Explain the following comment from "A Clean Well Lighted Place":"He did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry."

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," the young waiter at the cafe where the solitary old man drinks is in a hurry to have this cafe close so that he can go home.  Therefore, he tells the other waiter, the "unhurried waiter," that the old man can buy a bottle and drink at home.  But, when the older, unhurried waiter remarks, "It is not the same," it is then that the younger one realizes the callousness of his words,

"No, it is not," agree the waiter with a wife. He did not wish to be unjust.  He was only in a hurry.

Significantly, Hemingway establishes the contrast between youth and age.  The young waiter has "confidence" in his life.  With a wife at home, he is not alone; occupied, he is not yet aware of the darkness that creeps into one's life later on.  For, he has a routine and another person who makes his life predictable, giving it the appearance of meaning.  However, the older waiter understands that there is nothing--nada--and man's existence is essentially meaningless.  It is only the light and "a certain cleanness and order" that provide any order or meaning to life. 

"We are of two different kinds," the older waiter tells the young waiter. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe."

The older waiter understands why the old man wishes to linger.  In fact, he, too, is reluctant to return home where he lies awake in bed until daylight when he is able to then fall asleep.

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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

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