A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

by Ernest Hemingway
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What does light symbolize in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

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In "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," light symbolizes a safe refuge from the chaos of the world.

In this story, an old deaf man sits in the shadows in a café. The shadows represent his feelings of hopelessness. In fact, this old man has recently attempted to take his own life. Despite sitting in "the shadow of the leaves of the tree," the rest of the café is well lit and orderly. This setting provides the old man with a degree of safety and respite from his feelings of despair.

Although the old man lingers long enough in the café to upset the younger waiter, the older waiter understands that the old man needs this place of light for a refuge. In this sense, light also symbolizes compassion and empathy. When all else in the world seems to be lost in darkness, small places of light, safety, and understanding can make a world of difference to forlorn people like the old man.

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