What picture of the modern present emerges from "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, and how do setting and character develop it?
Hemingway's view of modern life in the Twentieth Century as presented in the story is one of loneliness and spiritual desolation. This theme is communicated through the characters of the old man who stays at the cafe to drink late into the night and the older waiter who feels sympathy for him. Both men live in isolation, caught up in their own sense of defeat and futility. The old man tried to commit suicide; the older waiter--unlike his young counterpart--understands why: Life is an empty existance.
Like the old man, the older waiter wants light to stave off the darkness, literally and figuratively. He does not mind keeping the cafe open, for others as well as for himself. Once he closes it, he goes to another place of light, a bar, although it is not as nice. Any light in the company of even one other is better than facing the darkness alone.
Hemingway's view of modern life is expressed in his use of the word "nada," nothing. The lack of spiritual faith, faith having been abandoned by many in leaving the "unenlightened" past behind, makes modern life itself an empty promise, something to be endured while it lasts because nothing more awaits when it ends. The irony of Hemingway's "prayer" in the story's conclusion makes a strong and conclusive thematic statement.