Nihilism is part of the spirit of modernism. Victorian fiction seldom questions the essential meaning or purpose of life, whereas the literary fiction of the twentieth century does so all the time. Clearly, there is an atmosphere of nihilism in Hemingway's short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." This emerges most forcefully in the repeated word nada, which is Spanish for "nothing," inserted into the Lord's Prayer:
Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada.
The effect of this is to suggest a flood of nothing, of doubt and fear, streaming through the old religious certainties which no longer have the power to give hope to anyone. The old waiter may well be an atheist. Atheism, however, is not the same as nihilism. The waiter does not accept the proposition that life has no meaning or value. Instead, he fights against it.
The whole concept of preserving the clean, well-lighted café as a refuge for the old man and others like him is based on a refusal to succumb to nihilism. If the old waiter were a nihilist, he would not care what happened to the old man, and he would be indifferent to whether the café was dark and dirty. His determination to preserve his beacon of light in the dark city is an absolute rejection of nihilism, an assertion that certain human values have meaning whether there is a God or not.