A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

by Ernest Hemingway

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Charles A. Allen (essay date 1955)

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SOURCE: “Ernest Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted Heros,” in The Pacific Spectator: A Journal of Interpretation, Vol. IX, No. 4, Autumn, 1955, pp. 383-89.

[In the following survey of the major characters of Hemingway's fiction, Allen asserts that anxiety is the defining feature of the characters in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]

The Hemingway stories and novels are dominated by heroes who conduct a retreating battle with nature and the world's hostility. But they fight against their loss with pleasure, skill, and courage. The world of nature and humanity robs health, hope, and love, leaving in the end only nada, nothingness. Nothingness is opposed skillfully and zestfully with stoical integrity and courage, Hemingway's two chief themes.

This limited philosophy is not altogether satisfying, but even less satisfying is a tendency for Hemingway to mistake emotional immaturity for maturity. The “code” behavior of his stoical heroes and the motivation of the behavior are often a trifle suspect: to some degree anxiety would seem the motivation and “defense mechanism” the behavior. Both anxiety and defense are expressions of unconscious hostility.

Of course for Hemingway and his admirers the code is not defensive and the motivations are rationally and maturely rather than anxiously inspired.

Hemingway's stories usually emphasize conflict within the individual. Thus “Big Two-Hearted River” (1925) is, on the surface, a quiet, slow-paced narrative of a young man out trout fishing. Nick Adams leaves the train up in Michigan, unhurriedly tramps over a fire-burnt area, takes a nap under the pines, and arrives on time at his camp site beside the river. Methodically, he pitches camp and prepares food; he sleeps in the precise knowledge that he has earned his rest. The next day he expertly fishes the river until it enters a swamp. The swamp he will save until another time. This is the action. The conflict is, as in “A Way You'll Never Be” and “Now I Lay Me,” Nick's struggle to hold an unnamed fear in check, to calm his nerves, to maintain his equilibrium before the threat of collapse. He does this through a series of rituals—preparing his food carefully, pitching his tent efficiently, catching his grasshoppers in the right way at the right time, handling his undersized trout with wet hands so as not to damage them. He believes that such ritualistic gestures can prevent the recurrence of threatening memories and can heighten his awareness and enjoyment of the world about him. He is apparently fighting successfully, and one knows that he will win his fight when he decides not to enter the swamp. This climactic decision forcefully illuminates the humanistic theme of the story—the necessity for discipline, for skillful and pleasurable fighting against the enemy.

Structurally the story is impeccable. All of the elements of language, method, and meaning work in dramatic harmony. The cause of Nick's anxiety is never directly named. The author may well be, as both Carlos Baker and Philip Young suggest, hinting that Nick's trouble is rooted in the memory of the violence and destruction of war, such a memory, for example, as swerves the protagonist of “A Way You'll Never Be” to the brink of insanity, or the memory of such wounds as Frederic Henry of A Farewell to Arms and Colonel Cantwell of Across the River and into the Trees have experienced. Certainly the burnt town and surrounding country support the theory. But the genesis of the anxiety state is indefinite. The clear-running stream, the fragrant pine forest, the warm tent—all images that contrast sharply with the charred town and countryside—represent peace and serenity.

The anxiety and defense pattern is apparent in almost all of Hemingway's work, but perhaps anxiety as the invisible enemy is most clearly defined in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and defense most obvious in “Soldier's Home.” An intense anxiety feeling afflicts the old waiter and the old customer in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (1933). Of the two characters the focus is on the aging waiter. His sympathy and understanding for the customer are based on a recognition that he too is “someone who needs the café,” who, having lost youth and confidence, needs cleanness and order and good light as a defense against the black night. “What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too.”

Krebbs, a young American just returned from the trenches of Europe to the routine of his middle-class parents' home, is the protagonist of “Soldier's Home” (1925). He eats and sleeps with satisfaction, enjoys shooting pool, finds it pleasant to read about the war, and likes to watch the pretty girls. But he does not want to become involved with them or with his family. He simply wants to keep his life uncomplicated, to remain a spectator. He is, in brief, attempting to defend himself against his depressed insecurity by erecting an intellectual barrier of serene detachment. The story is superior to “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” largely because the author vividly dramatizes the genesis of Krebbs's neurotic detachment. It is not the war experience but the hostile overprotectiveness of his mother and the hostile rejection of his father which have driven him into his shell of apathy. This is the one story in which Hemingway most clearly and accurately estimates the meaning of frustration, anxiety, and defense, but even here one has the uncomfortable intimation that the author is placing too much weight on the rationality and reality of Krebbs's defense rather than on his anxious and unrealistic motivations.

The conviction of nada suffered by the protagonists of these three stories is what the psychiatrist, I suspect, would define as depression anxiety. Such anxiety is at bottom a suspicion of one's own inadequacy, failure, worthlessness. It is an irrational, self-destructive feeling which has as its foundation the childhood fear that one is unwanted and unloved, a recognition that one's parents really consider one a little nuisance. It is a feeling that may lead to a yearning for escape from ordinary worldly concerns, to a seeking of an isolation such as Nick, Krebbs, and the two old men attempt to build for themselves: a camouflaged desire to escape guilt feelings about one's parents. It may lead one in a long search for soothing rituals and the peace and serenity of clean, well-lighted places: a disguised need for respectable, loving parents, and a respectable and loving conscience.

Sanitation and ritual as hostile defenses against the anxious conviction of nada are evident in most of Hemingway's protagonists and in all his heroes. But before outlining in more detail this evidence, I should like to note certain other emotional defenses which the Hemingway hero reveals, frequently to his dismay and chagrin.

Stoical integrity and courage verge on arrogant pride for Robert Wilson of “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and Colonel Cantwell of Across the River. Both men are resplendent in their array of code virtues: efficient, quick-witted, well-mannered, compassionate, brave, they are a bit boastful of their virtue. Both are proud of their self-reliant professionalism; one is a big game hunter and the other a military man. Both are loyal to their hard-won standards and are contemptuously willing to break society's rules to preserve their own code. They are both willing to preach with an edgy abruptness their airtight philosophy, to condescendingly gather disciples—and to show signs of intolerant impatience and sarcastic “roughness” toward those who are incapable or undesirous of becoming converts. This tendency toward arrogance is not altogether lacking in a good many other heroes in Hemingway's stories and novels. Arrogance is one form of hostile insecurity.

Stoical integrity and courage collapse into brutality for the two Harrys of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and To Have and Have Not. In his effort to save his soul, the dying author in “The Snows” engages in a masochistic tongue-lashing of himself and a sadistic attack on his loving but unloved wife. A recognition and acceptance of frailties does not demand brutality. In the novel, Harry Morgan's cold-blooded murders are inexcusable, code or no code. Both men might have been made endurable if they had been satirically interpreted as hostile.

Stoical integrity and courage threaten to break under the strain of emotional rebellion for heroes Jake Barnes of The Sun Also Rises and Frederic Henry of A Farewell to Arms. Emotional rebellion against one's biological fate and against society is a symptom of anxious immaturity. Like arrogance or sadism, rebellion against the world of nature and society is at bottom primarily an expression of ambivalent love and hatred for one's parents: an attempt to capture their attention and love and a need to offend and reject them. Society—the military, the nation, the “they”—“threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you,” complains Frederic Henry in the last chapter of A Farewell to Arms. “Or they killed you gratuitously like Aymo. Or gave you the syphilis like Rinaldo. But they kill you in the end. You could count on that.” This rhetorical “they” kills Catherine Barkley in childbirth, a “dirty trick,” as Catherine says and Frederic agrees. Jake Barnes also shows a degree of unrealistic sentimentalism about his emasculation; Nick Adams of In Our Time has a wretched time accepting the world's inevitabilities; even Robert Jordan has not yet fully learned acceptance of man's fate. The reader—this reader, at least—does not relish such self-pity in the heroes.

Although Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley speak well of marriage, they are not handicapped without it—and without parents, church, and state. Everywhere they are suspicious of society's authority. “If they shot floorwalkers after a fire in the department store because they spoke with an accent they had always had, then certainly the floor-walkers would not be expected to return when the store opened again for business.” This metaphor pretty accurately sums up Frederic Henry's reservations not only about the Italian army but about all organized society. And so the heroes concoct their own standards.

But rituals and sanitation are the primary defenses against anxiety.

Rituals are potent weapons against a hostile world; and they give physical delight. Ritualized eating and drinking and love-making are as effective and pleasurable as Nick's trout fishing. As Frederic Henry passionately avows: “I was not made to think. I was made to eat. My God, yes. Eat and drink and sleep with Catherine.” Henry might also have added a list of sporting rituals: fishing, hunting, skiing, swimming, and the great art and death pageants of bullfighting and military campaigning. These are the physical rituals of the code, the outward show. They are often, too, the emblem of the inward struggle against nada.

But the pleasurable ritual act, and the consequent spiritual pleasure, are defenses not only against nada but also against the socially unacceptable defenses of arrogance, brutality, and rebellion which sometimes victimize the heroes. The rituals have helped subdue these uglier defenses, and finally come near to dominating them. Obviously the struggle to build the code, to make it appear impregnable, has meant hard and often bitter toil.

An obsessive urge toward cleanness, order, and light is common to most of the protagonists of Hemingway's short stories and to the admirable characters of all his longer works, fiction and nonfiction. Consider for a moment the places in which the heroes dwell.

The bright, clear Gulf Stream is the home of Harry Morgan of To Have and Have Not and of Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea. Sunny days, piney woods, and long vistas of uncontaminated landscape are the setting of The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The spaces in A Farewell to Arms and Across the River are not so wide and sparsely inhabited, but Milan, a center of action in the earlier novel, is an open friendly place; and Venice is the most beautiful city in the world. Both have their neat and cheerful eating, drinking, and love-making nooks. Both have their spacious, well-scrubbed plazas, tidily designed for fresh air strolls.

It is interesting, too, that all these works bubble with cleansing water imagery. Water is usually exhilarating, though the rains of A Farewell to Arms and the snows of For Whom the Bell Tolls are depressing and bad. There are a variety of sparkling streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans (not to mention purifying sweats and tasty drinks). Jake Barnes finds refreshment in the Spanish trout streams, on the motherly heave and fall of the Atlantic breast. Frederic Henry finds a river and a lake as allies in his fight against a hostile world. The Gulf Stream is almost a mother (and garbage disposal) for both Harry Morgan and Santiago. And there is certainly well-arranged good cheer around the rivers and lakes of Colonel Cantwell's Venice and Pop's green hills of Africa. The mountain streams relieve Robert Jordan's arduous pilgrimage.

In brief the locales of Hemingway's works are quite tidy and clean. These locales which the protagonists and heroes either find or make become a clear symbol. They become the primary indicators of the defensive insecurity which is the bottom nature of all the Hemingway protagonists and heroes. They also become the primary emblems of the hero's obsessively motivated sanitary code.

The most recent statement of the finicky code is in The Old Man and the Sea.

The novella's tragic hero, Santiago, has been out of luck for eighty-four days, has not caught a fish, and so decides to probe the deep waters farther out than fishermen should venture. On the eighty-fifth day, with the aid of his young apprentice, Manolin, Santiago puts to sea in his rowing and sailing skiff. By daylight he is far from Havana, trolling steadily and with skillful calculation in the current of the Gulf Stream. He hooks a great marlin that is designed if ever fish was to test the limits of man's endurance and courage. Implacably and without panic fish and man engage each other for all of two nights and the better part of two days. Santiago finally circles his mighty antagonist in for the kill. Having efficiently lashed the marlin to the side of his boat, he hoists sail before a fine breeze and points for home. But long before he arrives his prize is attacked and largely destroyed by sharks. In the realm of tangible gain he is still in bad luck; but in the universe of spiritual values he has proved once again, despite his sin of pride in venturing too far out, that he is worthy of Manolin's respect and love, and of his own.

The plot stated so barrenly reads like a detective story. There are the excitement of the chase, and the wily and experienced protagonist and antagonist, both of whom act rather nobly within the limits of their self-defined codes. But again the conflict is only superficially with the exterior enemy, with the fish and with the boy's parents; the real enemy is one's potential frailty. Santiago is declining physically, and there is his fear that he will fail spiritually: and so he must constantly test himself against his icy code. He must not only endure his poverty, ill luck, and pain, but triumph over them. The moment of climax, when Santiago shows that he will not collapse in his struggle to bring the fish within harpooning distance, is approached superbly as tension and as demonstration of the old man's muscular and moral strength. He proves to be full of self-reliance, alertness, efficiency, and courage, full of all the usual code virtues. In addition he shows a deeper understanding of humility and compassion, of acceptance and of love, than any of the previous heroes.

If Santiago is the rigid code hero in his most highly developed and admirable state, he is not a complex or variously motivated character. He is a didactic type, a memorable idea—as well-lighted and as pure as the ocean on which he dwells.

Santiago's code has considerable moral dignity. But he is emotionally a trifle too spotless, too humorless, too didactic; perhaps also too aggressively loving and humble and compassionate. One is a bit disturbed by the strenuous, self-righteous quality of his code, which often seems no more than a façade for an obsessive and irrational need.

Santiago's code is the statement toward which the Hemingway heroes (and romantic heroines) have been aspiring for a quarter of a century. The struggle can be traced through the even more complex and camouflaged defenses of Nick Adams, Jake Barnes, Frederic Henry, and Robert Jordan. All along they have been haltingly approaching Santiago's idealized virtue.

Hemingway's code hero has accomplished a difficult and astonishing feat—he has reared a monolithic defense which is not easily attacked. Yet psychological defense is always vulnerable under pressure, is likely to crumble periodically, like the defenses of the two Harrys and Colonel Cantwell. One can only wish the heroes luck with their further visions of clean, well-lighted life.

Introduction

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"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" Ernest Hemingway

American short story writer, novelist, essayist, nonfiction writer, memoirist, journalist, poet, and dramatist. See also, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" Criticism, The Old Man and the Sea Criticism and Ernest Hemingway Criticism.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is considered a prime example of Hemingway's craftsmanship and insight into the human condition. In this brief story, which was initially published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933, he evokes an atmosphere of despair and loneliness almost entirely with dialogue and interior monologue. Through these stylistic techniques Hemingway renders a complex series of interactions between an old waiter and his young colleague as the two men reflect on the ephemeral nature of happiness and the inevitability of death. Much of the critical commentary on the short story focuses on a series of unattributed lines of dialogue. For decades, commentators have speculated on Hemingway's stylistic technique in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” turning to the author's original manuscript and correspondence to determine the proper configuration and attribution of the dialogue of the story.

Plot and Major Characters

Rendered almost completely in dialogue, the main action of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is set in a small café in Spain, as two waiters prepare to close the establishment for the night. The place is empty except for a regular customer, a deaf old man drinking alone at one of the tables. Realizing that the old man is drunk, one of the waiters informs the other that the customer attempted suicide the week before. After the waiters watch a young man and woman pass on the street, the young waiter serves the old customer another brandy and voices his impatience to the old waiter, complaining that the old man is keeping him from his warm bed and the comfort of his wife. They discuss the old man's suicide attempt and his possible reasons for such a desperate act. When the old man gestures for another brandy, the young waiter tells him that it is closing time. After the old man pays his bill and leaves, the old waiter chides the young waiter for his lack of patience and empathy for the old man. He compares himself to the man, saying he understands the need for a clean, well-lighted place to be at night. After the café closes, the old waiter stops at a bar for a drink before he goes home, dreading his return to an empty room.

Major Themes

In his short fiction Hemingway depicted a disillusioning environment in which his protagonists address the precariousness of existence, the evanescence of happiness, and the universality of suffering. This is certainly true in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” as the old waiter shows a sensitivity to and understanding of both the young waiter's impatience to get home and the old man's utter hopelessness. Critics have noted a series of contrasts in the story: light and dark, clean and dirty, noisy and quiet, youth and age, and nihilism and religious idealism. In fact, many believe that the major thematic concern of the story is the conflict between generations. This is illustrated by the contrast between the two major characters: for many critics, the young waiter represents materialism and the callousness of youth and the old waiter symbolizes the perspective and wisdom of age, which is illustrated by his empathy for the old man's profound despair and alleged suicide attempt. Some critics have suggested that the old waiter's repetitive use of the term “nada” (translated as “nothing” or “nothingness”) suggests his nihilistic tendencies because he faces loneliness and advancing death like the old man. A few commentators have viewed the three main characters in the story as an implied progression from youth through middle age to old age.

Critical Reception

In 1959 controversy about the dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” began when two critics noted a few confusing and illogical passages of conversation between the two waiters. Hemingway rarely identified the speaker of each line of dialogue, and confusion ensued about which character was speaking each line. In fact, some of the dialogue seemed to be uttered by the wrong character. At first, commentators speculated that there was a mistake in the text: Hemingway or his publisher, Scribner's, had forgotten or omitted a line of dialogue, throwing off the entire exchange between the two characters. In 1959, Otto Reinert challenged the prevailing theory that Hemingway employed metronomic dialogue and that each indented line implied a new speaker. Instead, he theorized that Hemingway utilized anti-metronomic dialogue—allowing a character to speak consecutive lines of dialogue in a few places. This could explain the discrepancy and allow the dialogue to be logical and idiosyncratic.

A few years later, commentators began to challenge Reinert's theory. Joseph Gabriel contended that the dialogue was metronomic and that the resulting confusion was viewed as an integral aspect of the story. John Hagopian rejected these theories, maintaining that the confusion stemmed from a typographical error and urged a revision of the story. In 1965 the story was amended as recommended and reprinted in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. This revised version of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” unleashed a torrent of protest from critics who repudiated Hagopian's view and agreed with Reinert's theory of Hemingway's use of anti-metronomic dialogue. Many scholars furnished additional examples of anti-metronomic dialogue in Hemingway's short fiction and novels, discovering further evidence for Reinert's theory in the author's correspondence with friends and publishers, as well as the original manuscript of the story. In recent times, Reinert's view has become the prevailing theory, as many scholars have urged a republication of Hemingway's original version of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

William B. Bache (essay date 1956)

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SOURCE: “Craftsmanship in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Personalist, Vol. XXXVII, No. 1, January, 1956, pp. 60-4.

[In the following essay, Bache contends that “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is “valuable both as a comment on and as a representation of Hemingway's craftsmanship and insight.”]

