How would you broadly describe views of life of the characters in Ernest Hemingway's story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?   

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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:


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.
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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

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