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Ernest Hemingway explores several themes in his short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."
LOYALTY AND SOLIDARITY. The two old men--the waiter and his customer--share this common bond. The waiter is completely loyal to his patron, in part because of their age, and also because they are both affected by the despair of the night. The old man is perfectly happy drinking by himself in the quiet cafe, away from the noise and crowds of bodegas. The waiter, too, suffers from what he hopes is only insomnia, and he reveals at the end of the story that he also prefers a clean, well-lighted place to while away his time.
ETHICAL CONDUCT. The old waiter lives by a set of standards that is often not found in the younger generation, especially that of the young waiter. He cuts no corners, gladly staying deep into the night to wait on the single, old man who wishes to drink in peace. The young waiter, meanwhile, treats the old man poorly, purposely spilling his drink and rudely commenting--knowing that the old man is deaf--that he should have succeeded at his recent attempted suicide before demanding that he leave.
NOTHINGNESS. "Nada," and "nothing," are repeated throughout the story. The word seems to have at least two possible meanings: One is of a material aspect, particularly financial, concerning a man's money or possessions. Another is the spiritual outlook of life, and the consideration that a person is a mere nothing in the vast, unexplainable expanse of life.
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