At first glance the short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”1 by Ernest Hemingway may seem slight; yet if it is slight, it is so only in length and not by any other standard. The intrinsic value of the story has been well recognized by Mark Schorer, who has said of it: “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ is not only a short story, it is a model of the short story, with all the virtues that attend it as a genre singularly lighted.”2 The importance of the story, moreover, not so much for itself as for its place within the corpus of Hemingway's fiction, has been noted by Robert Penn Warren. He has said that “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is the best description of the world that underlies Hemingway's world of violent action.3 The pertinent and obvious implications of this last statement are that Hemingway's subject matter is limited in scope and that his fictional world is essentially violent in nature. The purpose of this discussion is not only to substantiate what the above critics have said but also to suggest that “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is valuable both as a comment on and as a representation of Hemingway's craftsmanship and insight. A study of this short story therefore should enable us to understand more fully Hemingway as a creative artist.

The main action of the story takes place in Spain in a café, clean and well lighted. The important characters are three: an old man who has tried to kill himself and who is now drinking alone at one of the tables in the café, a young waiter, and an older waiter who are waiting for their customer to finish drinking and to leave. Until the time that the café is closed, the bulk of the story is a dialogue between the two waiters, first about the old man and later about each other. There are two muted conflicts in the story: one between the young waiter and the old man; the other between the young waiter and the older waiter. The old man's presence in the café is the immediate cause of both conflicts: the young waiter feels antagonism for the old man, whereas the older waiter feels sympathy for him.

Hemingway's fiction being what it is, one would expect to find points of similarity between “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” published in 1933, and Death in the Afternoon, published the preceding year, and it is not even surprising to find in the book a passage that, if not an expositive germ for the short story, at least tells us how Hemingway feels toward the old man of the story, a man who has outlived his wife and who has tried to commit suicide:

There is no lonelier man in death except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.4

It might be maintained that this passage does more than give us Hemingway's feelings, that it helps to interpret and to explain the old man's actions. Thus we should be led to ask ourselves if it is only by chance that the older waiter does not have a wife and that the young waiter does. We should notice, too, Robert Heilman's suggestion that the old man and the older waiter are in reality the same character, since they both feel the need of going to a clean, well-lighted place and since they both cannot sleep.5

In Hemingway's fiction “the interest in conduct and the attitude toward conduct is central.”6 To express this focus on conduct in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” Hemingway seems to have represented—his fiction, rather than being a report, is always a suggestive, dramatic representation—two ways of life: the young waiter standing for a materialistic way of life; the older waiter and the old man standing for a nihilistic (notice the parody of the Lord's Prayer) way of life. These two ways of life, since both are devoid of spiritual values, lead us to an awareness of the theme of the story: the dilemma of contemporary man living in a world of spiritual emptiness. The clean, well-lighted place is a symbolic substitute for the spiritual life. It is clean and orderly and well lighted, but it is only a substitute, and as such it is sterile. It signifies a nothingness, but a known and tangible and dignified nothingness; it is opposed to the intangible blackness and the unknown.7 The clean, well-lighted place is, like materialism, an opiate of the spirit.

Since the older waiter and the old man have much in common, it can be said that there is really only one conflict in the story: the conflict between the young man and the two older men. In a sense, then, this is the conflict of youth with age. The young waiter represents materialism because youth is not rarely materialistic, though with the passage of time materialism often loses its meaning. But reading the story with care, one discovers that the young waiter is even now clutching at the straws of materialism. There are numerous suggestions that the young waiter is aware, perhaps not intellectually but certainly emotionally, of the pitfalls and insecurities of a life based solely on materialism: the young waiter admits that there is a difference between drinking at home and drinking at the café; the young waiter takes offense at his fellow waiter's mild joke about his wife, although a few lines later he is to assert that he is all confidence; in brief, throughout the story the young waiter seems to be protesting too much. From all this we can assume that the two waiters are not of two different kinds as the older waiter says; rather, the young waiter's attitude toward life is more akin to the older waiter's than he would care to admit.

John Peale Bishop has said of the many Spaniards found in Hemingway's fiction:

Plenty of things can happen to his drunken expatriates, but nothing they do, nothing that is done to them, can have any significance. For they are all of them, amusing as they are, aimless and will-less; they are so completely devoid of spiritual life that neither stupefying drink nor the aware intelligence can save them.8

That this is a true description of many of Hemingway's characters and that these characters are true pictures of many Spaniards cannot be disputed, but this is not to say that only the Spanish people have this malaise of the spirit. The spiritual deficiency as Hemingway sees it is more inclusive than that; Hemingway simply knows the Spanish people well, and he has known them under conditions that have particularly adapted them to serve as a vehicle for his expression of the lack of spiritual values in contemporary life. If this is not so, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is not so great as critics have maintained.

If the assumption is granted that the true purpose of this short story is the expression of the dilemma and insecurity of contemporary life, the three main characters are more than they seem: they are symbols of modern man. And as symbols of modern man they tend to function as parts of a more pervasive symbol of man: the young waiter is youth; the older waiter, middle age; the old man, old age. The contention that this was Hemingway's purpose is supported by the manner in which he designates the important characters. No name as such is used: rather, it is largely the force of the adjective—“young,” “older,” “old”—applied to each character that differentiates one from the other. These adjectives—and perhaps the same thing can be said of the word “waiter”—perform a function similar to that performed by the names in the morality plays. The absence of names, too, implied that these characters should be regarded not so much as identifiable persons but as symbols.

The two older men are now, as Heilman suggests, the same character. The older waiter is different from the old man in that he has a job and in that he has not tried to kill himself. From the older waiter to the old man lies a progression in despair, for the three characters are actually parts of an implied progression from youth through middle age to old age. The focus of character is on the older waiter because he is in the process of going from youth to old age and because he can best appreciate the positions of youth and old age. The older waiter is the truest symbol of modern man. The young waiter and the old man, while they are parts of the pervasive symbol, are, in effect, poles to the older waiter; they help to explain the dilemma of modern man, who is living in a world that has lost its spiritual values and who is caught on the horns of the selfish and cruel materialism of youth and the insomnious nihilism of old age.

Notes

  1. Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Scribner's Magazine, XCII (March, 1933), 149-150.

  2. Mark Schorer, The Story: a Critical Anthology (New York, 1950), p. 425.

  3. Robert Penn Warren, introduction to A Farewell to Arms (New York, 1949), p. xv.

  4. Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (New York, 1932), p. 122.

  5. Robert B. Heilman, Modern Short Stories: a Critical Anthology (New York, 1950), p. 391.

  6. Delmore Schwartz, “Ernest Hemingway's Literary Situation,” Ernest Hemingway: the Man and His Work, ed. John K. M. McCaffery (Cleveland, 1950), p. 116.

  7. At the end of the story we are told: “The older waiter would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally with daylight, he would go to sleep.” (Italics added.)

  8. John Peale Bishop, “The Missing All,” Ernest Hemingway: The Man and His Work, p. 303.

Principal Works

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Three Stories and Ten Poems 1923

In Our Time 1924

Men without Women 1927

Winner Take Nothing 1933

The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories 1938

The Portable Hemingway 1944

The Old Man and the Sea 1952

The Hemingway Reader 1953

The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War 1969

The Nick Adams Stories 1972

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway 1987

The Sun Also Rises [Fiesta] (novel) 1926

The Torrents of Spring: A Romantic Novel in Honor of the Passing of a Great Race (novel) 1926

A Farewell to Arms (novel) 1929

Death in the Afternoon (nonfiction) 1932

Green Hills of Africa (nonfiction) 1935

To Have and Have Not (novel) 1937

For Whom the Bell Tolls (novel) 1940

Across the River and into the Trees (novel) 1950

A Moveable Feast (autobiography) 1964

Islands in the Stream (novel) 1970

The Garden of Eden (novel) 1986

Frederick P. Kroeger (essay date 1959)

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SOURCE: “The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in College English, Vol. 20, No. 5, February, 1959, pp. 240-41.

[In the following essay, Kroeger considers the confusing dialogue in Hemingway's story.]

Ever since the first printing of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” in Scribner's Magazine (March, 1933), there has been what appears to be an insoluble problem in the dialogue. Hemingway, or someone, has been careless enough about this story so that at one time one main speaker seems to have information about the old man's suicide attempt which the other one does not have, and at another time the situation is reversed. If the young waiter has the information about the suicide attempt, all the lines which describe details of the attempt should be ascribed to him. Unfortunately, this cannot be done in the second dialogue between the two waiters, which begins right after the young waiter has served the old man and has said, “You should have killed yourself last week.” Assuming that the “He” carries through as the young waiter we have:

… The [young] waiter took the bottle back inside the café. He [young waiter] sat down at the table with his colleague again.


“He's drunk now,” he [young waiter] said.


“He's drunk every night.”

Old waiter or young waiter? If this is the young waiter it should not be indented, so it must be the old waiter. The next line is the young waiter's: “What did he want to kill himself for?” The old waiter says he doesn't know, and the young waiter says, “How did he do it?” The rest of the dialogue seems to indicate that the young waiter doesn't know anything about the suicide attempt. The old waiter knows that the old man tried to hang himself with a rope and that his niece cut him down for the “good of his soul.” Unfortunately for our line identification, right after the old waiter has told the young waiter all about the suicide we find the young waiter saying, “He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.” Continuing in alternate lines we find the young waiter saying that the old man couldn't use a wife because he is too old, and besides his niece looks after him. Then the old waiter says, “I know. You said she cut him down” (italics mine). This certainly indicates that it is the young waiter who knows about the details of the suicide, and not the old waiter as the earlier dialogue indicates. (There is other evidence of carelessness: the old waiter says his niece cut him down, and the young waiter asks why they did it.) Well, which one knows all about the suicide attempt? Hemingway's intent was certainly not to have them both know about it or he would have added, “I know.” to the “Why?” of the second line of the beginning dialogue.

The first ten lines of dialogue in the story are different enough once one knows the character of the two waiters. If the first line of the beginning dialogue is given to the old waiter, then he is the one who knows about the suicide. Since the second long dialogue begins with a line that must be given to the young waiter or there would seem to be an error in pronoun reference, it can be seen that the old waiter is still the man with the information. Since the story is about the word nada, chaos, it does not seem reasonable that in the first dialogue the young waiter would say that the old man tried to commit suicide because he was in despair. The old waiter would naturally say that he tried to commit suicide about nothing because the old waiter understands that even with money, the old man can be in despair with his knowledge that all is nada, even the blessed Mary who intercedes for our souls. The kindred feeling that these two men have with each other is thus established, as it should be, at the beginning of the story. Later on the old waiter says that the niece cut the old man down out of “fear for his soul.” Since the old waiter by reciting his Hail Mary with the word nada in it shows his fear that there is no organization that will save his soul, this line should be assigned to him. The young waiter would naturally be concerned with money, so the line “How much money has he got?” is his. These two lines can be assigned to speakers without the benefit of counting, but the line count also shows that they have been assigned to the proper characters.

Otto Reinert (essay date 1959)

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SOURCE: “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” in College English, Vol. 20, No. 8, May, 1959, pp. 417-18.

[In the following essay, Reinert perceives the inconsistent and confusing dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” as a result of Hemingway's utilization of anti-metronomic dialogue.]

In the February College English Mr. Kroeger and Professor Colburn find “confusion” and “inconsistency” in the distribution of speeches between the old and the young waiter in Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” I don't presume to know what “this generation of close readers has been doing” about the problem “all this time,” but I suspect they have been assuming, as I have, that the difficulty arises from Hemingway's violation of one of the unwritten rules of the art of presenting dialogue visually. The rule is that a new, indented line implies a new speaker. It is a useful rule, but it is not sacrosanct. I believe Hemingway has broken it here, possibly from carelessness, possibly deliberately. It seems to me preferable to preserve the unity and plausibility of the two waiters' characters and the consistency of their function in the moral drama, than to find “an insoluble problem in the dialogue” (Kroeger) or an irreconcilable conflict between artistic intent and execution (Colburn). We can do so if we assume that Hemingway did not observe the typographical convention.

My premise (and, according to Professor Colburn, Warren's, Schorer's, Heilman's, and Oldsey's premise also) is that the speech “He has plenty of money” in the first dialogue is the young waiter's, and that this speech first establishes him in our mind as a callous materialist. To him, suicide when one has money would be suicide about “nothing”—an ironic anticipation of the nada motif later in the story. If we assume, as surely we must, that in a question and answer sequence the speaker does change with each new line, the young waiter is the one who knows all about the suicide and the old waiter the one who asks questions about it. This means that the questions in the second dialogue (“What did he want to kill himself for?” “How did he do it?” “Who cut him down?” “Why did they do it?” and “How much money has he got?”) are the old waiter's. But if we assume that the speaker always changes when the line changes and take “He's drunk now” to be the old waiter's also (since only one line intervenes between it and “What did he want to kill himself for?”), then we run into difficulty with the pronoun reference, for the second “he” in “‘He's drunk now,’ he said” ought to refer to the young waiter and, I think, does. On this last point Mr. Kroeger, Professor Colburn and I are in agreement.

The inflexible use of the alternating line count fails again later in the second dialogue. “He's got plenty” is spoken by the young waiter. Its identity in content and attitude and near identity in wording with “He has plenty of money” in the first dialogue leaves the identification beyond any doubt, even without the assumption that it is the old waiter who asks the question the speech answers. And “I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o'clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?” is certainly the young waiter's also. That leaves two speeches in between: “He must be eighty years old” and “Anyway I should say he was eighty.” Whose are they?

I submit that it is the young waiter who speaks both “He's drunk now” (because the pronoun reference demands it) and the next speech, “He's drunk every night.” And that it is the old waiter who speaks both “He must be eighty years old” and “Anyway I should say he was eighty.” Except in question and answer sequences, there is no need to assume regular alternation of speakers with each new, indented line—if, as here, such assumption presents difficulties.

It is possible that Hemingway, “or some one,” as Mr. Kroeger prudently adds, was careless in distributing speeches between the two waiters. But the difficulty need not be so explained. Hemingway may have violated the convention in order to suggest a reflective pause between two sentences in a single speaker's uninterrupted utterance. “He's drunk every night” may be the old waiter's speech, but it seems to me to have more meaning as the young waiter's afterthought to his “He's drunk now.” Similarly, either “He must be eighty years old” or “Anyway I should say he was eighty” may be the young waiter's, but I much prefer to assign both to the old waiter. The second sentence strikes me as a difficult disclaimer, an admission of subjectivity, that qualifies, after a pause, the objective certainty of “He must be eighty years old.” Such qualification is in character, I think, only if it is the old waiter's.

The above, obviously, does not amount to proof. But it is common sense, and it has the added advantage of assuming Hemingway's ability to develop a major theme in his story by means or consistent characterization and without slipshod craftsmanship. It does not bother me at all that Hemingway may have violated the convention that new line means new speaker, but it would bother me to to think that he was confused as to the thematic function of his two waiters.

Further Reading

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CRITICISM

Campbell, Harry M. “Comments on Mr. Stock's Nada in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Midcontinent American Studies III, No. 1 (Spring 1962): 57-9.

Finds fault with Ely Stock's translation of the term “nada” in Hemingway's story.

Kerner, David. “Counterfeit Hemingway: A Small Scandal in Quotation Marks.” JML XII, No. 1 (March 1985): 91-108.

Deems the amended version of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” counterfeit.

Monteiro, George. “The Education of Ernest Hemingway.” Journal of American Studies VIII, No. 1 (April 1974): 91-9.

Determines the influence of Henry Adams's The Education of Henry Adams on Hemingway's short fiction, especially “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

———. “Ernest Hemingway: Psalmist.” JML XIV, No. 1 (Summer 1987): 83-95.

Explores the role of Psalm 23 in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

Stone, Edward. “Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More.” American Speech XXXVII, No. 3 (October 1962): 239-40.

Asserts that there is “evidence in the story that Hemingway was trying to reproduce not only the conversation of the two waiters but the flavor of their speech.”

Additional coverage of Hemingway's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 19; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 77-80; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 34; Concise Dictionary of Literary Biography, 1917-1929; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, 19, 30, 34, 39, 41, 44, 50, 61, 80; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 4, 9, 102, 210; Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Series, Vols. 1, 15, 16; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, Vols. 81, 87, 96, 98; Major 20th-Century Writers, Vols. 1, 2; and World Literature Criticism.

Joseph F. Gabriel (essay date 1961)

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SOURCE: “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in College English, Vol. 22, No. 8, May, 1961, pp. 539-46.

[In the following essay, Gabriel revisits the confusion regarding the dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and contends that “there is no error made in the dialogue … in short, the inconsistency in the dialogue is deliberate, an integral part of the pattern of meaning actualized in the story.”]

Recent criticism of Hemingway's much admired and frequently anthologized “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has attempted to demonstrate that this story contains a damaging flaw. Indeed, two critics, F. P. Kroeger (“The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, Feb. 1959) and William E. Colburn (“Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, Feb. 1959), working independently of each other, appear to have arrived simultaneously at the same conclusion—that, to quote Professor Colburn, “The dialogue does not fit a logical pattern.” Inasmuch as the story consists almost entirely of dialogue (principally a brief conversation between an older waiter and a younger waiter about an old man who recently attempted suicide and who is on this occasion the only customer in their care) this charge is a serious one—serious enough to warrant careful examination.

The difficulty presented by the story derives from the fact that in only a few instances does Hemingway identify the speaker. Throughout most of the dialogue the reader is faced with the task of inferring the speaker from the context. This initial difficulty is compounded, however,—turns into what Mr. Kroeger calls “an insoluble problem”—when the reader, proceeding on the natural assumption that he can assign each alternate line to one of the two waiters, attempts to trace out a consistent pattern in the dialogue. For when he works back and forth from lines which can be assigned with certainty, he finds himself involved in an apparently hopeless contradiction. The procedure and the contradiction which it makes manifest are succinctly outlined by Professor Colburn:

One line … we can assign to the younger waiter, because of information which is brought out later. “‘He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.’” Using this line as a reference point, we can trace backwards in the story the alternate lines and discover that it is the younger waiter who is asking about the old man's attempt at suicide and it is the older waiter who knows the details as to method and who prevented him. Counting forward in the story from our reference line, however, we find the older waiter saying, “‘I know. You said she cut him down.’” Obviously there is an inconsistency here.

In short, as Mr. Kroeger asserts, it would appear that “Hemingway, or someone, has been careless enough about the story so that at one time one main speaker seems to have information about the old man's suicide attempt which the other does not have, and at another time the situation is reversed.”

