A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

by Ernest Hemingway

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What are the characteristics of the two waiters and the old man in "A Clean Well-Lighted Place"?

In the short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway, the old man and the older waiter share the perspective of being lonely and despairing and needing a place to go in the night to find a measure of peace.

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The young waiter is impatient, selfish, arrogant, and judgmental; he also is hateful in his treatment of the old man who drinks alone on the terrace. He wants only to close early so that he can go home to his wife, and he sees the old man as an impediment to his wishes. He has no understanding of loneliness and despair. He is also quick to anger. When the older waiter makes a reference to the young man's wife, the young waiter becomes offended and argumentative.

The older waiter, in contrast, is patient, unselfish, nonjudgmental, and kind in his treatment of the old man. He wants to remain open so long as the old man might "need" the light of the cafe. He does understand loneliness and despair, since he often feels lonely and desperate himself. When he does finally close the cafe, the older waiter does not go home; he goes, instead, to yet another public place of light--a bodega--where he drinks alone. The emptiness of the older waiter's life is expressed poignantly in the Our nada prayer found in the conclusion of the story.

The old man on the terrace is deaf, one of apparently other factors which have served to isolate him in life. We can infer his life seems meaningless to him since he had recently attempted suicide. The young waiter says the old man has "plenty of money," but money cannot make up for what is missing in the old man's life. Alone, he drinks each night at the cafe until he becomes drunk. Despite the young waiter's rude behavior to him and despite his own intoxication, the old man is polite and well behaved: He says "thank you" to the rude young man (who does not deserve such courtesy), pays for his drinks, leaves a tip, and walks away "unsteadily but with dignity."

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What perspective do the old man and the old waiter share in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

In the short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway, an old man sits drinking at a cafe late at night while two waiters talk about him. One of the waiters is young and impatient to get home, while the other is older and more sympathetic. He understands what the old man is going through. The young waiter wants to close up the cafe since the old man is the only customer, but the older waiter prefers to keep it open "because there may be someone who needs the cafe." He understands the difference between sitting in a pleasant, clean cafe with good light and drinking in a bar or bodega.

The old man and the older waiter share the perspective of loneliness and the despair that loneliness brings. Early in the story the waiters talk about how the old man's despair led to a suicide attempt. The younger waiter can't understand why the old man would attempt to kill himself because "he has plenty of money." The older waiter, though, understands that wealth has nothing to do with peace of mind. He mentions that the old...

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man once had a wife and "he might be better with a wife." The older waiter too experiences his own form of despair. It causes him to have insomnia. At one point, the older waiter declares his solidarity with the old man:

"I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe," the older waiter said. "With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night."

We see, then, that the perspective that the old man and the older waiter share is that of the lost and lonely people who need a place to go in the night when the despair overwhelms them and they cannot sleep.

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