What aspect of Modernism do Virgina Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse and Ernest Hemingway's short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" share in common, such as context, Modernist values, ideas,...

What aspect of Modernism do Virgina Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse and Ernest Hemingway's short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" share in common, such as context, Modernist values, ideas, techniques, and themes adapted by the authors?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Modernist literary movement, born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and climaxing at the start of World War I, was a natural progression of Realism, also alive in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Realism moved away from the idealism of the Romantic movement and sought to describe life as it truly was. To do so, Realist authors dug deep into human psychology and portrayed characters as a complex "network of motivations, interests, desires, and fears" (The Literature Network, "Realism"). Similarly, Modernism also sought to portray Realism; only, Modernist authors took Realism one step further by portraying reality in a "symbolic, suggestive, [or] allegorical" way (University of Houston Clear Lake, "Modernism"). Both Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway were Modernist authors, and one similarity between Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-lighted Place" concerns their symbolic and allegorical presentation of life as it truly is.

In Woolf's novel, the ups and downs of life are portrayed through the non-linear time references and stream-of-consciousness characteristic of Modernist literature. The novel begins with a lovely summer holiday then progresses through the start of World War I, the death of characters, the abandonment of the summer home, and finally the return to the summer home after the war. At the heart of it all lies the promise Mrs. Ramsay makes to her youngest and favorite son, James, early in the novel: that they would sail to the lighthouse tomorrow if the weather was pleasant. However, tomorrow is very long in coming; it doesn't come until after World War I when the family is able to return to the summer home. Much older now, James successfully sails to the lighthouse with his sister Cam and their grouchy, disliked father. However, the moment Mr. Ramsey praises James for his sailing skills in reaching the lighthouse, saying "Well done!", the matured children's perception of their father changes, especially Cam's perception. They now see him as a lonely old man, defeated by life, and missing his wife, which is so heartbreaking to them that they think to themselves, "Ask us anything and we will give it to you." Hence, the lighthouse becomes symbolic. It particularly symbolizes the end of a life's journey and new understanding. The characters had to go through all of the common turmoils of life but have finally reached their lighthouse.

Likewise, light also becomes symbolic in Hemingway's short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." In this story, a young and older waiter mock a deaf, elderly man because he is holding them up from closing their cafe by ordering more and more brandy. They speak about a rumor that the old man had just attempted to commit suicide and of how lonely he is. The young waiter is particularly impatient to close up because he wants to go home to bed where his wife waits. The older waiter, however, feels empathetic and patient toward the old man. Toward the end of the story, after the young waiter has sent the old man away, the older waiter even argues the point that sitting in the cafe is better than a bodega because it is a "clean and pleasant cafe ... well lighted." By the end of the story, we sense that the older waiter shares the old man's loneliness and disappointment with life. Hence, Hemingway, just like Woolf, uses the story to present life the way it really is and uses light to symbolize the end of life's arduous journey and a sense of comfort.

Read the study guide:
To the Lighthouse

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question