Please discuss tone and style and theme in Hemingway's short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," tone reflects style. Style is the particular way an author constructs sentences and thoughts and it relates to diction and vocabulary, syntax and grammar choices. Tone is the feeling a narrator has about the subject and characters of a story. Tone may be different or the same as the mood, or atmosphere, within the story. For example, the mood of the story may be cheery but the tone of the narrator sarcastic and bitter (think of Scrooge talking about his nephew's Christmas feasts before being visited by the Ghost of Christmas past).

Hemingway's style is minimalistic and without numerous kinds of figures of speech. His vocabulary is simple and often single syllable words. His diction is the language of the common person without advanced education. He uses a minimal number of compound and complex sentences--thus has simple grammar constructions and syntax relationships--and these appear in the narrator's comments, not in the dialogue. Examples are:

  • Simple sentences: "The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago." (older waiter dialogue)
  • Complex sentence: The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him. (narrator)

The tone reflected in this minimalism is distanced and objective (although you can find a tone of compassion in the first paragraph description and symbolism). The narrator expresses the tone, and the narrator says as little as possible. This is why the narrator tone is distanced. The narrator prefers to let the character dialogue express character emotions, motives and ideas. This is why the narrator tone is objective.

The theme addresses the feeling of despair (hopelessness) that arises from the belief that life is meaningless and without order. The theme accepts existential meaninglessness but rejects despairing nihilism. In other words, the theme suggests that while life may seem to be without meaning and order, there are things to do to keep from falling into hopeless despair. Being in a clean, well-lighted place is one of the things that might drive off despair and hopelessness.


"He was in despair."

"What about?"


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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

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