This inconsistency would of itself be only a minor flaw were it not for the fact that it throws some doubt upon the first exchange, a part of the dialogue which has been seen by all previous commentators as an important key to the story because it helps establish the characterological and philosophic differences between the two waiters:

“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.


“Why?”


“He was in despair.”


“What about?”


“Nothing.”


“How do you know it was nothing?”


“He has plenty of money.”

Though, as Professor Colburn observes, Robert Penn Warren (“Introduction,” A Farewell to Arms, Scribner's, 1949, p. xv), Mark Schorer (The Story, p. 427), Robert Heilman (Modern Short Stories, p. 391), and Bernard Oldsey (“Hemingway's Old Men,” Modern Fiction Studies, Aug., 1955, p. 32) all carefully avoid explicitly assigning the lines in this initial passage, their comments make inescapable the inference that it is the younger waiter who, because he is a materialist, because he does not understand what Mr. Warren so aptly calls “the despair beyond plenty of money,” must be given the word “‘Nothing’” here and that, therefore, it is he to whom one must attribute the knowledge of the old man and his suicide attempt. Inasmuch as Carlos Baker (Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, p. 124) and Otto Reinert (“Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” College English, May, 1959), the two Hemingway critics who are specific in assigning the lines in the above passage, arrive at a similar reading, it is clear that these conclusions represent the prevailing interpretation of the initial dialogue.

It so happens that Professor Colburn is inclined to agree with the prevailing interpretation, Professor Kroeger is not. But the point upon which they concur—the burden of the argument presented in their papers—is that whatever the inclination of one's literary instincts in this matter, whatever the weight of critical opinion, the text does not literally support any consistent interpretation. Indeed, it is Professor Colburn's contention that this logical inconsistency in the dialogue calls into question the thematic unity of the story. For if, as part of the contradictory evidence would suggest, it is the older waiter who knows about the old man and his suicide attempt, then he would be the one to utter the word “‘Nothing’” in the first exchange, and thus he too would presumably believe that there is no reason for despair except the lack of money. But if this is the case, then both waiters are materialistic, the story no longer presents two clearly differentiated and contrasting characters, and we are faced, not only with an inconsistency in the dialogue, but an inconsistency in the whole fabric of meaning.

The case for confusion in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” appears to be a solid one, and I cannot agree with Professor Reinert, who attempts to refute the charge by arguing that Hemingway simply ignored the convention whereby each new indented line implies a new speaker. Nevertheless, my purpose in this paper is to take issue with the thesis elaborated by Messrs. Kroeger and Colburn. Not that I deny the logical inconsistency of the dialogue. I am quite willing to accept this as fact. I dissent, however, from the use to which Professors Kroeger and Colburn appear to put their discovery. Thus, my intention is to redeem the story; that is, to establish, through an alternative reading, the validity of the dialogue just as we have it. What specifically I contend is that there was no error made in the dialogue, either by Scribner's or Hemingway himself; that we have here one of the most artfully contrived pieces in the Hemingway canon; and that, in short, the inconsistency in the dialogue is deliberate, an integral part of the pattern of meaning actualized in the story.

Despite the uncertainties and inconsistencies of the dialogue, the critic is not totally adrift. We have reasonably good grounds for assuming that the younger waiter and the older waiter are substantially different types: “‘We are of two different kinds,’ the older waiter said”; and indeed, if one ignores temporarily those parts of the dialogue which are in dispute, he does find sufficient evidence among those lines which can be assigned with certainty to arrive at a clear differentiation of the two waiters. But wherein do these differences lie? Since the story is about the word nada (a point on which all the critics agree), the reasonable inference is that the two waiters differ most importantly with respect to this word; that is, that all concomitant characterological and philosophic differences are reflected in their divergent interpretations of this word and its English equivalent, nothing.

It is apparent, as Carlos Baker has indicated (Hemingway, p. 124), that the older waiter uses the word nada in a special sense. For him the term represents, not a mere negativity, the absence of something, but a real constituent of the universe—the essence of life and of each life: “It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too.” The most dramatic representation of this nihilism is to be found in the older waiter's ironic parody of the Lord's Prayer: “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name.” He prays; but though, on one level, his prayer is a nostalgic glance at a pattern of belief, obviously Catholicism, which once gave meaning to the whole of life, on another level, it is a denial that any system is capable of conferring order upon the chaos. And in the place of the absent God and the missing Mary, he enthrones the Nothingness which he sees all around him: “Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

Yet it is evident that despite the older waiter's perception of chaos, of the impossibility of adhering any longer to a value system which made belief possible, he continues to betray a religious consciousness. The prayer which he utters, though involving an inversion of religious values, is nevertheless a prayer. We recognize it as a spiritual act. And though, paradoxically, what he apotheosizes is nothingness, it is obvious that his philosophy continues thereby to include the idea of God. Indeed, though the older waiter is acutely conscious of the impossibility of belief, he cannot free himself from the tendency to think religiously. Thus, his dilemma is the most acute. A religious man who finds no system acceptable, he must bear at the same time his intense spiritual hunger and the realization of the impossibility of its fulfillment. For no reconciliation is possible. The crack in his universe is beyond repair; the gap between chaos and order, nothingness and meaning, is infinite. And it is this infinite distance which is the measure of his despair.

It is a tribute to the heroic quality of the older waiter's aspiration that he does not settle for the philosophy of nothingness to which he is driven. A religious man and therefore, by implication, one who seeks for patterns, he constructs out of the infinite nada something which is not nada. This accomplishment is symbolized in the dominant visual image in the story: the radical contrast between the minute spot of light represented by the café and the infinite surrounding darkness outside. The intensity of the older waiter's commitment to the café—“‘I am one of those who like to stay late at the café. … With all those who need a light for the night.’”—is to be traced to the fact that for him it is the single patch of meaning in the void of nada. Its qualities of cleanliness, order, and light stand in direct contrast to the attributes which so overwhelmingly prevail in the universe outside. But that the only order and meaning he can find is offered by a clean, well-lighted café is an indication of the extremity to which he is driven, as well as of the crisis of our age. Nor can we miss the irony and the pathos inherent in so extremely limited a faith. This is brought home to us the moment we compare it with the conventional religious belief in an omniscient and omnipotent God. To the question everywhere implied in the text: In what do you believe? the older waiter can reply only with the virtually absurd, “I believe in a clean, well-lighted place.”

The younger waiter has none of the heroic qualities of the older waiter and nothing of his spiritual aspiration. A thoroughgoing materialist, he offers us the image of man reduced, man stripped of every spiritual dimension. Only the physical satisfactions interest him. His vision extends only as far as his wife waiting at home in bed for him. And he knows nothing of that despair with which the older waiter is consumed. He is, as he admits, “‘all confidence,’” because he sees the universe, not as an objective lack, but as a plenitude. It is equal to his desire. Indeed, it is only money which is lacking, money with which to purchase those purely naturalistic satisfactions, which are all that he can conceive. Only money stands between him and complete fulfillment.

It will be seen that the value system embraced by the younger waiter entails an alternate concept of nada. To him nada can only signify a personal physical privation. Nothing refers simply to the absence of those objects capable of providing material satisfactions. And by extension he applies the term to all behavior which does not grant the sufficiency of things. Any behavior of this sort strikes him as motiveless, lacking in sufficient reason, and, therefore, grounded in nothing. But, thus, to him, the despair of a man who has plenty of money would appear absurd, and he would use the word “‘Nothing’” to signify that absurdity—that is, to mean “for no reason.” Hence the prevailing interpretation of the first exchange:

Y.W. “Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.


O.W. “Why?”


Y.W. “He was in despair.”


O.W. “What about?”


Y.W. “Nothing.” (For no reason)


O.W. “How do you know it was nothing?”


Y.W. “He has plenty of money.” (With plenty of money, there is no reason for despair.)

This is an eminently reasonable inference. Yet, if we are to understand the story, it is vital that we see that it is not only the only hypothesis which is consistent with the facts. There are, as our analysis has attempted to make clear, at least two concepts of nada in the story, the nada which each waiter sees. And the truth is that as soon as we are able to make a precise differentiation between the two, we realize that it is equally reasonable to assign the word in question to the older waiter, except that he would use the word “‘Nothing’” to refer, not, as the younger waiter does, to any senselessness or absurdity in the old man's behavior, but to that which is his own obsessional concern, the chaos, the lack of objective meaning in the universe. And thus we arrive at an alternate reading of the initial dialogue:

O.W. “Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.


Y.W. “Why?”


O.W. “He was in despair.”


Y.W. “What about?”


O.W. “Nothing.” (Chaos, meaninglessness)


Y.W. “How do you know it was nothing?” (Misunderstanding the older waiter's use of “‘Nothing.’”)


O.W. “He has plenty of money.” (Inasmuch as he has plenty of money, his despair does not derive from any merely material want.)

It might appear that the foregoing analysis only serves to substantiate the charge of confusion in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” On the contrary, however, as I shall try to demonstrate, it helps to establish the rationale of the story. The position taken here is that the several concepts of nothing inhere simultaneously in the word “nothing” as it is spoken in the first exchange and that therefore it is attributable to either waiter and to both waiters. Hence my operating assumption is not that this initial dialogue is in any way defective, but that it is part of an experiment in multiple meaning and that Hemingway, in making use of the range of semantic possibilities inherent in the words nada and nothing, has, in the manner of Henry James, constructed a perfect ambiguity. This is the reason I can agree neither with the proponents of the prevailing interpretation (Baker, Reinert, Colburn, etc.) nor with Professor Kroeger when he says:

Since the story is about the word nada, chaos, it does not seem reasonable that in the first dialogue the young waiter would say that the old man tried to commit suicide because he was in despair. The old waiter would naturally say that he tried to commit suicide about nothing because the old waiter understands that even with money, the old man can be in despair with his knowledge that all is nada.

For the point is that it is not a matter of either/or; the dialogue should be read on both levels. All merely one-valued interpretations of its meaning are simplistic and therefore inadequate.

These contentions are confirmed in the analysis of other elements in the story. It is generally assumed that, in the dialogue following the one just discussed, it is the older waiter who expresses fear that the soldier and the girl will be caught (“‘He had better get off the street. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.’”) and it is the younger waiter who says, “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after.’” Thus Professor Colburn says, “No doubt most readers will agree that the older waiter should be the one … to be concerned that the soldier with the streetwalker will get into trouble. And most readers probably will agree that the younger waiter should be the one with the completely materialistic attitude toward life.” Certainly this accords with what we already know about the two waiters. We have witnessed the importance which the younger waiter attaches to sex. Furthermore, knowing as we do the older waiter's solicitude for the old man, it seems likely that this sympathetic quality manifests itself here, too, in his concern for the welfare of the soldier.

But though this hypothesis is quite reasonable, it is equally logical to read the dialogue in the opposite fashion, attributing the “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after’” speech to the older waiter. The older waiter is the one who, conscious of the infinite gap between chaos and order, is in the grip of despair. And from the perspective of despair, what can it matter that the soldier might be picked up by the guard. In a virtually meaningless world, one takes one's desperate chances, because, in fact, all chances are desperate, and one makes one's little meaningful moments as one can. It is only from the perspective of the younger waiter that such prudent considerations as are expressed in the above quotation can have any weight. Indeed, it is the materialist who is always finally the practical man, the one who is constantly absorbed in the calculus of probability, balancing possible success against possible failure. Prudence, practicality, calculation: these are the pragmatic virtues, the virtues that bring material success; and these are precisely the qualities we attribute to the younger waiter. In short, again there are two equally good ways of reading the dialogue; again we have a dialogue constructed on the pattern of ambiguity.

At this point two observations are in order: that the story contains something less than fifteen hundred words and that, within this brief compass, it is possible to cite, in addition to the inconsistency of the third dialogue and the ambivalence of the first and second dialogues, still other instances of “confusion.” Thus, to produce one final example, when near the conclusion of the story the older waiter speculates upon the strange fear that has gripped him (“What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well”), the language is such that no simple logical reduction is possible. The passage is really a dialectic of contradictory implications: that what is feared is not feared; that what is not known, because known only negatively (in terms of what it is not), is known only too well; and that what is a nothing is a something, and a something of such importance that it consumes his every thought and gives decisive shape to his existence. The answer is plain enough. The actualization of multiple meaning is so pervasive an element here that obviously no attempt to explain it as the result of a single lapse in artistic control or of an error in the process of publication can possibly be successful. Clearly it can only be accounted for as part of a deliberate plan, a function of the author's mode of execution. And, indeed, careful attention to the structure of the story demonstrates the truth of a general observation about Hemingway's method made by Professor Carlos Baker—that below his purely naturalistic surfaces, Hemingway undertakes a conscious exploitation of the possibilities inherent in the symbolistic technique and makes major use of the specific devices of this style: ambiguity, irony, symbol, and paradox (Hemingway, pp. 289-292).

But it might be said that ambiguity is one thing, inconsistency quite another. Why should Hemingway deliberately create an inconsistency? We know that the story is an exploration of the word nada, that it develops by playing upon the several meanings inherent in this word and its English equivalent. But if the word “‘Nothing’” when spoken in the first exchange is to be a complex term, conveying the full range of meanings and especially those contradictory ones we have already discussed, then it becomes necessary that its speaker not be identified. But this in turn demands that the waiter who knows about the old man and his suicide attempt not be identified, or at least that the reader not be able to make any consistent identification; conclusive identification would be inimical to the creation of multiple meaning. Thus such inconsistency as we find in the long dialogue is the necessary means toward a higher consistency. Indeed, it is only through this inconsistency that the ambiguity of the first exchange can be maintained.

But if it is clear enough that the inconsistency in the long dialogue guarantees the ambiguity of the initial exchange, wherein lies the ultimate necessity or justification for either ambiguity or inconsistency? This question might be answered in part by attempting to show that ambiguity is one of the fundamental norms of the symbolist, that is to say, the modern aesthetic. But this procedure would appear to be less expedient and less relevant than another. We can assign a more immediate reason for those plurisignificant structures which we find here. Though, as even a casual reading of the story demonstrates, Hemingway employs the words nada and nothing as if he were weaving a musical motif, and though he is interested in all the variations on his theme; nevertheless, it is the meaning which the older waiter attaches to these words which is the more important. Clearly it is his problem which is central, and the story is fundamentally about the kind of world which he sees. But though it has more than once been observed that the older waiter's world is ruled by chaos and that, therefore, its major constituents are uncertainty, inconsistency, confusion, and ambiguity, it has not been observed that the constituents of his world are precisely the constituents of the dialogue—that, in short, there is a structural similarity between this world and the dialogue.

Indeed, it is the principal thesis of this [essay] that the dialogue in the story operates on two levels: it operates in the conventional manner, discursively conveying the essential features of the older waiter's vision; and it operates symbolically, actually representing through its construction the kind of world he experiences. Not only does the dialogue tell of the nada of existence, but it re-creates it by raising for the reader the very problems which confront the older waiter and the old man as they apprehend their world. The experience of the reader duplicates their experience, for the reader, too, is called upon to bear uncertainty, inconsistency, confusion, and ambiguity, as he attempts to fashion some pattern of meaning out of the chaos of the dialogue. Thus, the confusion in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is neither a mistake nor an accident. It is deliberate. Hemingway has brilliantly actualized in the dialogue the very conditions which obtain in the world as it is perceived by modern man—a world where meaning is no longer guaranteed by omniscience.

It might be noted in passing that just as the structure of the dialogue symbolically represents the theme of chaos, so the structure of Hemingway's language symbolically portrays the older waiter's limited faith. Thus, the denial of rhetoric implies the impossibility of the elaborate system-making of traditional metaphysics. And the restricted diction, the uncomplicated grammatical patterns actualize on the purely linguistic level the values of cleanliness, order, and light to which the older waiter clings amid the massive chaos.

But we need to carry our analysis one step further if we are to understand fully the necessity behind Hemingway's method of construction here. We have already observed that the story is about the word nada, that it emerges out of the contrast of two wholly different concepts of nothing. What we need to recognize, however, is that this preoccupation with the nada of existence establishes a crucial connection between the story and the most important philosophic movement of our time—existentialism. Indeed, it can be said that this story is about the word nada in the same way that the phenomenological ontologies of Heidegger and Sartre are about the concept of nothingness. It is no accident, for example, that Sartre's major work bears the title Being and Nothingness. But it is only with the realization that “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is itself an existentialist document that we are likely to understand the way in which it actualizes still another concept of nothing, one which has been the special concern of existentialist literature. And, in turn, it is only when we possess this knowledge that we can understand the total relationship between theme and structure in the story.

The humanistic wing of the existentialist movement has really been conducting an examination of the consequences of living in a world where, as Nietzsche put it, “God is dead” (See Walter Kaufmann, “The Death of God and the Revaluation,” Nietzsche, pp. 80-100). This is the subject to which Sartre addresses himself (See Hazel E. Barnes, “Translator's Introduction,” Being and Nothingness, p. xxix), and this, as we have seen, is the condition in which the older waiter and the old man find themselves. But if Nietzsche's assertion truly defines the modern predicament, then it follows that man alone now has the responsibility for actualizing being and creating values. As the existentialists have realized, however, this total freedom which thus devolves upon man is ambivalent. It is felt as a burden, a dreadful freedom. Man, in the words of Sartre, is “condemned to be free” (Being and Nothingness, p. 439). For inasmuch as man's existence is no longer grounded in the noncontingent, that is, in God, man is stripped entirely of his dependence upon the objective, and neither an objective guarantee of meaning nor an objective justification for behavior is possible. Man is thus faced with the necessity for assuming the contingency of all of his projects and even of his own existence. But to perceive every being essentially as pure contingency is to assert, not only that every being is suspended in nothingness—in the chaos which the older waiter discerns—but that nothingness is itself contained in every being. In short, the metaphysics which the older waiter embraces, his metaphysics of chaos, entails an ontology, that is, says something about the very nature of being. And what is said has been succinctly summed up by Sartre himself: “Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being—like a worm.” (Being and Nothingness, p. 21).

Here we have a clue to that mysterious fear or dread which the older waiter feels is not fear or dread in the usual sense: “What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well.” This dread comes not from the fear of any particular object, but is rather the consequence of the older waiter's perception, however dim, of pure contingency, of that nothingness which in part defines human nature. It is thus an existential anguish which the older waiter feels, a psychological concomitant of the existential ontology. To quote Hazel Barnes, the translator of Being and Nothingness, this anguish is “The reflective apprehension of the Self as freedom, the realization that nothingness slips in between my Self and my Past and Future so that nothing guarantees the validity of the values I choose. Fear is of something in the world, anguish is anguish before myself (as in Kierkegaard)” (Being and Nothingness, p. 628). Thus, in addition to the two major meanings already assigned to the word nada in the story, there is a third: nothingness is synonymous with man's radical subjectivity, with his total freedom. Indeed, man may be defined as that being who is forced to renounce the idea of finding a guarantee for his existence outside of himself. (See Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. by Bernard Frechtman, p. 14).

