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In his short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," Ernest Hemingway employs the literary tools of symbols to convey man's attempt to generate a sense of structure and meaning in order to fill the void of loneliness and to escape from the "nada," or nothingness of life. [This could be the foundation of a good Thesis for a discussion on Hemingway's symbols for loneliness.] To borrow and rephrase Macbeth's famous soliloquy, it is all about "nada," nothing, but there is no sound and fury, only the silence of the deaf old man and the lonely void in others who have experienced the senselessness of such things as war (represented by the couple walking: "A girl and a soldier went by in the street.").
Even the structure of Hemingway's story indicates the drive of the alienated waiter and lonely old man to establish some sense of warmth, humanity, order, and structure to their meaningless existences. For example, near the middle of the story, there are twenty-five lines of dialogue which appear on the page in an patterned form, underscoring efforts by the characters to establish order. Further, with the pattern of prayer as he parodies the universal Christian prayer, "Our Father" using the word nada the older waiter In other words, he expresses his understanding of the lonely nothingness of men's lives and the need for all men of experience to fashion for themselves an escape from their terrible loneliness and feeling of having nothing.
Certainly, other symbols work to dispel the void in the old men's lives. The light dispels the darkness of loneliness and the meaninglessness of their worlds. By sitting in the "clean, well-lighted place" of the cafe, the old man can dispel the darkness of the absurdity of his life, and he can also act more ethically. For, Hemingway always stresses ethical conduct as a way to create order out of lonely nothingness.
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