What is the thesis of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?
There are any number of given interpretations of any work of literature, and it is important not to think that there is but one "answer" or one way of approaching a text. However, having added this caveat, one of the central meanings that we can see in this excellent short story relates to the oft-repeated word of "nothing" or "nada" in Spanish. Hemmingway presents the world as ultimately meaningless, without value or worth, and this is shown through the repetition of this word. Note, for example, the opening conversation between the two waiters:
"Last week he tried to commit suicide," one waiter said.
"He was in despair."
"Nothing" is shown to be the cause of the man wanting to end his life. And nothing, or "nada," is used to replace the nouns of the Lord's Prayer, creating a litany of nothingness, showing how this existential nihilism consumes the character of the waiter as well. As the story develops, and we learn more about the "well lighted" cafe, we see that the cafe is a refuge for men who have nothing to live for. The environment of the cafe helps them to forget, albeit briefly, the emptiness of their own lives and the way that "nothing" characterises their existence. The central message of the story is therefore about the emptiness in our own lives and the intense sense of meaningless that can dominate us.