It is this third meaning of nothingness which partially escapes the older waiter. He is, after all, no philosopher. And he does not fully understand what he feels. In the end he wonders whether it isn't only insomnia from which he suffers. Nevertheless, despite the limitations in the older waiter's understanding of his predicament, Hemingway manages with consummate skill to incorporate this third meaning of nothing into the texture of the story. As its creator, the God behind its world, he refuses to guarantee the meanings which it actualizes. The dialogue is so constructed that the reader, in his attempt to impose order upon the chaos of inconsistency and ambiguity, is stripped of his dependence upon the objective. In so far as the dialogue fails to conform to the norms of logic, the reader himself is, like the older waiter, plunged into the existentialist predicament and made to confront the absurd. In his attempt to make sense out of the story, the reader too is forced to assume contingency, is forced to deal with values and meanings which cannot be given objective justification, and is even brought finally to a recognition of his own radical subjectivity.

John V. Hagopian (essay date 1964)

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SOURCE: “Tidying Up Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. I, No. 2, Winter, 1964, pp. 140-46.

[In the following essay, Hagopian rejects earlier attempts to attribute Hemingway's dialogue in the story—particularly Joseph Gabriel's above—and considers the flaw in the dialogue as an obvious typographical error.]

Interpretation of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has always been dogged by the problem of the confused dialogue between the two waiters, and it seems to me unfortunate that the discussion of it remains where Joseph F. Gabriel left it in College English (May, 1961). Gabriel was responding to three earlier articles in the same journal (February and May, 1959), in the first of which F. P. Kroeger had accurately interpreted most of the dialogue up to the line “I know. You said she cut him down,” which he assumed to be incorrectly attributed by Hemingway to the young waiter because it suggests that it is he who “knows about the details of the suicide, and not the old waiter as the earlier dialogue indicates.” William E. Colburn concurred with this view, but went further in asserting that such an error raises doubts about the first conversation in which the old waiter replies “He has plenty of money” in answer to the younger waiter's question “How do you know it [the reason for the old customer's suicide attempt] was nothing?” Colburn felt certain that “probably most readers will agree that the younger waiter should be the one with a completely materialistic attitude toward life”; and he took to task such critics as Robert Penn Warren, Mark Schorer, Robert Heilman, and Bernard Oldsey for “carefully” or “cleverly” failing to identify the speaker of the line “He has plenty of money.”

Then Otto Reinert announced that he and all of the aforementioned critics, except Kroeger, proceed on the premise that the first reference to money in the story is made by the younger waiter and that it “establishes him in our mind as a callous materialist.” By what authority Reinert spoke for the others remains unclear, but he developed from that premise a complex set of confusions and misinterpretations: “If we assume, as we surely must, that in a question and answer sequence the speaker does change with each new line, the young waiter is the one who knows all about the suicide and the old waiter the one who asks questions about it.” But since this would create impossible difficulties about the identity of the speaker of “He's drunk now,” Reinert was forced into ingenuity by assuming that Hemingway violated convention in having the same speaker for alternating lines of a dialogue which is not a question-and-answer sequence “in order to suggest a reflective pause between two sentences in a single speaker's uninterrupted utterance.” And he presumed that this occurs twice, without any sign from the author, with two different speakers in the same dialogue sequence! “I submit that it is the young waiter who speaks both ‘He's drunk now’ (because the pronoun reference demands it) and the next speech, ‘He's drunk every night.’ And that it is the old waiter who speaks both ‘He must be eighty years old’ and ‘Anyway I should say that he was eighty.’” This was presumably such good “common sense” that it required no “proof.”

It seems to me, however, that this solution to the problem would be valid only if (1) by the law of parsimony, it is the simplest solution; (2) an examination of the rest of Hemingway's fiction shows that the author often, or even occasionally, employed such a technique; and (3) the context supported, as it does in Joyce's Ulysses, the notion that the author violates standard conventions without explicit hints or clues to the reader. On none of these grounds can one support Reinert's interpretation. It is neither the simplest solution nor is it at all supported by the context, which makes it quite clear that it is the old waiter who is obsessed with the awareness of nada and who recognizes and sympathizes with a fellow sufferer in the old man at the café. Furthermore—though this is by no means an absolute test—nowhere else in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (Modern Library) is there an instance of a reflective pause between two lines of dialogue by the same speaker without some indication of the fact:

in “The Battler”:

Bugs: “… She sends him money.”


He poked up the fire.


“She's a mighty fine woman,” he said.

(p. 235)

in “The Killers”:

“Maybe it was just a bluff.”


“No. It ain't just a bluff.”


Ole Andresen rolled over toward the wall.


“The only thing is,” he said, talking toward the wall, “I just can't make up my mind to go out. …”

(p. 385)

in “A Pursuit Race”:

“Good,” said William Campbell. “Because really I don't know anything at all. I was just talking.” He pulled the sheet up over his face. “I love it under a sheet,” he said.

(p. 449)

in “Now I Lay Me”:

“I think it's all bull, myself,” he said. “I just heard it somewhere. You know how you hear things.”


We were both quiet and I listened to the silk-worms.


“You hear those damn silk-worms?” he asked.

(p. 466)

in “The Sea Change”:

“Yes,” she said. “I have to and you know it.”


He did not say anything and she looked at him. …


“Couldn't you just be good to me and let me go?” the girl asked.

(p. 497)

Joseph F. Gabriel does not refute Reinert; he merely dismisses him in order to take issue with Messrs. Kroeger and Colburn: “What specifically I contend is that there was no error made in the dialogue, either by Scribner's or Hemingway himself; that we have here one of the most artfully contrived pieces in the Hemingway canon; and that, in short, the inconsistency in the dialogue is deliberate, an integral part of the pattern of meaning actualized in the story.” But if there is anything that is “artfully contrived,” it is Gabriel's interpretation, which is one of the most ingenious tours de force of explication that I have ever seen. Although I have no quarrel with his existentialist reading of the story and, in fact, consider it the most profound and thoroughgoing to date, I cannot accept his contention that such a reading is dependent upon logical inconsistency in the dialogue. For the most part he is quite right about the meaning, but far too cleverly wrong about the technique. Gabriel would have us believe that the confusion in the third dialogue is a clue to the necessity of an either-or alternation of speakers in the first two dialogues: “The experience of the reader duplicates [the old man's and the old waiter's] experience [of nada], for the reader, too, is called upon to bear uncertainty, inconsistency, confusion, and ambiguity, as he attempts to fashion some pattern of meaning out of the chaos of the dialogue.”

However, once again, submitted to the tests of validity that I have suggested above, this reading collapses. It is by no means the simplest solution to the problem, it is a technique employed nowhere else in the Hemingway canon, and it is not supported by the context—especially the ending, which clearly attributes to the two waiters different and incompatible sets of values, each of which can, except for the line isolated by Kroeger, be clearly traced without any difficulty in the opening dialogues. Furthermore, this solution endows Hemingway with the absurd aesthetics of a Tristan Tzara by suggesting that an artist can validly embody the idea of chaos by being chaotic. Gabriel confuses the perception of ambiguity with the feeling of confusion, and he seems to believe that a “pattern of meaning” can be “actualized in a story” even when its creator “refuses to guarantee the meanings which it actualizes.” Each of the multiple meanings of any artistically successful ambiguity must be clear, complete, and meaningful. The Gestaltists long ago showed how this is possible in the famous figure of the Rubin vase, which—depending on whether the center is taken as figure or as ground—can be seen either as an ornate Grecian vase or as the profiles of two people looking at each other, but not as both at the same time! Hence, there is no confusion, no chaos—merely “plurisignificance.” William Empson demonstrated in Seven Types of Ambiguity that there are many ambiguous (i.e., multiply meaningful, but not confused) substructures within literary works. But I know of no work which is the successful total ambiguity that Gabriel proposes “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is (unless John Donne's “The Relique” fills the bill).

In any case, the very nature of art requires order, meaning, and form, even if what is being rendered into art is the absurd. And if, like Gabriel, we are to discuss the art of fiction in terms of existentialism, it would be well to remember the dicta of Albert Camus, who though he recognized the world to be absurd did not therefore conclude that art forms and techniques must be absurd. He says in The Rebel (trans. by Anthony Bower, London, 1953):

Artistic creation is a demand for unity and a rejection of the world (p. 222). … The artist reconstructs the world to his plan (p. 224). … What, in fact, is a novel but a universe in which action is endowed with form, where final words are pronounced, where people possess one another completely and where life assumes the aspect of destiny (p. 231). … Whatever may be the chosen point of view of the artist, one principle remains common to all creators: stylization, which supposes the simultaneous existence of reality and of the mind which gives reality its form.

(p. 239)

Hence the artist shapes the absurdity of the world in such a way that we are enabled to perceive it; he does not fling the absurd into our faces. But Gabriel would have us believe that in Hemingway's story “the dialogue is so constructed that the reader, in his attempt to impose order [as if that were the reader's and not the writer's task] upon the chaos of inconsistency and ambiguity, is stripped of his dependence upon the objective. In so far as the dialogue fails to conform to the norms of logic, the reader himself is, like the older waiter, plunged into the existentialist predicament and made to confront the absurd.” This, I submit, is a misinterpretation. It is far kinder to Hemingway to label a single line of dialogue as the obvious typographical error than it is to torture his prose into ambiguous chaos.

My German colleague Martin Dolch has offered an interpretation of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” which is consistent with that of Gabriel, but without his radical twisting of the form (cf. Hagopian and Dolch, Insight I: Analyses of American Literature, Frankfurt, 1962, pp. 105-11). On the basis of Dolch's discussion, the three opening dialogues might be interpreted as follows:

I.

O.W. “Last week he tried to commit suicide.” [According to the final dialogues of the story, it is the older waiter who knows and understands the despair of the old man at the café.]


Y.W. “Why?” [All the questions demanding answers are uttered by the young waiter. The older waiter never seeks information from the younger, all his questions being purely rhetorical: “What does it matter if he gets what he's after?” “How should I know?” “Why didn't you let him stay and drink?” “What is an hour?” “And you? You have no fear?”]


O.W. “He was in despair.” [The younger waiter knows nothing about despair; it is the older waiter who in his prayer to nada proves himself the authority on this subject.]


Y.W. “What about?”


O.W. “Nothing.” [A controlled, ambiguous sub-structure; its double-meaning would be: “For no reason that you would understand” and “Because of the nada of the universe.”]


Y.W. “How do you know it was nothing?”


O.W. “He has plenty of money.” [Again ambiguous: “Since you insist on a reason, I'll give the only one a man like you could possibly understand—there couldn't be a good reason because he has plenty of money” and “It wasn't the lack of money; it was his awareness of nada.”]

II.

(After a girl and a soldier walk by in the street) Y.W. “The guard will pick him up.” [A bit of Schadenfreude, quite consistent with his remark to the deaf old man, “You should have killed yourself last week.”]


O.W. “What does it matter if he gets what he's after?” [Consistent with his indifference to the usual social norms, with his nihilism, and with his awareness of the value of youth and confidence: “those things are very beautiful.”]


Y.W. “He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him.” [The young waiter wants everybody to get off the streets, including the old man, so that he can go home to his wife. It is he who is keenly aware of the time, who complains that he never gets into bed before three o'clock, and who is impatient. He is later identified as “the waiter who was in a hurry,” while the older one is dubbed “the unhurried waiter.”]

III.

Y.W. “He's drunk now,” he said. [All critics recognize, with varying degrees of distress, that the speaker must be the young waiter who has returned from serving the old man.]


O.W. “He's drunk every night.” [The intonation of the young waiter's remark should indicate indignation, while the old waiter's reply indicates recognition and acceptance of the fact with tolerance and sympathy, as if to say “Of course the old man is drunk tonight and every night—he has good reason to be!”]


Y.W. “What did he want to kill himself for?” [Resuming the earlier dialogue in which he was the questioner.]


O.W. “How should I know.” [reluctant to discuss the subject with a man of whom he says later, “We are of two different kinds” and “You do not understand.”]


Y.W. “How did he do it?” [If you won't tell me why, at least tell me how.”]


O.W. “He hung himself with a rope.”


Y.W. “Who cut him down?”


O.W. “His niece.”


Y.W. “Why did they do it?” [Perhaps suggesting that they should have let him hang, in which case he would not now have to wait about while his wife lies in bed waiting for him.]


O.W. “Fear for his soul.” [“You know how some people are—they have no awareness of nada and think that a man has a soul, the credulous fools.”]


Y.W. “How much money has he got?” [“You said earlier that he has plenty.”]


O.W. “He's got plenty.” [“What difference does the exact amount make? How much money a man has isn't important anyway.”]


Y.W. “He must be eighty years old.” [Old enough to die.”]


O.W. “Anyway, I should say he was eighty.” [“Perhaps he is, but that, too, doesn't matter much.”]


Y.W. “I wish he would go home. … ” [Impatient.]


O.W. “He stays up because he likes it.” [Again, it would be futile to try to explain the importance of a clean, well-lighted place to a man who is unaware of the nada of the universe.]


Y.W. “He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.” [Supplying the only motive that he can understand, again perhaps with a bit of Schadenfreude, especially considering his boast.]


O.W. “He had a wife once, too.” [“Having a wife isn't sufficient guarantee that nada will not catch up with you. You are by no means superior to that old man, merely less aware.”]


Y.W. “A wife would be no good to him now.” [Again a boast with Schadenfreude.]


O.W. “You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.” [Recognizing, as in Camus, that love might not eliminate nada, but might make it bearable. He is irritated into disputing with the cocksure young waiter.]


Y.W. “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.” [“The only services that a wife could render him, those of nurse and caretaker, are being supplied by his niece.”]


O.W. “I know.” [“I am perfectly aware of what happened and why—much more than you, you young puppy!”


And the line “you said she cut him down” clearly belongs to the speech of the young waiter; it has all the overtones of his sadistic irony. All the texts to date have merely perpetuated a typographical error. The answer to Colburn's enquiry, “How do we evaluate a story which has ‘mistakes’?” is that we make a distinction between artistic and mechanical errors. The latter, like the reversal of the chapters in Henry James's The Ambassadors, are not very serious and are easily corrected. They certainly do not warrant a torturing of the text or critical pyrotechnics to convert them into dubious virtues. I would suggest that in the future editions of this story Scribner's simply move the line to its proper place and avoid any further fuss.]


Y.W. “I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.” [Consistent with his sadism, his boasting, etc.]


O.W. “Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him.” [He is a defender of the Hemingway code: with the awareness of the absurdity that death makes of human life, one must be congratulated if he maintains a certain poise and grace in his external behavior while within he is in despair. Nick Adams in “The Big Two-Hearted River” is one of many variations on the theme.]

Though I am certain that my glosses can be improved upon, I do not believe it is possible to supply a similar set of glosses derived from the total context of the story to justify a reversed alternation of speakers. All that Hemingway's story needed was a little tidying up by its first proofreader, a mere sweep of the broom; there was no need to call out the reconstruction crews to convert “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” into the absurd house of Samuel Beckett.

Warren Bennett (essay date 1970)

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SOURCE: “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays, edited by Jackson J. Benson, Duke University Press, 1975, pp. 261-69.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in American Literature in 1970, Bennett proposes that Hemingway's use of verbal irony provides insight into the main characters as well as evidence as to the attribution of dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]

Interpretation of Hemingway's short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has always been confronted with the illogical dialogue sequence between the two waiters. Since analysis probably became stalled on the question of which waiter knew about the old man's attempted suicide, interpretation has tended to center on either the older waiter's nada prayer or the problem of the illogical sequence itself.1 The result seems to be a partial misinterpretation of the character of the younger waiter, a failure to see the wide play of irony in the story, and the absence of any interpretation of the story's ironic resolution.

However, before these latter matters can be successfully dealt with, the story's troubled dialogue must still be preliminarily considered. Scribner's claims that the dialogue inconsistency occurred when a slug of type was evidently misplaced in the first printing of the story in Scribner's Magazine in 1933, and since reprint plates were made from that printing and not from the original manuscript, which is no longer extant to anyone's knowledge, the error was perpetuated until 1965.2 At that time Scribner's issued a new edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway and made an “editorial” correction in the illogical sequence because the dialogue dictated it.

All texts from 1933 to 1965:

“His niece looks after him.”


“I know. You said she cut him down.”

The 1965 text and all subsequent printings:

“His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”


“I know.”3

This solved the problem of the illogical sequence, but because it gives the knowledge of the old man's attempted suicide to the older waiter instead of the younger waiter, it is contrary to some critical opinion and compatible with others. The correction, therefore, traded one kind of question for another kind: since Hemingway did not correct his own story during his lifetime, does that make the old text Hemingway's story and the new text his publisher's story? Should the critic use the old text or the new text?

In order to put my own interpretation on a firm footing, I hope to demonstrate, first of all, that even though no corrections were made in the story, it is still possible to determine that the older waiter is the one who knows about the old man's attempted suicide.

The structure of the story is based on a consistent polarity: “despair,” characterized by depth of feeling and insight into the human condition, in opposition to “confidence,” characterized by a lack of feeling and, therefore, a lack of insight. Each pole is seen as an attitude, or stance, in relation to Hemingway's donnée, which is a nihilistic concept of life: nothingness or nada. The spark which ignites the conflict of stances is the deaf old man who has tried to commit suicide and needs a clean, well-lighted café in which to stay late. The denouement is an irony of fate, presented by image and understatement, which will shatter “confidence” against the hard truth that “it [is] all a nothing and a man [is] nothing too.”

The tension of the conflict is rendered almost exclusively through the dialogue of the two waiters, who are said to be of “two different kinds,” and we can identify one waiter by tracing the use of the word “kill.” When the younger waiter returns from taking the old man's brandy order, he says to the older waiter, “‘I'm sleepy. I never get into bed before three o'clock. He should have killed himself last week’” (italics mine). Then when the younger waiter takes the brandy out to the old man, he says to him, “‘You should have killed yourself last week’” (italics mine). Since there is no textual basis for transferring the younger waiter's mode of expression to the older waiter, the text clearly establishes that it is the younger waiter who asks for further information: “‘What did he want to kill himself for?’” (italics mine). Consequently, it is the older waiter who knows the history of the old man and speaks the first line of dialogue in the story: “‘Last week he tried to commit suicide.’”

