A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

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Explain what (besides insomnia) makes the older waiter reluctant to go to bed and how it relates to his "nada" meditation in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."

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In Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (1933), three characters—the young and old waiters and the drunken old man—represent three different stages of attachment to the world. The young waiter, who has a wife waiting for him at home, is relatively content with his life, whereas the older waiter and the old, deaf, and drunken customer are, as the British say, "waiting for God"—that is, they seek present comfort but see nothing worth living for.

When the young waiter expresses his disgust that the drunken customer, who has recently attempted suicide, takes too long to go home so that the waiters also have to wait to go home, the older waiter comments,

I am one of those who like to stay late at the café...With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.

The young waiter, who earlier has described himself as "all confidence," does not understand the older men's need for a "clean, well-lighted place" in which to moderate the effects of...

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lit24 | Student

 The older waiter explains why he wants to keep the cafe open for some more time: "Each night I am reluctant to close up because there maybe someone who needs the cafe."

As one grows old and death draws near one becomes more and more painfully aware of the meaninglessness, the nothingness-nada- of life. Religion which is meant to be  a source of strength and comfort proves ineffective in the present situation.

 Hemingway reveals the thoughts of the older waiter through an interior monologue:"What did he fear? It was not a fear or a dread, it was a nothing he knew too well. It was all nothing and a man was a nothing too." A  feeling of numbness which is worse than the fear of death  overwhelms the older waiter and in a desperate attempt to overcome this feeling of numbness he tries to repeat the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary but ends up  repeatedly using the word 'nada' and 'nothing,' thus  foregrounding the ineffectiveness of these two prayers.

It is this overwhelming feeling of 'nothingness' which makes the older waiter sympathise with the old drunken customer. The well lighted cafe offers  a temporary refuge from this cruel nothingness which has already driven the old man to attempt  suicide.

The older waiter wants the cafe to remain open as long as is possible so that many other old men like the drunken old man and himself  can escape atleast temporarily  from this paralysing mind numbing 'nada.'