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Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Llighted Place" and Alexie's "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" have several similarities that can be related to the word nada (nothing) prevalently used in Hemingway's story. One of them is that the stories are both about three men who are struggling in some way or another to find, preserve, or assert their place in the community, in life--who hold a place in their communities, in life, that is nada.
For instance, in Hemingway's story the old man who drinks with dignity is struggling to preserve his place in the community and in life by drinking in a clean, well lighted place instead of in secret in private at home. Whereas in Alexie's Thomas-Builds-the-Fire is struggling to assert his place in the community and in life. Neither one have been having that much success: They have nada.
Another similarity that can be related to nada is the sparse authorial styles that are heavily reliant on dialogue and only minimally reliant on a distant, objective narrator through which each story is told. Such a style implies that the rest, the superfluous additions and trimmings that may veil reality are nada.
Hemingway, the uncontested master of sparse distant objectivity, combines sparse statesments of Who and What with bursts of poetic descriptions as in the opening line: "It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light." In this example, the elegant poetic description is part of a restricting who-clause that describes the "old man" who is excluded from "everyone" by the preposition "except" in the prepositional phrase "except the old man."
Whereas Alexie's spareness is that of strings of details without poetic or descriptive embelishment: "Just after Victor lost his job at the BIA, he also found out that his father had died of a heart attack in Phoenix, Arizona." In this example, the central Who is preceeded by an introductory preposition locating Victor's upcoming experience in time. It is followed by the dilemma of the story with a straightforward Who, What, How, and Where, but with no sudden descriptive passages such as Hemingway employs.
Another similarity that relates to nada is the theme of loneliness, which is dramatized by the imagery of the lonely ones laying in bed. In Hemingway's, the old waiter goes home after having thought of the value of a clean, well lighted place to lie in bed in loneliness until falling asleep at dawn. While in bed, his lonely thoughts turn to the consoling thought "it was probably only insomnia" and that "Many must have it." In Alexie's, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, lonely and rejected in his tribe which has lost the use for storytellers, wishes in his loneliness "to lie in his bed and let his dreams tell his stories for him."
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