A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

by Ernest Hemingway

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In Ernest Hemingway's short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," why does the older waiter replace words in the Lord's Prayer with the word nada ?  

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In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” the older waiter, at the end of the story, contemplates a personal version of the Lord’s Prayer that emphasizes the idea of nothingness:

Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada . . . .

This skewed version of the prayer is significant for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • It suggests that not even God seems, to the old waiter, an alternative to nothingness.  Whereas God has traditionally been seen by Christians as the source of all being – of everything that is – here God himself is nothing. The quoted passage suggests that God indeed may not exist.
  • The passage suggests that if God does not exist, heaven does not exist either. There may be no beautiful, eternal alternative to the suffering and alienation of the world as we know it.
  • If God and heaven do not exist, then it makes little sense to pray to God or to hope for heaven.
  • If God and heaven do not exist, there is no divine future to look forward to, contemplate, or take solace in.
  • If God does not exist, then evil itself may not exist, and certainly there seems no divine answer or alternative to evil if evil does in fact exist.

In short, the old waiter’s contemplation suggests a thorough-going nihilism that eliminates one of the main alternatives – God – to the idea of nothingness. The tone of the old waiter’s thoughts suggests that he does not take the idea of God seriously and that he is almost willing to mock that idea. Certainly he seems to fear no divine retribution, apparently because he assumes that there is no such thing as the divine.


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