The personalities and views of life of the three main characters in Ernest Hemingway's story "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" might briefly be described as follows:
THE YOUNGER WAITER
- Condescending, as in the way he slurs his words when speaking to the old man.
- Emphatic, as when he refuses to serve the old man another drink.
- Cocky, as in his confidence in his own instant opinions.
- Shameless, as when he tells the older waiter that the old man should have killed himself.
- Materialistic, as in his concern to be paid.
- Impatient, as in his repeated desire to get home.
- Self-confident, as when speaks of his eagerness to go home to his wife.
- Touchy, as when he suspects that the older waiter may be insulting him.
- Occasionally capable of thinking of others, as when the narrator says of him,
He did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry.
- Cruel, as when he tells the old man (who fortunately can't hear) that he should have killed himself.
- His view of life seems shallow, selfish, materialistic, hedonistic, and immature. He seems to think that the world revolves around him and around his needs and desires.
THE OLDER WAITER
- Perceptive, as when discussing the old man's state of mind.
- Tolerant, as in his attitude toward the old man staying late.
- Knowledgeable, as when he explains the old man's suicide attempt.
- Non-judgmental, as when he doesn't condemn the old man for trying to kill himself.
- Capable of imagining and appreciating immaterial things, such as the old man's soul.
- Capable of humor, as when he jokes with the younger waiter.
- Aware of his own growing loneliness and age.
- Capable of appreciating order and simple pleasures.
- Thoughtful, as when he speculates on the old mna's feelings.
- Courteous, as when he thanks the barman.
- Troubled, as his apparent "insomnia" suggests.
- His view of life seems mature and thoughtful and humane.
THE OLD MAN
- Capable of despair, as his recent suicide attempt suggets
- Financially comfortable (his suicide attempt was not due to a lack of money)
- Lonely, as in the opening scene.
- Clean: the older waiter admires the old man's ability to drink without spilling his liquor.
- Dignified, as in the way he drinks quietly and expects no sympathy.
- Respectful:he fails to pay only when he becomes drunk, not because he deliberately wants to cheat anyone else. He also thanks the young waiter for pouring him a drink.
- Perceptive, as when he senses the transition from daytime to nighttime even though he is blind.
- The old man's view of life seems rooted in the pain of aging and loneliness -- feelings the young waiter cannot yet appreciate but which the older waiter has begun to understand.