What is the significance of the title in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"? Why is a clean place that is well-lighted important? What does it symbolize?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The importance of the title lies in the way that it is used to describe the cafe that forms the setting of this short story. The story is set against a backdrop of suicide, meaningless life and the struggle for significance in a universe that seems to be defined in this short story by one word alone: the Spanish word "nada," meaning nothing. This bleak despair is something that even the bartender himself experiences as he contemplates his life and the "nothing" that his life represents. What is important about the cafe then is the way that it acts as something of an antidote to the nothingness of life and the bleak chaos it represents. This is why, the short story suggests, the cafe provides something of a shelter to those who suffer from their awareness of the oppressive nothingness of life, a place where nothingness can be forgotten. Note what the waiter thinks as he contemplates the cafe:

It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order... He disliked bars and bodegas. A clean, well-lighted cafe was a very different thing.

Cleanliness, light and order are shown in this story therefore to be important through the way in which they can act as a defence, albeit temporary, to the horror of nothingness and the bleak despair that can ensue and dominate a person's life, and indeed which threatens to dominate the life of the older waiter as he contemplates going back home and the fear that he suffers from. The cafe seems to give the older waiter hope, or at least it is an anchor that allows him to not let his life become unhinged by despair. The importance of the title therefore is based on its description of the cafe and the symbolism of this setting set against the theme of nihilism and nothingness that is explored in this short story.

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