequence eventually sparked a...
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SOURCE: “The Ambiguity of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall, 1992, pp. 561-74.
[In the following essay, Kerner offers a “comprehensive demonstration of the accuracy of Hemingway's text.”]
Since Warren Bennett's 13,000-word defense—concluding, “All printings of [“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”] should, therefore—in fairness … most of all, to Hemingway—follow the 1965 emended text” (120)—has passed muster with Paul Smith,1 the earlier cries of “Enough!” were premature:2 a comprehensive demonstration of the accuracy of Hemingway's text is needed, lest we wake up one day to find the emendation enshrined in the Library of America. The need is evident too when Gerry Brenner can write: “must we know which waiter answers the question ‘How do you know it was nothing?’ with ‘He has plenty of money.’? I think not” (252-53). One cannot take this answer away from the younger waiter without redistributing 19 other speeches; and to think that this can be done without damaging the intention in a story that so sharply differentiates the two waiters is to reveal once again that the story being read is not yet the one Hemingway wrote.3
Anyone drawn to the notion that in Hemingway's text, whether by accident or design, there is an inconsistency that cannot be resolved has failed...
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SOURCE: “Hemingway's Attention to ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. 13, No. 1, Fall, 1993, pp. 48-62.
[In the following essay, Kerner rejects Warren Bennett's position regarding the dialogue controversy and interprets the questionable passages in the story as Hemingway's deliberate use of anti-metronomic dialogue.]
If our professed boredom with the controversy over the emendation in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is how we deny our evasion of Hemingway's challenge—for no one has explained the purpose of the clearly deliberate ambiguity in the dialogue—two new pieces of evidence may soften our reluctance to trust the unemended text. We haven't forgotten that in 1956 the poet Judson Jerome wrote Hemingway that since the third patch of dialogue opens as follows—
“He's drunk now,” he said.
“He's drunk every night.”
“What did he want to kill himself for?”
—and the first speech here is the younger waiter's, it “does not make sense” for the older waiter, in speech 22, to be found saying, “‘You said she cut him down,’” since this waiter has been answering the questions that begin with speech 3. Hemingway replied, “Dear Asst Professor Jerome: I...
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SOURCE: “The Contentious Emendation of Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. 18, Fall, 1998, p. 78.
[In the following essay, Ryan maintains that Scribner's 1965 emendation of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is invalid and should be retracted.]
For nearly forty years, a war of words has been waged, the battlefield being a short passage of dialogue in Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” originally published in Scribner's Magazine in March 1933 and reprinted in the short story collection Winner Take Nothing in October of the same year. The battle has revolved around an apparent inconsistency in dialogue with relation to the identifies of the story's two now-famous waiters. The discrepancy seemed to go unnoticed for nearly twenty-six years, until February 1959, when articles by F. P. Kroeger and William Colburn sparked the conflict. In 1965, Charles Scribner Jr. emended the original text, thus “correcting” the inconsistency, but with the unfortunate side-effect of interchanging the identities of the two waiters. The current situation, as noted by Warren Bennett, is “that there are two different stories by Ernest Hemingway, both titled ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’” (“Characterization” 95).
With the 1965 emendation, the skirmish quickly escalated, pitting those who supported the emendation against those who...
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Campbell, Harry M. “Comments on Mr. Stock's Nada in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Midcontinent American Studies III, No. 1 (Spring 1962): 57-9.
Finds fault with Ely Stock's translation of the term “nada” in Hemingway's story.
Kerner, David. “Counterfeit Hemingway: A Small Scandal in Quotation Marks.” JML XII, No. 1 (March 1985): 91-108.
Deems the amended version of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” counterfeit.
Monteiro, George. “The Education of Ernest Hemingway.” Journal of American Studies VIII, No. 1 (April 1974): 91-9.
Determines the influence of Henry Adams's The Education of Henry Adams on Hemingway's short fiction, especially “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”
———. “Ernest Hemingway: Psalmist.” JML XIV, No. 1 (Summer 1987): 83-95.
Explores the role of Psalm 23 in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”
Stone, Edward. “Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More.” American Speech XXXVII, No. 3 (October 1962): 239-40.
Asserts that there is “evidence in the story that Hemingway was trying to reproduce not only the conversation of the two waiters but the flavor of their speech.”
Additional coverage of...
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