A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the significance of insomnia in Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

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Margaret Mccarney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Hemingway's iconography, good places are clean and filled with light. We see this in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," as well, when Harry dreams he is taken to the mountaintop, where he is at peace, as he actually lies dying in the valley, filled with self-recrimination. In this story, the cafe is clean and well lit, while outside, the dark descends. The older waiter muses on this as he closes the cafe: "It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order." The young waiter had been impatient to return to his home and his wife, while the older waiter, who suffers from insomnia, wants to linger in the cafe, reflecting on his life and his emptiness. This older waiter has also displayed sympathy for the customer who had tried to kill himself.

In Modernist literature, and in Hemingway especially, it's important to listen for echoes of earlier works—the collective memories of a culture that seems to have faded. In this brief interlude, the old waiter's thoughts of...

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