Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Two waiters in a Spanish café are waiting late one night for their last customer, an old man, to leave. As they wait, they talk about the old man’s recent suicide attempt. The younger waiter is impatient to leave and tells the deaf old man he wishes the suicide attempt had been successful. The young waiter has a wife waiting in bed for him and is unsympathetic when the older waiter says that the old man once also had a wife. The old man finally leaves when the younger waiter refuses to serve him further.
The older waiter argues that they should have allowed their customer to stay, that being in the café is not the same as drinking at home. He explains that he is also one of those “who like to stay late at the café. . . . With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.” He is reluctant to close because there may be someone who needs the café. When the young waiter says there are bodegas open all night, the other points out that the bright atmosphere of the café makes it different.
After the younger waiter goes home, the older one asks himself why he needs a clean, pleasant, quiet, well-lighted place. The answer is that he requires some such semblance of order because of “a nothing that he knew too well.” He begins a mocking prayer: “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada.” He then finds himself at a bodega that is a poor...
(The entire section is 314 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
One of Hemingway’s most frequently read and anthologized short stories is “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” an amazing tour de force in that it is largely a story of setting rather than character or action. Only five pages long, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” takes place late at night in a small Spanish restaurant. The only customer, an old man, has attempted suicide a week earlier.
The two waiters, a young one and an older one, talk about the customer, The young waiter wants to close the place and put the old man out. The older waiter thinks they should not, but the young waiter prevails. The older waiter reflects on the difference between a well-lighted establishment such as his and a dark, smoky bodega, and in doing so touches on many of life’s deeper mysteries.
In the most dramatic incident in this restrained story, the old waiter recites the Lord’s Prayer, but in doing so, he substitutes the Spanish word nada (nothingness) for all the significant nouns and verbs in the prayer. In writing this passage, Hemingway captured much of the nihilistic sentiment that was abroad in the 1920’s and 1930’s and that T. S. Eliot had reflected earlier in The Waste Land (1922) and two years after that in his story “The Hollow Men.” Hemingway’s story does not really move toward anything, but its directionlessness, reminiscent of the directionlessness of the lost generation as reflected in The Sun Also Rises, is...
(The entire section is 289 words.)
Considered one of Hemingway's finest works, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" tells of two waiters working late in a cafe in a small town in Spain where an older, regular customer is drinking alone. The waiters talk about their differing opinions about the old man's situation, revealing a gap in the way generations view loneliness and, in larger scope, the fear of nothingness.
(The entire section is 62 words.)
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” first appeared in the March 1933 issue of Scribner’s Magazine. Although 1933 was a year of external turmoil with Adolf Hitler’s accession to power and Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations this sparse, lyrically written story focuses on an existential crisis, the search for meaning that confronts modern human beings.
It opens with an old man sitting on the terrace of a Spanish café late at night. Two waiters, one older and one younger, keep an eye on him to ensure he does not get too drunk and leave without paying. They discuss how the old man attempted suicide the week before, with one claiming that it must have been over nothing since the man has “plenty of money.” As one waiter expresses concern that a guard will get the old man for staying out on the street, the old man orders another brandy. The younger waiter, who wants to go home, grudgingly pours the deaf old fellow another glass, suggesting aloud that the man should have killed himself. He talks with the other waiter about how the old man tried to hang himself and was cut down in time by his niece. The two agree that he must be eighty years old. The younger waiter argues that a wife would be no use to a man that age, while the older waiter is not so certain and expresses admiration for how neatly the old man drinks even while intoxicated.
When the old man tries to order yet another brandy, the younger waiter refuses,...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
The story begins at a cafe very late at night. Two waiters are watching their last, lingering customer, an old man who is by now very drunk. These are the story’s three major characters. The older of the two waiters informs the young one that the old man tried to commit suicide the previous week. They then watch a couple go by, a soldier and a young woman, and comment on the soldier’s chances of going undetected after curfew.
Next, the young waiter moves into action. When the old man indicates that he wants another drink served, the young waiter mutinies. He decides he wants to go home, regardless of an unspoken rule that dictates he not go until the last customer voluntarily leaves. He pretends not to know what the old man wants. The old man realizes that the younger waiter is being offensive, but ignores him and asks out loud for the drink. When the waiter brings it, he makes it spill deliberately. Moreover, knowing that the old man is deaf, as he walks away he says, “You should have killed yourself last week.” With these actions, the character of the young waiter is established.
The two waiters then have a number of conversations about the old man and his suicide and situation. These talks are interrupted by the younger waiter finally telling the old man to leave, which he does. We learn various facts from these interchanges. For example, the young waiter is “all confidence,” he is married, he has a job, he is content with life...
(The entire section is 548 words.)