Hemingway is often referred to as a minimalist; his understated manner of expression in objective and terse prose characterizes his desire to describe without frills, and without the imposition of an attitude. His repetition of words and phrases establish order in a world of nothingness. If a person exposes himself to the vicissitudes of life, Fate will overcome him; however, if he can find rules to live by, he will survive.
In "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," the older waiter understands that the old man needs a clean and pleasant cafe to stave off the emptiness of his life; he needs "a light for the night." After the other people leave, the waiter stays, turns off the light, and converses with himself,
It is the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music....What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order....he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada....nothing, nothing is with thee...
A "clean well-lighted place" order is all that man can establish to keep from "nothingness." When the waiter goes home, he lies in bed until daylight comes; then, he can sleep. As Hemingway writes in another story--"Now I Lay Me,--the narrator expresses the feelings of the waiter:
If I could have a light I was not afraid to sleep, because I knew my soul would only go out of me if it were dark.
The waiter, like Hemingway, is a man of few words and few regrets; he accepts pain, anguish, and regret with stoic dignity. The repetitions of "clean, well-lighted place," "nothing," and "nada" convey the nihilism, the dark of Hemingway, that is held back by order. The wait tries to convince himself that the awful void he feels inside himself is nothing to worry about, only something he fears when he is alone. But, Hemingway's terse prose also implies something else. He once wrote,
All stories, if continued far enough end in death and he is no good storyteller, who would keep that from you.