This is supported by a structural pattern, utilizing verbal irony, which is repeated in three separate scenes—two formerly in question and one not in question. For the pattern to emerge clearly, it is necessary to look at the scenes in reverse order, beginning with the scene where the lines are not in question. The scene is the bodega where the older waiter stops for a drink.

“What's yours?” asked the barman. [Serious question.]


“Nada.” [Verbal irony: the older waiter.]


“Otro loco mas,” said the barman and turned away. [Dropping the subject.]


“A little cup,” said the waiter. [Serious reply.]

The bodega barman, of course, must be equated with the younger waiter because he has an “unpolished” bar, equivalent to the younger waiter pouring into the old man's brandy glass until it “slopped over and ran down the stem.” Also, the barman calls the older waiter “another crazy one,” as the younger waiter has accused the older waiter of “talking nonsense.” But for our purposes, the important aspect is the pattern: serious question, verbal irony by the older waiter, a dropping of the subject, and then a serious reply. The significant factor in the pattern is the older waiter's use of verbal irony in response to a serious question.

The complete pattern appears earlier in the story, in that exchange concerned with why they cut the old man down.

“Why did they do it?” [Serious question.]


“Fear for his soul.” [Verbal irony: the older waiter.]


“How much money has he got?” [Dropping the subject; serious question.]


“He's got plenty.” [Serious reply.]

The third scene is the first exchange between the two waiters, near the beginning of the story. The pattern here is abbreviated, repeating only the older waiter's use of verbal irony in response to a serious question. One waiter says the old man was in despair, and the other waiter asks,

“What about?” [Serious question.]


“Nothing.” [Verbal irony: the older waiter.]


“How do you know it was nothing?” [Serious question.]


“He has plenty of money.” [Verbal irony: the older waiter.]

In this last scene, the reply, “nothing,” and the reply, “he has plenty of money,” both carry an undertone of irony, regardless of which waiter speaks the lines.4 The irony is inherent in them as answers to the serious questions asked. For example, if the younger waiter answered that the old man was in despair about “nothing,” the reply still carries the charge of double meaning, meaning: i.e., a serious meaning: there was, in fact, no apparent reason; and a malicious meaning: the reason seems ridiculous and unimportant to me: he was only feeling sorry for himself.

Since verbal irony is employed, we must look to the text for hard evidence of which waiter employs it as a mode of speaking, and that evidence is in the scene with the bodega barman. It is the older waiter who uses verbal irony; he even thinks ironically: “After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it.” There is no definite evidence, anywhere in the story, that the younger waiter has mastered such a manner of speaking, or thinking. On the contrary, the younger waiter is consistently serious and changes his form of address only once, “speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners.”

Once it has been established that the older waiter is the one who knows about the old man, it is then possible to see the characters of the two waiters in correct perspective.

Essentially, the younger waiter is not a “materialist,” as critics, explicitly or implicitly, have tried to make him. Expressing interest in money and sex does not automatically relegate one to the pigeonhole labeled “materialist,” which critics like to use in a pejorative sense, although it should not be so used. Materialism denotes a complex set of ideas, and to the extent that the story is held to have philosophical import, the philosophical senses of “materialism” must be recognized.

Briefly, a materialist is one who affirms matter as the only reality, or one who gives it an effective priority. Looking at the two waiters in this light, it is the older waiter who holds the view which is most compatible with philosophic materialism, not the younger waiter.

It is better, undoubtedly, to avoid classifying the younger waiter at all, than to misclassify him. The most we can do with the younger waiter is describe him, an effort which results in showing him to be something of a “type,” the average individual, “in a hurry.” He is self-interested and indulges himself with believing an hour is “‘more to me than to him [the old man].’” He does not especially like work, and accuses the old man of having “‘no regard for those who must work’”; nevertheless, he seems to accept it as economically necessary and is quite an efficient waiter, making sure the shutters are closed before he leaves. He is satisfied with his marriage and is eager to get home to his wife “waiting in bed” for him. He is a legalist in his attitude toward the soldier, although even when refusing to serve the old man, he does not “wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry.” He is no Christian zealot but accepts the church with its transcendent values, illustrated by his changing the subject to money when told the niece cut the old man down because of “fear for his soul.” In short, he is one of those who have “confidence,” or faith, in the established system in which they live. He has “‘youth, confidence, and a job … everything.’” His job gives him a sense of economic success within the community. The institution of marriage has provided him with a “waiting” wife who satisfies the biological drive and gives him a sense of male effectiveness. His youth gives him a sense of life as infinite continuum, and the institution of the church confirms such immortality for him. “‘I have confidence,’” he says, “‘I'm all confidence,’” and as long as he has this confident faith in the value and permanence of these cultural structures, he has “everything.”

The older waiter, on the other hand, is unable to muster such faith or confidence. He is a materialist and beyond the material there is “nothing.” “Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada.” The individual “cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself.”5 There is no a priori order or value system, either providential, natural, or social, on which man may intelligently depend and predict a future. “‘No. I have never had confidence and I am not young.’” The material world, which includes the mental processes, is the only reality and has priority, but it is found lacking: life is a net of illusions. “‘And what do you lack?’” asks the younger waiter. “‘Everything but work,’” replies the older waiter. And even the ability to “work” has been taken from the old man, as it evidently was from Hemingway by July 2, 1961.

This profound, but masked “difference” between the two waiters is imbedded in the casual-appearing conversation about the old man. When the younger waiter asks, “‘How do you know [the old man's despair was about] nothing,’” the reply, “‘He has plenty of money,’” is more philosophically precise than an entire chapter of discursive contortions. Nada can be described only in terms of an opposite because to make some-thing out of nothing is not only incomprehensible but impossible.6 And “plenty of money” provides the most nearly perfect polar opposite to “nothing.” The holes in a fish net are perceptible because of the net. When a man has the power of money and the plenty which it makes possible, it also makes the “lack,” nada, that much more apparent and unbearable. “Plenty” intensifies what is lacking to the psychological breaking point. The old man's severe despair, and the serious despair of the older waiter, are not caused by some-thing, and are not about anything. Despair is a negation, a lack. The lack of life after death, the lack of a moral order governing the universe, the lack of trustworthy interpersonal relations, the lack of an ordering principle in the individual consciousness, the lack of the ability to work, and the lack, therefore, of even self-respect and dignity. The old man lacks any-thing to live for. “‘It was a nothing he [the older waiter] knew too well.’”

However, to quit the story on the philosophical level is to leave the primary question of “confidence” or “despair” artistically unanswered. The younger waiter would go confidently home to his “waiting wife” and live happily ever after: a winner who takes everything.7 The older waiter's nada is “probably only insomnia” and will pass with daylight, which, if not a happy ending, is at least a very tolerable ending. This is essentially an uncommitted balance, which is where interpretation to date has left it.

But this is to understand only the “literal” ending of the story; that is, what happens to the older waiter after he leaves the café. It does not reveal what happens when the younger waiter arrives home. For this insight, which Hemingway refers to as the “real end,” which may be “omitted” on the basis of his “new theory,” it is necessary to go back into the story.8

In the silence that takes place immediately following the older waiter's ironic “‘He has plenty of money,’”

A girl and a soldier went by in the street. The street light shone on the brass number on his collar. The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him.


Y.W. “The guard will pick him up,” one waiter said.


O.W. “What does it matter if he gets what he's after?”


Y.W. “He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.”

The younger waiter emphasizes the military guards because to him they represent guardians of a culture in which one may be confident of success. He is not concerned about the soldier. Individual needs, whether they are the need of a girl or the need of a drink for a lonely old man, must be sacrificed to the punctualities of the job, the ignorant securities of rule and routine. The younger waiter wants everyone off the street, as he wants the old man out of the café. He wants to be off the streets himself, and is, in fact, also a kind of guard. “‘No more tonight. Close now,’” he says to the old man and begins “pulling down the metal shutters.”

But the older waiter does understand that agonizing lack in an individual: “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” Company punishment will be minor compared to the anguish of being alone. Everything is a temporary stay against despair: a light for the night, another drink, relations with a girl. “‘You can't tell,’” even the old man “‘might be better with a wife.’”

The soldier's kinship with the older waiter and the old man is illustrated by the metaphor of light and something clean or polished. “The street light shone on the brass number of his collar.” They are all of a “kind,” the soldier as disillusioned with the military machine as the older waiter and the old man are disillusioned with the machine of the world. The soldier is not concerned about curfew as the older waiter is not concerned about closing the café on time, and the old man is not concerned about letting the café close. The soldier needs the sexual intoxication of this girl as the older waiter and the old man need a drink. The soldier is no more concerned about military regulations than the old man is concerned about financial regulations, and “would leave without paying” if he became too drunk. “As Hemingway once put it, ‘There is honor among pickpockets and honor among whores. It is simply that the standards differ.’”9

The scene—a prostitute and a soldier—is the epitome of a meaningless and chaotic world full of loopholes: an interwoven fabric of ironies punctured by nothingness. Everything is possible through love or aggression, but paradoxically nothing is permanent. There is a constant, desperate struggle against the coefficients of adversity. Living becomes a deadly affair, or conflict, essentially devoid of humor because everything is ultimately a “dirty trick.”10

This is the basis for the older waiter's not so funny “joke” later in the story. The younger waiter has just suggested that the old man could buy a bottle and drink at home, to which the older waiter replies, “‘It's not the same.’”

“No, it is not,” agreed the waiter with a wife. He did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry.


“And you? You have no fear of going home before your usual hour?”


“Are you trying to insult me?”


“No, hombre, only to make a joke.”


“No,” the waiter who was in a hurry said … “I have confidence. I am all confidence.”

The joke is crucial and hinges directly on the scene with the girl and the soldier. Structurally and texturally they establish the love wound motif which is so dominant in Hemingway that it becomes the other side of the same psychic coin as the war wound. Through either the death of one of the partners or the inability of one partner to fulfill the promise of love—satisfy the other's needs—an individual is isolated and pushed to despair by the failure of the love alliance.

The complete working out of this motif is the “real end” which Hemingway omitted, and the phrase “waiter with a wife” preceding the joke, functions as a lens to bring into focus the catastrophe which the younger waiter will face. When the younger waiter goes home before his “usual time,” his wife will be gone, or perhaps, though at home in bed, engaged in another desperate relationship. The girl and the soldier appear again like ghosts, only this time the girl without a “head covering,” ironically “hurrying,” is suggestive of the younger waiter's wife.

The story now becomes superbly charged with dramatic as well as verbal irony. The younger waiter's confidence dissolves into tragic hubris, and his statements, such as “‘I'm not lonely,’” are imbued with an impending doom that is near classic. Situations become ironically transferred. The old man's despair and loneliness without a wife, the older waiter's insomnia and need of light, the soldier's risk for temporary sexual meaning—all are now the younger waiter's future. At the very moment that he is playing the heartless and uncompromising judge, he is also reality's dupe and victim. Whatever he has said about the others may soon be said about him. And with equal irony, he has “hurried” to his own undoing. His all-confident intentions will be reversed. His recognition of another truth is imminent. The radical contingencies of life will have taught him the absurdity of the human condition, and the twist of events will topple him from his pinnacle of confidence into the phantasmagoria where the older waiter and the old man cling despairingly to their clean, well-lighted place. The younger waiter will become a new member of Hemingway's collection: Winner Take Nothing.

Notes

  1. See Robert Penn Warren, Introduction, A Farewell to Arms (New York, 1949), pp. xv-xvi; Mark Schorer, ed., The Story: A Critical Anthology (New Jersey, 1950), p. 427; Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (New Jersey, 1952), p. 124; F. P. Kroeger, “The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, XX (Feb., 1959), 240-241; William E. Colburn, “Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, XX (Feb., 1959), 241-242; Otto Reinert, “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” College English, XX (May, 1959), 417-418; Edward Stone, “Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More,” American Speech, XXXVII (Oct., 1962), 239-240; Joseph F. Gabriel, “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, XXII (May, 1961), 539-546; John V. Hagopian, “Tidying Up Hemingway's ‘Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, I (Winter, 1964), 140-146.

  2. Information concerning the correction is in letters to the author from Mr. L. H. Brague, Jr., editor, Charles Scribner's Sons, and from Professor Philip Young of Pennsylvania State University. I would like to express my appreciation to Mr. Brague and Professor Young for their help.

  3. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York, 1965), pp. 379-383. All subsequent references will be to this text.

  4. It is interesting to note that the line, “He has plenty of money,” is reminiscent of the famous exchange between Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald which Hemingway recorded in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”: “He remembered poor Julian and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how some one had said to Julian, Yes, they have more money” (p. 72). The story was “The Rich Boy,” which appeared in Red Book Magazine in January and February, 1926.

  5. Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, ed. Walter Kaufmann (Cleveland, 1956), p. 295.

  6. Jean Paul Sartre seems to fall into this linguistic trap when he describes nothingness in L'Etre et le néant: “c'est au sein mème de l'être, en son coeur, comme un ver” (Paris, 1943, p. 57).

  7. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was included by Hemingway in a collection of rather bitter stories, Winner Take Nothing (New York, 1933), pp. 17-24.

  8. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (New York, 1964), p. 75. The complete statement is as follows:

    It was a very simple story called “Out of Season” and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.

    Well, I thought, now I have them so they do not understand them. There cannot be much doubt about that. There is most certainly no demand for them. But they will understand the same way that they always do in painting. It only takes time and it only needs confidence.

    Professor Philip Young refers to the passage in his book Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration (New York, 1966), p. 285, and cites three stories for which we already have an answer: “Out of Season,” “Fathers and Sons,” and “Big Two-Hearted River.” Suicides are omitted from the first two stories, and the fact that Nick Adams has just returned from the war is omitted in the third.

  9. Young, p. 64.

  10. Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (New York, 1957), p. 331. Shortly after Frederic Henry has prayed “Please, please, dear God, don't let her die,” Catherine says “I'm not a bit afraid. It's just a dirty trick.”

David Lodge (essay date 1971)

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SOURCE: “Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted, Puzzling Place,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XXI, No. 1, January, 1971, pp. 33-57.

[In the following essay, Lodge contrasts the older and younger waiters in the story and concludes that Hemingway “deliberately encourages the reader to make an initially incorrect discrimination between the two waiters which, when discovered and corrected, amounts to a kind of peripetia.”]

‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place’ is one of Ernest Hemingway's best-known and most often reprinted short stories; yet until very recently its text contained a curious anomaly: curious, especially, in that it for so long apparently escaped the attention both of Hemingway himself and of his readers. For this crux is not a minor, incidental matter, but one that vitally affects one's reading of the whole story. In fact, the text which appeared in Scribner's Magazine in March 1933, and was reprinted in all editions until 1966 (and which is still appearing in textbooks and anthologies1) simply doesn't make sense.

I first discovered this for myself a few years ago in the 1963 Scribner's paperback edition of The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories. Enquiries revealed that a number of articles had appeared on the problem, beginning in 1959, and that Scribner's had emended the text in their 1967 edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, adopting a solution proposed by John V. Hagopian.2 This solution seems to me the right one; and I discuss the problem here, not in order to suggest an alternative solution, but as a starting-point for an analysis of the story as a whole.

The original unemended text (here reprinted by permission of Jonathan Cape and the Executors of the Ernest Hemingway Estate), which obtained up until 1966, is as follows:

“A Clean Well-Lighted Place”


It was late and every one had left the café except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the café knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.


‘Last week he tried to commit suicide,’ one waiter said.


‘Why?’


‘He was in despair.’


‘What about?’


‘Nothing.’


‘How do you know it was nothing?’


‘He has plenty of money.’


They sat together at a table that was close against the wall near the door of the café and looked at the terrace where the tables were all empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves of the tree that moved slightly in the wind. A girl and a soldier went by in the street. The street light shone on the brass number on his collar. The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him.


‘The guard will pick him up’, one waiter said.


‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’


‘He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.’


The old man sitting in the shadow rapped on his saucer with his glass. The younger waiter went over to him.


‘What do you want?’


The old man looked at him. ‘Another brandy’, he said.


‘You'll be drunk’, the waiter said. The old man looked at him. The waiter went away.


‘He'll stay all night’, he said to his colleague. ‘I'm sleepy now. I never get into bed before three o'clock. He should have killed himself last week.’


The waiter took the brandy bottle and another saucer from the counter inside the café and marched out to the old man's table. He put down the saucer and poured the glass full of brandy.


‘You should have killed yourself last week’, he said to the deaf man. The old man motioned with his finger. ‘A little more’, he said. The waiter poured on into the glass so that the brandy slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer of the pile. ‘Thank you’, the old man said. The waiter took the bottle back inside the café. He sat down at the table with his colleague again.


‘He's drunk now’, he said.


‘He's drunk every night.’


‘What did he want to kill himself for?’


‘How should I know.’


‘How did he do it?’


‘He hung himself with a rope.’


‘Who cut him down?’


‘His niece.’


‘Why did they do it?’


‘Fear for his soul.’


‘How much money has he got?’


‘He's got plenty.’


‘He must be eighty years old.’


‘Anyway I should say he was eighty.’


‘I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o'clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?’


‘He stays up because he likes it.’


‘He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.’


‘He had a wife once too.’


‘A wife would be no good to him now.’


‘You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.’


‘His niece looks after him.’


‘I know. You said she cut him down.’


‘I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.’


‘Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him.’


‘I don't want to look at him. I wish he would go home. He has no regard for those who must work.’


The old man looked from his glass across the square, then over at the waiters.


‘Another brandy’, he said, pointing to his glass. The waiter who was in a hurry came over.


‘Finished’, he said, speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. ‘No more tonight. Close now.’


‘Another’, said the old man.


‘No. Finished.’ The waiter wiped the edge of the table with a towel and shook his head.


The old man stood up, slowly counted the saucers, took a leather coin purse from his pocket and paid for the drinks, leaving half a peseta tip.


The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.


‘Why didn't you let him stay and drink?’ the unhurried waiter asked. They were putting up the shutters. ‘It is not half-past two.’


‘I want to go home to bed.’


‘What is an hour?’


‘More to me than to him.’


‘An hour is the same.’


‘You talk like an old man yourself. He can buy a bottle and drink it at home.’


‘It's not the same.’


‘No, it is not’, agreed the waiter with a wife. He did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry.


