A Clean, Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway

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Discuss the use of dialogue in Hemingway's "A Clean Well-lighted Place" and how point of view complements the use of dialogue.

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Dialogue predominates the story in Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place." The dialogue is almost exclusively between the two waiters--the waiter with a wife who is in a hurry and the old waiter who is not in a hurry--except for when the old man asks for more brandy and "A little more" and "Another" and says, "Thank you." Since there is this predominance, much of what we know about the waiters comes through the dialogue, although the narrator does contribute important character and story information, such as the above description of the waiters and such as the narrator’s indications that they were experienced and shrewd since "they kept watch on" the old man because "they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying."

The point of view of this strange story is given through the voice of the minimalist narrator. Dialogue is complemented by the point of view because while dialogue provides information, the minimalist narrator provides description and commentary that advances the story's theme.

As an example, dialogue tells that last week the old man "was in despair," that one waiter has a wife ("I have a wife waiting”), and one is old (“I am not young”). From the point-of-view establishing narrator, we know the setting and atmosphere (i.e., mood), e.g., the "street light shone on the brass number" on the collar of the passing soldier. It also leads toward the theme: “The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.” More significantly, the narrator's point-of-view defining passages tell the indirect dialogue (the thoughts) of the old man, thoughts with which the narrator’s point-of-view establishing voice intertwines:

Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well.

Thus, the detail-revealing, emotional, predominating dialogue between the waiters is complimented by the distanced, aloof, observational point of view established by the omniscient minimalist narrator who delves below the surface to reveal motive; suffering; dark, depressing feelings; and theme:

It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. ... Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. ... A clean, well-lighted cafe was a very different thing.

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