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

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What is the significance of the word "nada" in Hemingways "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The word "nada" in the story stands for the nothingness that the waiter who is not in a hurry fears. He understands the old man's desire to drink in a clean, well-lighted place, though the old man can just as easily drink at home. A clean, well-lighted place is a kind of defense against the nothingness, or emptiness, that plagues all humans.

Towards the end of Hemingway's story, the waiter thinks of the Lord's Prayer interspersed with the word "nada," beginning, "our nada who art in nada." The use of the word "nada" in the Lord's Prayer is another form of expressing the belief in nothingness, as the words "God" and "heaven" have been replaced with it. In other words, the waiter does not believe in God, and, without this belief, he is faced with a kind of crushing emptiness and fear that causes him insomnia. His only relief is to find temporary respite in a clean, well-lighted place like the bar. 

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Spanish for nothing, nada in Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" represents the author's understanding of nihilism, the belief that life is without objective meaning. Without any meaning in his life, the old man has attempted suicide, but has been saved by others.  Now that he must endure life, the old man stay late at the cafe seeking light from the darkness of nothingness--nada--to which he must return. Thus, he shuns his return to the darkness because in it he is alone with his thoughts, his despair, his isolation. Because he knows that the world has no real norms, rules, or laws, it is only the light that keeps him from thinking about this nothingness.

Likewise, the older waiter recognizes the futility of a life that is essentially meaningless.  So, he tries to keep the cafe open and light for...

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Nad in Hemingway's A Clean Well-Lighted Place refers to the nothingness that surrounds the old mans life. There is nothing in his life which was why he attempted to commit suicide. But he was cut down for the sake of saving his spirit, leading to the distrust of the institution of religion in the speech with the Lord's prayer being replaced by nada. Showing the meaninglessness of religion.

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