‘And you? You have no fear of going home before your usual hour?’


‘Are you trying to insult me?’


‘No, hombre, only to make a joke.’


‘No’, the waiter who was in a hurry said, rising from pulling down the metal shutters. ‘I have confidence. I am all confidence.’


‘You have youth, confidence, and a job’, the older waiter said. ‘You have everything.’


‘And what do you lack?’


‘Everything but work.’


‘You have everything I have.’


‘No. I have never had confidence and I am not young.’


‘Come on. Stop talking nonsense and lock up.’


‘I am of those who like to stay late at the café’, the older waiter said, ‘With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.’


‘I want to go home and into bed.’


‘We are of two different kinds’, the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. ‘It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café’.


‘Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long.’


‘You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant café. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.’


‘Good night’, said the younger waiter.


‘Good night’, the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself. It is the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. 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; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.


‘What's yours?’ asked the barman.


‘Nada.’


‘Otro loco mas’, said the barman and turned away.


‘A little cup’, said the waiter.


The barman poured it for him.


‘The light is very bright and pleasant but the bar is unpolished’, the waiter said.


The barman looked at him but did not answer. It was too late at night for conversation.


‘You want another copita?’ the barman asked.


‘No, thank you’, said the waiter and went out. He disliked bars and bodegas. A clean, well-lighted café was a very different thing. Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it.

The attentive reader will have observed a logical inconsistency at line 78, in the long dialogue between the two waiters beginning at line 55. It is clear that it is the ‘younger waiter’ who is serving the old man (see line 33). It is therefore the younger waiter who (lines 52-5) rejoins the older waiter at the table and reopens the conversation:

The waiter took the bottle back inside the café. He sat down at the table with his colleague again.


‘He's drunk now’, he [the younger waiter] said.

(The same identification can be made by working backwards from line 72, ‘I have a wife waiting in bed for me’, which must be spoken by the younger waiter.) Taking this as a key to the attribution of dialogue, it is clear that it is the younger waiter who is asking the questions about the old man's suicide attempt, and the older waiter who is answering them. The young waiter asks, ‘Who cut him down?’. The older waiter replies ‘His niece’ (61-2). But when the younger waiter seeks to dismiss the old man's lack of a wife by saying, ‘His niece looks after him’, the older waiter says: ‘I know. You said she cut him down’ (77-8, my italics).

Two short articles by F. P. Kroeger and William E. Colburn, printed side by side in College English (1959),3 first drew attention to this contradiction. Mr. Kroeger implied that the story had been carelessly written and/or edited. Mr. Colburn castigated Hemingway's critics for overlooking or evading the problem. Both writers recognised that the crux affected the attribution of the first dialogue between the two waiters (12-19). For the long third dialogue, beginning at line 55, is the only logical guide to the correct attribution of the first dialogue. If in the long dialogue it is the younger waiter who is asking all the questions about the suicide attempt, and the older waiter who is answering them, then it is logical to attribute the opening exchange as follows:

Older Waiter: Last week he tried to commit suicide.


Younger Waiter: Why?


O.W.: He was in despair.


Y.W.: What about?


O.W.: Nothing.


Y.W.: How do you know it was nothing?


O.W.: He has plenty of money

In this case the older waiter is being consciously ironic at the younger waiter's expense. By “‘Nothing’” the older waiter refers privately to the sense of ‘nada’ which, as we later discover, he himself shares, and which is quite enough to drive a man to suicide. His younger colleague, however, as we also discover later, has no perception of ‘nada’, and no sympathy for those who are afflicted by it, so ‘Nothing’ will also serve to mean that, in common-sense terms, the old man had no reason to despair. “‘How do you know it was nothing?’” indicates that the younger waiter does indeed interpret the word in this sense; and the older waiter underlines the impossibility of explaining the suicide attempt in the rational, materialistic terms the younger waiter would understand by saying, “‘He has plenty of money.’”

If, however, we ignore the logical key provided by the opening of the long, third dialogue (which is itself, in our original text, logically confused) it is possible to attribute the lines of the opening dialogue in reverse order, as, for instance, Carlos Baker does:4

Younger Waiter: Last week he tried to commit suicide.


Older Waiter: Why?


Y.W.: He was in despair.


O.W.: What about?


Y.W.: Nothing.


O.W.: How do you know it was nothing?


Y.W.: He has plenty of money.

In this case the younger waiter reveals his unimaginative materialism by “‘Nothing’” (in its ordinary colloquial sense) and “‘He has plenty of money’”; while the older waiter anticipates his later development of the meaning of ‘nothing’ by his question, “‘How do you know it was nothing?’” As regards the overall meaning of the story there is little to choose between these two, opposite attributions, since both can be interpreted as making the same distinction between the two waiters—one through the older waiter's concealed, conscious irony, and the other through an ironical, but unconscious self-betrayal by the younger waiter. Superficially, the lines “‘Nothing’” and “‘He has plenty of money’” seem entirely appropriate to the coarser sensibility of the younger waiter as it is later displayed in the story.

Otto Reinert placed so much weight on this last point that, in the next published contribution to the discussion5 he made it the keystone of his argument. His premise was that it is the younger waiter who says “‘He's got plenty of money’”, and therefore it is he who knows all about the suicide attempt of the old man. To reconcile this reading with the third dialogue beginning at line 55, he suggested that here Hemingway violated the usual convention that in a printed dialogue a new, indented line implies a new speaker, ‘in order to suggest a reflective pause between two sentences’. He suggested that the younger waiter says both “‘He's drunk now’” and “‘He's drunk every night’” (55-6) and that the older waiter says both “‘He must be eighty years old’” and “‘Anyway I should say he was eighty’” (67-8). This, of course, has the effect of making the older waiter ask all the questions, and the younger waiter answer them, so that there is then no inconsistency about line 78.

It is true that “‘He's drunk every night’” and “‘Anyway I should say he was eighty’” could be afterthoughts by the speakers of the previous lines, and would be accepted as such without question if they had been printed continuously. Reinert also argues, with some plausibility, that “‘Anyway I should say he was eighty’” seems more natural as an amplification of the preceding remark than as a response by the other speaker. However, on this last point, Edward Stone has observed that ‘Anyway’ here is an attempt to render a phrase in colloquial Spanish indicating agreement or confirmation.6 The main objection to Reinert's theory, as John Hagopian later pointed out,7 is the implausibility of Hemingway's having deliberately violated a well-established typographical convention in a way for which there is no precedent elsewhere in his work (nor, one might add, anywhere else), for a purpose that could have been easily accomplished by other means. Had Reinert suggested that the placing of the ‘afterthoughts’ on a new, indented line was a printer's error, his case would have been more plausible. For, contrary to Hagopian's assertion, the idea that it is the younger waiter who knows about the suicide attempt is quite compatible with the idea that ‘it is the old waiter who is obsessed with the awareness of nada and who recognises and sympathises with a fellow sufferer in the old man at the café’, because, as we have seen in the opening dialogue, so many lines are capable of being read in two opposite ways. One can only say that it is slightly more fitting, in emotional and aesthetic terms, that the older waiter should be acquainted with the old man's history and background; and that if he is being ironical in the opening dialogue (as we must suppose if he is the first speaker) then this is consonant with his more overt irony at the younger waiter's expense later in the story. The superior merit of Hagopian's solution is that it is simpler, inherently more plausible, and deals directly with line 78, the justification of which is the only logical support for Reinert's hypothesis.

Between Reinert and Hagopian, however, came Joseph F. Gabriel, ingeniously but perversely arguing that the text of the story was sound, and that the ‘inconsistency in the dialogue is deliberate, an integral part of the pattern of meaning actualised in the story. … In so far as the dialogue fails to conform to the norms of logic, the reader himself is, like the older waiter, plunged into the existential predicament and made to confront the absurd.’8 Gabriel's article was the longest, and in many ways the most critically perceptive of those that had so far appeared. He was the first commentator to point out that the dialogue in the first two exchanges could be attributed in different ways without affecting the qualitative contrast between the two waiters, and that this ambiguity was probably deliberate. It is not, however, legitimate to assimilate the inconsistency of line 78 into the concept of literary ambiguity. The ambiguities which Gabriel rightly observes in the text are all, in the end, capable of resolution or, if left open, do not affect the authority of the story. This cannot be said of the inconsistency in line 78, and it is its uniqueness in this respect which makes it a problem. A logical inconsistency of this kind, if deliberate, can only have the effect in narrative of radically undermining the authority of either the narrator or the characters or both; but this will always entail the sense of some authorial mind behind both narrator and characters who is reliable, to the extent that we can infer that he has some literary purpose in exploiting inconsistency. This purpose could be to expose the deceptiveness of fictions; or, in this case, it could be to reveal that neither of the two waiters really knows anything for certain about the old man—that they are making up a story about him for their own psychological purposes, and forget their respective roles in the process, as sometimes happens in the theatre of the absurd. The situation from which ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ starts might have been explored in this way. Unfortunately for Mr. Gabriel's argument, it wasn't. There are no other equivalent inconsistencies which would confirm the radical unreliability of the narrator. And so far from the two waiters being ironically distanced and presented as equally confused (as would happen if we believed neither of them knew what they were talking about), the story turns on a discrimination between them and a resolution of the story's ambiguities by a change of presentation—the shift into the older waiter's consciousness. That the facts about the old man are ‘true’, and that the older waiter is a reliable character, are essential preconditions if the latter's interior monologue is to be at all moving or persuasive. The story works by packing meanings under its realistic surface, not by undermining that surface so that it collapses.

Hagopian's solution is simply to emend the text by moving the words, “‘You said she cut him down’” to the preceding line, thus:

Younger Waiter: A wife would be no good to him now.


Older Waiter: You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.


Younger Waiter: His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.


Older Waiter: I know.


Younger Waiter: I wouldn't want to be that old. …

Gloss: the younger waiter discounts the older waiter's suggestion that the old man might be better if he had a wife by saying that the only use he would have, at his age, for a woman, i.e. someone to look after him, is already supplied by his niece—a fact he has deduced from the information given earlier that the niece cut him down. The older waiter's ‘I know’ is a conventional phrase of agreement, but, like some of his previous remarks carries an ironical implication: what you say is true but it doesn't take my point, which I'm not going to try and explain to you because you wouldn't understand it. With this emendation, the whole dialogue, beginning at line 55, becomes quite coherent and consistent, and provides a reliable basis for deciding that it is the older waiter who knows the facts about the old man and who opens the first dialogue at line 12.

Hagopian does not speculate how, when or by whom the words “‘You said she cut him down’” were misplaced, and unless and until the original MS. is available for scrutiny, it is impossible to answer these questions—or even to know for certain that he is right. But his solution is clearly the best of those that have been proposed. Everything we know about Hemingway's working habits—the immense concentration and care that he brought to the act of composition—suggests that it is highly unlikely that he himself was careless or confused about which of the two waiters had the information about the old man. It is odd that he did not pick up the error in proof or print. But it is even odder that none of his readers and critics commented publicly on the inconsistency in line 78 until twenty-five years after the story first appeared.

Presumably the inconsistency remained unnoticed for so long because so much of the dialogue in the first half of the story is presented dramatically, with no specific indication of who is speaking. Is this just an irritating mannerism, creating unnecessary confusion? It seems to me more reasonable to regard it as a deliberate rhetorical device. As we begin reading the story for the first time, we probably form the expectation that the story is going to be ‘about’ the old man; but as we read on we discover that it is about the difference between the two waiters. The ambiguity concerning which of the two waiters is speaking at any one time, therefore, keeps the reader's attention partly preoccupied with distinguishing between them, even though the main focus of the narrative is initially upon the old man; it thus prepares the reader for the subsequent development. Moreover, as I will try to show in the third part of this essay, Hemingway deliberately encourages the reader to make an initially incorrect discrimination between the two waiters which, when discovered and corrected, amounts to a kind of peripetia. Hemingway, in short, is making things deliberately difficult for his readers in this story. Ironically, he succeeded so well that a quite gratuitious and non-functional difficulty has passed unnoticed by most of them (including himself).

II

There are four well-established categories in the critical discussion of Hemingway's fiction—particularly his earlier fiction, and particularly the short stories: the Hemingway universe, the Hemingway code, the Hemingway hero and, embracing and articulating these three, the Hemingway style. The Hemingway universe is the metaphysically vacant waste land of much modern literature, but with a special emphasis on meaningless suffering.

‘“What have we done to have that happen to us?”’ complains the woman in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ referring to Harry's fatal infection. Harry replies with deliberate literalism, ‘“I suppose what I did was to forget to put iodine on it when I first scratched it. Then I didn't pay any attention to it because I never infect. Then later, when it got bad, it was probably using that weak carbolic solution when the other antiseptics ran out that paralyzed the minute blood vessels and started the gangrene.” He looked at her. “What else?”’ Harry's reply is determinedly positivist, ruling out any attempt to explain suffering by reference to a moral or metaphysical scheme. Suffering and death are essentially arbitrary, part of the order—or rather the disorder—of things. Hence the emphasis in Hemingway's work is not upon seeking explanations or solutions for the problems of existence, but upon the question of how to live with them.

The answer, in part, is the Hemingway code: the cultivation of the masculine virtues of courage, dignity and stoic endurance. These qualities are represented by such characters as the gambler in ‘The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio,’ and the Major in ‘In Another Country.’ There is no suggestion that the code can reduce suffering—the gambler tells Mr. Frazer that only consideration for his fellow patients prevented him from screaming aloud in his pain. Still less can the code avert suffering: the Major has schooled himself to accept his mutilation without illusions of being cured, but he is then struck from behind by the cruel and totally unpredictable death of his wife, whom he had carefully abstained from marrying until he was out of the war. His words to the narrator—‘“A man must not marry. … He should not place himself in a position to lose. He should find things he cannot lose”’ is not intended as practical advice, but implies that it is a necessary condition of our being human that we lay ourselves open to the pain of loss.

As Philip Young, from whom I take these concepts of the code and the hero, has perceptively shown,9 the Hemingway hero is not defined by the simple terms of the Hemingway code. The hero is a man who admires the code and aspires to it, often by seeking to harden himself in the direct experience of violence and suffering. But whether such experience has been willed (as in the case of war) or involuntary (as in childhood) the hero is never entirely able to reconcile himself to it. It leaves him with wounds both physical and psychological, which never entirely heal, and whose pain he tries to assuage in a number of ways: by attaching himself to those who live by the code, by private rituals such as hunting, fishing, drinking or playing the radio, by writing, or by the process, akin to writing, of recovering and ordering the past by concentrated efforts of memory.

This brings us to the Hemingway style. Out of the commentaries of various critics10 we can draw its profile fairly sharply. It is characterised by extreme grammatical and lexical simplicity: short, simple sentences, often linked together by conjunctions, especially and, to form compound sentences; precise, plain, colloquial diction, in which only the occasional foreign or technical word causes any difficulty of understanding; a heavy reliance on basic verbs, particularly the verb to be, and on the most ordinary adjectives, big, fine, nice, etc., thus putting maximum emphasis on nouns. Such a description, however, might apply equally well to the style of Defoe, from whom Hemingway is far removed, not only temporally and culturally, but in terms of literary effect. How are these linguistic features combined and exploited to create the special quality of Hemingway's style? We might begin by saying that it is a style almost easier to define by what it avoids than by what it does—avoiding complex or periodic syntactical structures, elegant variation, consciously ‘literary’ language of any kind. Avoids is the operative word, for Hemingway's style, unlike Defoe's, communicates a sense of the austere poetics on which it is based; we are always aware of the easy, decorative or evasive formulations which have been scrupulously rejected. This is partly a historical matter, for without the foil of English (and American) narrative prose as it developed through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Hemingway's stark simplicity would lose much of its effectiveness. Superficially naive, his style is highly sophisticated and demands a sophisticated reader for the full appreciation of its effects.

By its scrupulous avoidance of what is usually thought of as rhetoric, Hemingway's style itself functions as a powerful rhetoric of sincerity, bearing horrified, or traumatized, witness to the ugliness of life and death. At the same time, this style, particularly in its avoidance of syntactical subordination—the lingustic tool with which we arrange the items of our knowledge to show priorities or relationships of cause and effect—carries a large philosophical implication: the denial of metaphysics and the suggestion that life is ultimately meaningless.

III

Nowhere in Hemingway's work is this view of life more bleakly presented than in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’ The key word of the story is certainly ‘nothing’ or ‘nada’, and the way it invades the prayers, the ‘Hail Mary’ and the ‘Our Father’ at the end, makes explicit the rejection of any metaphysical explanation or consolation. God is very dead in this story. The only positive values it endorses are the very limited ones of light and cleanliness. The richer dimensions of the physical life, for example sexuality, mentioned in connection with the soldier and the younger waiter, are implicitly devalued as vain or transient or vulnerable.

The Hemingway code, as defined above, is not fully embodied in his story. The code is something to which both the old man and the older waiter aspire, but incompletely, unconfidently. The old man's unsuccessful suicide attempt is an index of his failure, but though he is a broken man he still preserves certain features of the code, which are remarked approvingly by the waiter or the narrator:

‘This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk.’

(81-2)

(In contrast, the younger waiter pours the brandy so that it slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer of the pile (50-1).)

… a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.

(98-9)

‘Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity’ the older waiter reflects later, ‘though that is all that is provided for these hours’ (147-9). The clean, well-lighted café is, therefore, valued because it permits a very limited practice of the code.

The hero of the story, again in the sense defined above, is clearly the older waiter. This only gradually becomes evident, as the difference between the two waiters becomes more perceptible, and as the point of view from which the story is told shifts from an impersonal authorial mode to that of the older waiter's consciousness. These two processes—the shift in point-of-view, and the gradual discrimination between the two waiters—are the basic rhetorical strategies of the story.

We begin with the spectacle of the old man, described by the impersonal narrator, sitting alone at the café in the small hours. The second sentence is interesting for the way in which its appearance of logical explanation dissolves under scrutiny. It seems to be saying that the old man likes to sit in the café late at night because by then the dust has settled, but then a different physical reason is produced—the quietness of the street at night, which is also a little unexpected because he is deaf and so, one might have supposed, less sensitive to noise. The statement appears to be a privileged authorial comment on the old man's behaviour, but the haziness of the logic suggests that it is, if not an unreliable, at least an inadequate explanation; and this is confirmed by the later development of the story. The old man's behaviour is a puzzle, an enigma, a provocation, and this is reflected in the conversation about him between the two waiters. He is, for the purpose of the story, an image of the Human Condition. To use such a portentous abstraction is to fall into the dishonest habits of language Hemingway's art implicitly criticises, but he has taken steps to stress the representative nature of his three characters. None of them is named, nor are they distinguished by any descriptive particularity of dress, personal appearance, etc., such as we normally expect from realistic fiction. We don't even know where the story is set until line 115, where the word hombre indicates that the setting in Spain. This singular anonymity, as well as stressing the representative or symbolic significance of the characters, means that the very limited terms of reference in which they are distinguished carry enormous weight. The old man is just that—the old man. He is referred to once as ‘the deaf man’ (48) to explain the waiter's callous remark, “‘You should have killed yourself last week’”, but otherwise he is referred to as ‘the old man’ or ‘a very old man’ (95, 99). It is highly significant, therefore, that the first time one waiter is explicitly distinguished from the other is by the word ‘younger’ in line 33: ‘The younger waiter went over to him.’ In other words the primary distinction made between the two waiters belongs to the same category as that used to describe their customer: age. Thematically, this is obviously important. It is strongly suggested in the story that hope (or ‘confidence’) can only be entertained by the young (see lines 119-20), and that since youth is transient hope is a vain illusion.11 Going back to line 33, we now know that one waiter is younger than the other, and it follows that the other waiter is older; but this formula, ‘the older waiter’ is not in fact introduced for another eighty lines. In fact no explicit distinction is made between the two waiters between line 33 and lines 87-8 (‘The waiter who was in a hurry’, followed by ‘the unhurried waiter’ 100-1). As we have seen, the reader must attend very carefully to attribute the dialogue correctly in this part of the story, and before line 33 he has no means at all of keeping the two waiters distinct in his mind.

The last sentence of the first paragraph presents the two waiters as a single unit of consciousness:

The two waiters inside the café knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.

This authorial comment, like the preceding sentence, is somewhat misleading—deliberately so. It presents the two waiters as being in complete accord and agreement, professionally allied against the old man. The story goes on to reveal an ever-increasing gap between the sensibilities of the two waiters, and to suggest a spiritual alliance between the older waiter and the old man against the younger waiter. It is some time before this becomes clear, however, because the reader has difficulty in distinguishing between the two waiters.

The first exchange of remarks between them (12-19) reveals a difference in the information each possesses about the old man, but not, at this stage, a definable difference of attitude towards him. The next piece of dialogue (28-31) reveals a difference of attitude—but not towards the old man (this should perhaps alert us to the possibility that the story is not going to be ‘about’ the old man, but about the difference between the two waiters—otherwise the introduction of the soldier and his girl will seem an irrelevant distraction). It is therefore impossible to match, with any confidence, the lines of the second dialogue with those of the first. When we come to the first explicit distinction between the two waiters with ‘the younger waiter’ in line 33, we may refer back to the two passages of dialogue to see if we can now identify which lines were spoken by the younger waiter, but we still cannot do so. As the story proceeds, however, the character of the younger waiter is sharply defined by his callous attitude towards the old man, especially his remark to the older waiter, “‘He should have killed himself last week’” (42), repeated to the old man himself at line 47. If, with this clearer picture of the younger waiter, we refer back once more to the opening dialogue, we shall probably decide that the line, “‘He has plenty of money’” has a callous cynicism that fits the character of the younger waiter, and that it is therefore he who opens the dialogue at line 12. We may then find the same callous cynicism in the line “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” in the second dialogue, and so assign this line also to the younger waiter. The remarks of the other waiter in this dialogue, about the guard, will then, by contrast, appear to express a humane solicitude, and we may find a similar quality in the question ‘How do you know it was nothing?’ which we have assigned to the older waiter in the first dialogue. It all seems to be fitting together.

But when we come to the long dialogue beginning at line 55 this hypothesis crumbles. For reasons given above, it is clearly the younger waiter who opens this dialogue, and who goes on to ask questions about the old man's suicide attempt. It must therefore have been the older waiter who opened the first dialogue at line 12 by saying ‘Last week he tried to commit suicide’. As the long third dialogue continues it becomes more and more evident that the older waiter is compassionate towards the old man, so that we have to revise our interpretation of the lines “‘Nothing’” and “‘He has plenty of money’” in the first dialogue. To do this we have to read further into the story. That “‘He has plenty of money’” was ironic is supported by the older waiter's obviously ironic references to ‘job’ and ‘work’ in lines 122 and 119. The real import of the first “‘Nothing’” (17) does not become evident until we reach the older waiter's long meditation on nothing, beginning: ‘It was a nothing that he knew too well.’ (150). Then a kind of electric spark travels back to the earlier occurrence of ‘Nothing’, and we realise that when the older waiter said the old man was in despair about nothing, he didn't mean that the old man had no reason to despair, but that it was an awareness of nothingness, nada, the meaninglessness of existence, that caused his despair; and that in this respect he, the older waiter, feels an affinity with the old man. With this enhanced understanding of the characters of the two waiters, we can agree fairly confidently with Hagopian's attribution of the second dialogue, as follows:

Younger Waiter: The guard will pick him up.


Older Waiter: What does it matter if he gets what he's after?


Younger Waiter: He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.

Hagopian takes the younger waiter's remarks as an expression of malicious pleasure in another's impending misfortune and of his preoccupation with the lateness of the hour. The older waiter's remark is ‘consistent with his indifference to the usual social norms, with his nihilism, and with his awareness of the value of youth and confidence.’

This affinity has already been established by increasing emphasis on the difference between the two waiters. In the middle of the story we are helped to discriminate between the two waiters by more distinguishing phrases than before:

the waiter who was in a hurry

(88; 116)

the unhurried waiter

(100)

the waiter with a wife

(110)

the older waiter

(119; 128; 132)

At line 107, the younger waiter says to the older waiter, ‘You talk like an old man yourself.’ The older waiter says to him: ‘We are of two different kinds.’ (132).

The ‘two kinds’ are, on the one hand, those who, like the younger waiter ‘lived in it and never felt it’ (153-4) and, on the other, those like the old man and the older waiter who live in it and do feel it. What is ‘it’? The story asserts the impossibility of defining ‘it’ any more precisely than ‘nothing’ or ‘nada’. It is worth nothing how often, and how ambiguously, the word ‘it’ is used in lines 149-54. When the older waiter actually names ‘it’ as ‘insomnia’ in the last line of the story—‘After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it.’—the naming is plainly meant to be ironically inadequate to the experience presented. The symptoms are those of insomnia, but the clinical diagnosis is irrelevant. The darkness of night (a recurrent archetypal motif in Hemingway's work) heightens the sense of nada and makes sleep impossible—hence the importance of erecting some defence against it for ‘these hours’. Here it is the refuge of the café, the clean, well-lighted place, its light and order opposed to the darkness and disorder of existence. “‘I am of those who like to stay late at the café’” the older waiter says (127), “‘With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.’”

With this speech the theme of the story—the idea of some community or brotherhood of those who are oppressed by nada—becomes explicit. The effect of resonant emphasis is imparted mainly by the parallelism of rhythm and structure in the three sentences. For there is nothing particularly striking about the diction of this speech—there is no word in it which has not already occurred several times in the story. Stay,late, café, bed, light, night: these are staple words in the remarkably limited vocabulary of the story, especially night and light, which occur twelve times and nine times respectively in this very short text, but never in such close juxtaposition as here: ‘a light for the night’.

This is a characteristic example of Hemingway's very artful use of repetition. I call it artful because it manages to generate a kind of verbal intensity of the kind that we associate with lyric poetry, while maintaining a surface of realistic illusion, an impression of straight, objective reporting. The high degree of repetition which we cannot be unaware of seems, on one level, to be merely a function of the austerely exact, simple, unpretentious narrative tone, that reports every action and speech without selection, compression or elegant variation. But the words that are repeated define experience in a very basic way: we have a sense of life pared down to its bare essentials. Clean, light, late, café, old man, shadow, leaves, tree, street, night, waiter, drunk, brandy, money, table, saucer, bottle, glass, bed, wife, kill, home, lonely, hurry,fear, confidence, bar, nothing—these are the basic terms in which experience is presented in the story—these are the words which occur and recur in the flat, neutral descriptions of the impersonal narrator, or in the rambling, realistically redundant conversation of the two waiters. It only needs a slight adjustment—a shift into a slightly artificial rhythm or syntactical structure—to transfigure the apparently banal particulars of the story and to invest them with moving significance. The effect is closely comparable with Joyce's stories in Dubliners, where the ‘epiphany’ is usually marked by the lifting of the language from its normative ‘scrupulous meanness’ (as Joyce described it) to a more poetically heightened mode—for example, at the end of ‘Araby’:

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Hemingway's most extravagant use of repetition and incantatory rhythm is in the long ‘nada’ passage, where it is licensed by two factors; firstly, that it is parodying prayers which are themselves rhythmically and rhetorically patterned, and secondly that the story has now shifted its centre from the impersonal narrator to the point of view of the older waiter. One might also note here that considerable literary advantages accrue from the fact that the story is set in Spain. To some readers the prayer-parodies will always seem contrived, but clearly they would arise most naturally in a mind conditioned by a Catholic religious culture. All the speech, both in dialogue and in interior monologue, is by implication a rendering of Spanish, so that the sceptical reader cannot test its authenticity with any confidence. The sprinkling of Spanish words in the text follows a familiar narrative convention for giving ‘local colour’, but it has other more subtle effects. The word nada, for instance, is obviously far more resonant, mysterious and sinister as a foreign word appearing in an English language context than it would be in a wholly Spanish context.

The shift in point of view is managed so discreetly that we are scarcely aware of it. The impersonal narrator withdraws with the forgiving remark à propos the younger waiter, ‘He did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry’ (110-11). But this withdrawal is covered by the ongoing dialogue, and the movement into the ‘older waiters’ consciousness is presented as a continuation of the dialogue: ‘Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself.’ (143-4). This device doesn't seem unnatural because it has already been established that communication between the two waiters has broken down. It was always tenuous—as we have seen, many of the older waiter's remarks have a private meaning unperceived by the younger waiter, and when he tries obliquely to communicate what oppresses him, the younger waiter says ‘Stop talking nonsense’. (126). (This moment is re-enacted later, in a more extreme form, when the older waiter orders ‘nada’ in the bodega, and the barman dismisses him as a madman (lines 163-5).) Thus, when the older waiter says, “‘I am of those who like to stay late at the café,’” he is already in a sense talking to himself rather than to the younger waiter, he is embarked on an effort of self-definition, a declaration of faith, or rather of scepticism, the slightly incantatory rhythm of that declaration “‘of those … with all those … with all those’” preparing for the prayer-pardoy that is to come.

The parody of the Lord's Prayer rises to a kind of climax as the word nada replaces more and more of the meaningful words of the prayer, so that at the beginning the words, who art, name, kingdom, etc., are retained, but towards the end of the parody all the nouns and verbs are replaced by nada—‘and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada,’—and then comes a significant reversion to the actual prayer: ‘but deliver us from nada’ (159, my italics). ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ implies very strongly that there is no deliverance from nada.

Notes

  1. E.g., The Essential Ernest Hemingway, Penguin Books, 1969.

  2. John V. Hagopian, ‘Tidying Up Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-lighted Place,”’ Studies in Short Fiction, 1 (1964), 140-6.

  3. F. P. Kroeger, ‘The Dialogue in a “A Clean, Well-lighted Place”’; William E. Colburn, ‘Confusion in “A Clean, Well-lighted Place,”’ College English, 20 (1959), 240-2.

  4. Carlos Baker, Hemingway: the Writer as Artist (1963), p. 124.

  5. Otto Reinert, ‘Hemingway's Waiters Once More,’ College English, 20 (1959), 417-18.

  6. Edward Stone, ‘Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More,’ American Speech, 37 (1962), 239-40.

  7. Hagopian, op. cit.

  8. Joseph F. Gabriel, ‘The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-lighted Place,”’ College English, 22 (1961), 539-46.

  9. Philip Young, Ernest Hemingway; A Reconsideration (1952, revised 1966).

  10. See, for example, Robert Penn Warren, ‘Hemingway,’ Kenyon Review, 9 (1947), 1-28; Harry Levin, ‘Observations on the Style of Ernest Hemingway’ in Contexts of Criticism (1957); Baker, op. cit., and Young, op. cit.; Charles A. Fenton, The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway; the Early Years (1954).

  11. In an otherwise rather simple-minded essay (which makes no reference to the problem of line 78) William B. Bache comments perceptively, ‘From the older waiter to the old man lies a progression in despair, for the three characters are actually part of an implied progression from youth through middle age to old age’. See ‘Craftsmanship in “A Clean Well-lighted Place,”’ The Personalist, 37 (1956), 60-64.

Charles E. May (essay date 1971)

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SOURCE: “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Spring, 1971, pp. 326-30.

[In the following essay, May rejects John V. Hagopian's reading of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and offers his own interpretation of the dialogue of the story.]

“Every professional artist has met the questioner who asks of some detail: ‘Why did you do it so clumsily like that, when you could have done it so neatly like this?’”

—Joyce Cary, New York Times Book Review, April 30, 1950.

Everyone seems satisfied and perhaps a bit relieved now that John Hagopian has tidied up Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (Studies in Short Fiction, Winter 1964). The dialogue discrepancy that had scholars counting lines in College English in 1959 and 1961 was only a typographical error after all—a thirty-year-old typographical error. And thus, following Mr. Hagopian's suggestion, Charles Scribner's Sons have cleaned up the messy “Place” in their most recent edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by changing the two bothersome lines:

“His niece looks after him.”


“I know. You said she cut him down.”

to Mr. Hagopian's tidier arrangement:

“His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”


“I know.”

We should congratulate Mr. Hagopian for his influence. Not only has the text of a story, read by thousands since it first appeared in Scribner's Magazine in 1933, been changed for the sake of “tidiness,” but Mr. Hagopian has fulfilled the secret desire of all critics at one time or another—to rewrite the work of an author to fit his own interpretation of that work. As a result of his “tidying,” Mr. Hagopian can now assert that it is undeniably the old waiter who knows about the old deaf man's suicide attempt. And based on this, he further can create an elaborate and sophisticated gloss of the double meanings of many of the old waiter's lines. For example, in the first dialogue section it is the young waiter who asks what the old man was in despair about and the old waiter who replies “Nothing,” which, according to Mr. Hagopian, is “a controlled ambiguous substructure,” meaning both “For no reason that you would understand” and “Because of the nada in the universe.” It is also the young waiter who asks “How do you know it was nothing?” and the old waiter who replies “He has plenty of money,” which again, according to Mr. Hagopian, is ambiguous, meaning both “Since you insist on a reason, I'll give the only one a man like you could possibly understand—there couldn't be a good reason because he has plenty of money,” and “It wasn't the lack of money; it was his awareness of nada.” With his one typographical change Mr. Hagopian is able to gloss the following dialogue lines revealing that all the old waiter's replies to the young waiter's questions are ambiguous, impatient, or sarcastic.

Although Mr. Hagopian's main quarrel seems to be with Joseph Gabriel's elaborate justification of the confusion in the dialogue as functional ambiguity (College English, May 1961), he first takes issue with Otto Reinert's suggestion (College English, May 1959) that Hemingway violates the typographical convention that each new indented line in a dialogue implies a new speaker. Reinert says “it is the young waiter who speaks both ‘He's drunk now’ (because the pronoun reference demands it) and the next speech, ‘He's drunk every night.’ And that it is the old waiter who speaks both ‘He must be eighty years old’ and ‘Anyway I should say he was eighty.’” Reinert, however, does not support his assertion very well, and Mr. Hagopian says his solution would only be valid if “(1) by the law of parsimony, it is the simplest solution; (2) an examination of the rest of Hemingway's fiction shows that the author often, or even occasionally, employed such a technique; and (3) the context supported, as it does in Joyce's Ulysses, the notion that the author violates standard conventions without explicit hints or clues to the reader.” Of course, Mr. Hagopian tries to show that Reinert's suggestion fails on all three counts, but I'm not so sure that he isn't a little too hasty to get on with his “mere sweep of the broom.”

As to the first objection, it seems to me that assuming Hemingway has violated a typographical convention (a functional violation) is “simpler” than presuming the rather drastic measure of rewriting the text of a work—especially a story by Hemingway. Is it really such a simple solution to believe that Hemingway, with his consummate care for the individual word, would have allowed the supposed typographical error to be perpetuated for so long?

As to the second objection, I can offer at least one other instance in which Hemingway does violate the dialogue indentation convention. At the end of chapter ten of A Farewell to Arms when Rinaldi is chiding Frederick Henry about Catherine Barkley, this dialogue occurs:

“I will send her. Your lovely cool goddess. English goddess. My God what would a man do with a woman like that except worship her? What is an Englishwoman good for?”


“You are an ignorant, foul-mouthed dago.”


“A what?”


“An ignorant wop.”


“Wop. You are a frozen-faced … wop.”

“You are ignorant. Stupid.” I saw that word pricked him and kept on. Hemingway has violated the indentation convention here and for a good reason. Frederick is trying to rouse Rinaldi, sees a slight response when he calls him an “ignorant wop,” then tries to find out which word has the effect—first trying wop, then ignorant, which is the word that “pricked him.” Thus, Hemingway does violate the convention when it serves the purpose of conveying pause and reflection.

As to Mr. Hagopian's third objection about context justifying such a violation, I might only point out that the entire story violates expected dialogue conventions from the very beginning. The reader goes through three dialogue scenes (almost half the story) before he is able to distinguish between the two waiters. Not until one waiter says, “I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing,” do we know that this is the young, impatient waiter. I can only agree with Joseph Gabriel, at least on this point, that the mystery here is a deliberate effect of the story—a functional violation of the convention of identifying speakers to convey a certain significant impression of the story. If we can accept this major violation, why can we not accept the relatively minor one of breaking the indentation convention?

But the real objection I have to Mr. Hagopian's facile “sweep of the broom” is that it changes the meaning of the story in a major way. The difference between whether the young waiter or the old waiter knows about the old man's suicide attempt is the difference between seeing the story as a static or a dynamic action. If the old waiter knows, then the old waiter (and I assume that everyone agrees he is the character we are concerned with) remains essentially the same at the end of the story as he was at the beginning. However, if it is indeed the young waiter who tells the old waiter about the suicide attempt, then the story is about the old waiter, who, forced to confront his affinity with the old man's despair, arrives at his nada prayer at the end as a result of the story. This makes for a simpler, yet more pertinent reading of the story than if we assume the old waiter has already realized and articulated the significance of nada to himself before the story begins. It is the difference between seeing the story as an excuse for a preconceived philosophic concept or as a dramatic realization of such a concept.

Before proceeding with this reading of the story, I first wish to suggest why Hemingway violated the dialogue indentation convention in the four lines Reinert has already pointed out. First it is the young waiter who says in disgust, “He's drunk now,” and, getting no response from the old waiter, who doesn't mind, says “He's drunk every night.” Hemingway breaks the convention to show the young waiter's impatience with the old man for being drunk again as he has for several nights and for once more causing him to have to stay late at the café. The old waiter makes no response to the second statement either, for he is still considering the old man's suicide attempt and asks, “What did he want to kill himself for?” Mr. Hagopian glosses this as the young waiter's line, “resuming the earlier dialogue in which he was the questioner.” But this is not a resumption of the dialogue. It is a repetition of the question asked earlier—a question the young waiter would not care enough about to repeat. However, it is a question the old waiter is concerned with—a question the young waiter gave no satisfactory answer to earlier. It is the old waiter who says, “He must be eighty years old,” and then after a reflective pause says, “Anyway I should say he was eighty.” This is an even more significant pause because it is the old man's age that made him try to kill himself, and it is this suicide attempt that makes the old waiter reflect on his own advancing age. This again seems more convincing than Mr. Hagopian's gloss of the line “Anyway I should say he was eighty” as being a response to the young waiter meaning, “Perhaps he is, but that too doesn't matter much.” I should think it would matter a great deal—both to the old man and to the old waiter. Moreover, in this connection, it is not accidental that the first dialogue line in the story positively identified is the young waiter saying “I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.” For it is just the young waiter's youth that makes him disgusted and impatient with the old man and the old waiter's age that makes him understanding and sympathetic. This is not only the source of the difference between the two, but also the source of the old waiter's increasing realization of his own age and resultant despair.

Understanding the story this way, we do not need Mr. Hagopian's elaborate gloss. The rest of the question and answer exchange about the old man is quite clear. The first dialogue scene opens with the young waiter watching the old man and idly noting that he tried to commit suicide last week. (If the old waiter is really as cynical about the young waiter's understanding of this as Mr. Hagopian says he is, I don't see why the old waiter would have mentioned it in the first place.) When the young waiter says this, the old waiter is immediately interested because the similarity in their ages and resultant despair make the act relevant to him. We can then see (without worrying about “ambiguous substructures”) that when the old waiter asks what the old man was in despair about, the young waiter answers “Nothing” and “He has plenty of money” because the young waiter cannot understand a man with plenty of money trying to kill himself. Later, the old waiter again asks “What did he want to kill himself for?” and then continues by asking “How did he do it?” “Who cut him down?”, and “Why?” because such questions vitally concern his own situation. Not only would the young waiter not bother to ask such questions, but he answers the old waiter in short replies without comment because he doesn't care. To the old waiter's question about why he did it, the young waiter says “How should I know?”

This reading allows us to see the story as following basically a cause and effect structure. The presence of the old man in the café so late causes the ensuing dialogue between the two waiters; the knowledge the old waiter gains about the old man's suicide attempt in the dialogue causes the old waiter's reflections about nada at the end of the story. At the end of the dialogue section when the old man leaves, the old waiter, having recognized his affinity in despair with the old man, now explicitly affirms it by admitting that he too is one of those, like the old man, “who like to stay late at the café. … With all those who need a light for the night.” Then after the young waiter leaves, the old waiter, reflecting on his recognition, recalls the word the young waiter used when asked earlier what the old man was in despair about—nothing. He transforms this non-answer, meaning “No reason” as the young waiter understands it, to the most real answer of all—a concrete and terribly felt “nothingness” as the old waiter himself now understands it.

Finally, in the understated conclusion of the story when the old waiter decides to go home knowing he will lie awake all night, he tries to dismiss the “nothing that he knew too well” with “It is probably only insomnia.” But it is a “nothing” he has been forced to confront in the story by confronting his affinity with the old man—an affinity that makes him realize “Many must have it.”

Thus, I would like to suggest that Mr. Hagopian might have been a little too hasty with his broom, and Scribner's a little too precipitous in tampering with the text of Hemingway's story. The story may be “tidier” as a result of Mr. Hagopian's efforts, but is it really “clean” now?

Scott MacDonald (essay date 1973)

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SOURCE: “The Confusion Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?,” in Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring, 1973, pp. 93-101.

[In the following essay, MacDonald concurs with Charles Mays's interpretation of the dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” contending that Hemingway ignored normal dialogue conventions in several other fictional works.]

In his generally sensible, but somewhat precipitant article, “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Charles E. May shows how the long critical debate about the confusing dialogue in Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” resulted in Charles Scribner's Sons changing the text of the story.1 Until recently “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was printed so that near the end of the long exchange which has caused so much confusion, the younger waiter says, “His niece looks after him,” and the older waiter responds, “I know. You said she cut him down.” In the last few years, however, the passage has been printed so that the younger waiter says, “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down,” and the older waiter responds, “I know.” Clearly this is a crucial difference. By changing the identity of the waiter who knows about the attempted suicide Scribner's has altered much of the story. One would expect that a change of this magnitude in one of the most highly respected and widely read of Twentieth Century short stories would be based either on a request by Hemingway himself or on evidence from a manuscript of the story. Unfortunately, neither was the case. As May points out, the change was apparently a result of the critical article “Tidying Up Hemingway's Clean Well-Lighted Place” in which John V. Hagopian concluded that modifying the text was the only way of satisfactorily solving the difficulties caused by the dialogue.2

Hagopian recognized that to assume the passage was correct as originally published, it is necessary to suppose that in two instances during the exchange between the two waiters, Hemingway ignores conventional dialogue expectations and has a single speaker say two consecutive indented lines of dialogue. Hagopian refused to accept this possibility, he said, because it was not the simplest solution to the problem, because he felt there was no supporting evidence in the text, and because of his contention that nowhere else in Hemingway's fiction is such a device used even occasionally. As May suggests, however, Hagopian's arguments simply don't hold water. The contention that a change in the text is the simplest way to solve the problem of the confusing passage is clearly ridiculous. Obviously, to alter a text and develop a wholly new interpretation of a story is more complicated than to suppose that Hemingway failed to follow normal conventions in a passage of dialogue. May also points up the weakness of Hagopian's contention that there is nothing in the text itself to support the suggestion that in two instances a single speaker says two consecutive indented lines. A careful look at the text shows that it is quite possible that the younger waiter says, “He's drunk now” and then after a pause, continues with the next indented line, “He's drunk every night”; and that later in the same passage the older waiter says, “He must be eighty years old” and then after a pause continues, “Anyway I should say he was eighty.”3 The one important weakness in May's article is his failure to prove that, despite what Hagopian says, Hemingway does ignore normal dialogue conventions in other works.

May cites a passage from A Farewell to Arms in which he believes that Hemingway has a character speak several consecutive indented lines. In the passage Rinaldi and Henry are discussing Catherine Barkley:

“I will send her. Your lovely cool goddess. English goddess. My God what would a man do with a woman like that except worship her? What else is an Englishwoman good for?”


“You are an ignorant foul-mouthed dago.”


“A what?”


“An ignorant wop.”


“Wop. You are a frozen-faced … wop.”


“You are ignorant. Stupid.” I saw that word pricked him and kept on.


“Uninformed, Inexperienced, stupid from inexperience.”4

May apparently feels that Henry says “An ignorant wop” and both the following statements. While it may not be impossible to read the passage in this way, May's interpretation is strained and unnecessary. There is nothing in the text which indicates that Rinaldi does not say, “Wop. You are a frozen-faced … wop.” In fact, the repetition of the single word “Wop” and the pause indicated by the ellipsis suggests the Italian's difficulty in coming to grips with Henry's American slang. Further, the use of “frozen-faced” seems to be Rinaldi's mocking prediction of what will happen to Frederic Henry as a result of being in contact with a “cool” Englishwoman. The passage, in other words, is best read in the conventional manner. Though May fails to support his belief that Hemingway ignores normal dialogue conventions, this contention can and should be substantiated. If enough critics can be made aware of the weakness of Hagopian's arguments, it may be possible to convince Scribner's that the revision of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was a mistake.

As has been mentioned, Hagopian's arguments are based to a significant extent on his contention that “nowhere else in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway … is there an instance of a reflective pause between two lines of dialogue by the same speaker without some indication of the fact. …”5 While Hagopian indicates that the lack of such instances is not an absolute test, it is crucial to his reasoning. His article even lists a series of passages from the stories in which a single speaker speaks twice in succession, but in which intervening lines of description and the repetition of nouns or pronouns act as clear signals of what Hemingway is doing, passages such as this one from “The Killers”:

“Maybe it was just a bluff.”


“No. It ain't just a bluff.”


Ole Andreson rolled over toward the wall.


“The only thing is,” he said, talking toward the wall, “I just can't make up my mind to go out. I been in here all day.”

and this one from “Now I Lay Me”:

“I think it's all bull, myself,” he said. “I just heard it somewhere. You know how you hear things.”


We were both quiet and I listened to the silk-worms.


“You hear those damn silk-worms?” he asked.6

Hagopian's implication is that in all cases Hemingway either abides by standard procedure or supplies these indications that he is not doing so. The fact is, however, that Hemingway does deviate from standard procedure without supplying explicit clues to the reader and that he does so with some regularity. Passages in which Hemingway ignores normal dialogue conventions by indenting two consecutive speeches by a single speaker occur frequently enough and obviously enough in both the stories and the novels that one wonders how Hagopian was ever able to make his original assertion. In “The Three-Day Blow,” for example, Nick Adams is talking about G. K. Chesterton with Bill:

“That's right,” said Nick. “I guess he's a better guy than Walpole.”


“Oh, he's a better guy, all right,” Bill said.


“But Walpole's a better writer.”


“I don't know,” Nick said. “Chesterton's a classic.”7

It is obvious from the context that Bill says Chesterton is a better guy and then emphasizes in the succeeding, indented line that Walpole is the better writer. And it is clear that Hemingway supplies no explicit clue in the story that he is disregarding normal conventions for writing dialogue. A similar instance occurs in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio.” As Mr. Frazer sits talking with the Mexican “friends” of Cayetano, the Mexican who does not drink asks him,

“How many tubes has the radio. …”


“Seven.”


“Very beautiful,” he said. “What does it cost?”


“I don't know,” Mr. Frazer said. “It is rented.”


“You gentlemen are friends of Cayetano?”


“No,” said the big one. “We are friends of he who wounded him.”8

It is obvious that Mr. Frazer says, “I don't know … It is rented,” and then asks if the men are Cayetano's friends. As is true in “The Three-Day Blow,” it is clear in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” who is saying what, but the reader's knowledge results from his understanding of the characters and their situations, not from specific indications in the text. In each of the above instances Hemingway's disregard of normal dialogue conventions functions to create a reflective pause. Bill's second, indented statement indicates his brief hesitation before qualifying his agreement with Nick. The indenting of Mr. Frazer's second comment emphasizes the difficulty the American is having making conversation with the Mexicans.

Passages of dialogue in which Hemingway indents lines of dialogue without changing speakers are also found in various novels. Near the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls, for example, as Robert Jordan lies wounded, he talks with Pablo about what he and his band should do:

“Does it hurt much?” Pablo asked. He was bending close over Robert Jordan.


“No. I think the nerve is crushed. Listen. Get along. I am mucked, see? I will talk to the girl for a moment. When I say to take her, take her. She will want to stay. I will only speak to her for a moment.”


“Clearly, there is not much time,” Pablo said.


“Clearly.”


“I think you would do better in the Republic,” Robert Jordan said.


“Nay. I am for Gredos.”


“Use thy head.”


“Talk to her now,” Pablo said. “There is little time. I am sorry thou hast this, Inglés.9

It is obvious from the context that Jordan responds, “Clearly” and then in the next line advises Pablo against going to Gredos. The indenting of the second statement indicates a short pause during which Jordan presumably decides to try to convince Pablo to escape to the Republic. Another instance, one in a passage of dialogue as long as the confusing passage in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and with as few identifications of speaker, occurs earlier in For Whom the Bell Tolls. As Robert Jordan talks with El Sordo, the Spaniard asks Jordan if he likes the whiskey he has been served:

“Very much,” said Robert Jordan. “It's very good whiskey.”


“Am contented,” Sordo grinned. “Was bringing tonight with information.”


“What information?”


“Much troop movement.”


“Where?”


“Segovia. Planes you saw.”


“Yes.”


“Bad, eh?”


“Bad.”


“Troop movement?”


“Much between Villacastin and Segovia. On Valladolid road. Much between Villacastin and San Rafael. Much. Much.”


“What do you think?”


“We prepare something?”


“Possibly.”


“They know. Prepare too.”


“It is possible.”


“Why not blow bridge tonight?”


“Orders.”


“Whose orders?”


“General Staff.”


“So.”10

It is clear that Jordan says, “Bad” and then in the next line asks, “Troop movement?” Again, the use of two consecutive indented lines seems to indicate a pause, in this case a pause in which Jordan and El Sordo contemplate the danger indicated by the increased troop movement and the presence of the planes.

Similar instances in which normal dialogue conventions are ignored occur in The Sun Also Rises. Near the end of Book II, for example, Jake Barnes returns from a walk with Brett, and, having promised her to look after Mike, goes by the Scotchman's room:

Mike lay on the bed looking like a death mask of himself. He opened his eyes and looked at me.


“Hello, Jake,” he said very slowly. “I'm getting a little sleep. I've wanted a little sleep for a long time.”


“Let me cover you over.”


“No. I'm quite warm.”


“Don't go. I haven't got ten to sleep yet.”


“You'll sleep, Mike. Don't worry, boy.”11

It is clear from the context that Mike tells Jake, “No. I'm quite warm” and then in the following line asks Jake not to leave. The indenting of Mike's second statement seems to indicate a pause during which Jake begins moving toward the door in the hope that Mike has fallen asleep. It is even possible that normal dialogue conventions are ignored again on the same page of The Sun Also Rises within a few lines of the last example. When Jake leaves Mike, he goes to his room:

Bill was in my room reading the paper.


“See Mike?”


“Yes.”


“Let's go and eat.”


“I won't eat down-stairs with that German head waiter. He was damned snotty when I was getting Mike up-stairs.”


“He was snotty to us, too.”

It seems clear that Bill begins this exchange by asking Jake if he has seen Mike. When Jake and Brett arrive at the hotel, the German head waiter tells them that Mike and Bill have gone up to their rooms, and it is likely that Jake would assume that Bill has seen Mike. The opening question thus makes most sense if Bill asks it. Since the reader knows that Jake was with Brett when Bill and Mike went to their rooms, it is clear that Bill must say the fourth line of the exchange. It follows then that either Jake responds, “Yes” and then says, “Let's go and eat,” or that Bill says, “Let's go and eat” and then says that he won't eat downstairs. Of course, if Bill asks the opening question, the exchange can be read in conventional fashion, but it does seem possible that for the second time in less than a page Hemingway ignores conventional rules without supplying the reader with any signals that he is doing so. Other passages in Hemingway's work during which a single character speaks two indented lines in succession can be found. There are two instances in “The Battler,” for example.12 It should be clear from the examples which have been discussed, however, that Hemingway ignores normal dialogue conventions with enough regularity to show that Hagopian's arguments are based to a significant degree on incomplete investigation.

The existence of passages in Hemingway's fiction in which Hemingway clearly ignores dialogue conventions, of course, does not prove that he ignores the conventions in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” At the same time, these instances do indicate that Hagopian should have given a good deal more consideration to this possibility than he was willing to give. Literary conventions, after all, are not laws. They are assessments of what authors have done, not of what they must do. It is true that most authors have consistently indented during passages of dialogue in order to indicate that a new speaker is speaking, but this is far from saying either that all writers always adhere to this way of doing things, or that all writers should always adhere to this way of doing things. The fact that at one point the original text of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” clearly indicates that the younger waiter is the one who knows about the attempted suicide must override any interpretation based on the assumption that Hemingway's dialogue must be conventional.13 Even if one were to agree that the interpretation Hagopian derives from the altered text is a fully consistent one, the conclusion would not be changed, for Hagopian's interpretation is surely no more consistent with the text as a whole than is the traditional interpretation. Surely, a consistent interpretation based on a significant change in an author's text cannot, and must not, override a consistent interpretation based on the assumption that an author disregards certain conventional rules, especially when they are rules which the same author has clearly broken in other places.

There is no doubt that Hemingway's disregard of convention in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is misleading, far too misleading to be effective. The fact remains, however, that the problems which the story creates can and should be solved without recourse to alterations in Hemingway's text. It is highly unfortunate that the long critical discussion about the confusing dialogue resulted in a change in the way Scribner's prints the story, a change which Charles Scribner, Jr. admits was made, not on the basis of manuscript evidence or at the suggestion of Hemingway himself, but solely on the basis of the advice of critics and “common sense.”14 It might be common sense to alter the way a passage of dialogue was printed if the change eliminated confusion and caused no significant modification in the meaning of the text. But that is not the case here. The alteration in the dialogue of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” changes the meaning of the text significantly and, as a result, cannot help but create more confusion than it was meant to solve. Those readers who are introduced to the story through the “corrected” version will be forced to develop an interpretation of the two waiters—and of much of the rest of the story—which is very different from what is called for by Hemingway's original text. One can only hope that concerned scholars will be able to prevail upon Scribner's to reverse the recent policy and once again print the story Hemingway wrote and saw through numerous printings.

Notes

  1. Charles E. May, “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” SSF, 8 (1971), 326-30.

  2. John V. Hagopian, “Tidying Up Hemingway's Clean Well-Lighted Place,” SSF, 2 (1964), 140-46. Only two alternatives had been suggested. One was Joseph F. Gabriel's contention that the confusing dialogue is an attempt by Hemingway to purposely confuse the reader and thus place him in the same existential position as the characters. See “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” CE, 22 (May, 1961), 539-46. The other was Otto Reinert's suggestion that Hemingway ignores conventional dialogue expectations and twice during the long exchange between the two waiters has a single waiter say two consecutive indented lines of dialogue. See “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” CE, 20 (May, 1959), 417-18. Hagopian correctly demonstrated why Gabriel's interpretation was over-ingenious. As is shown in the present discussion, however, Hagopian's reasons for dismissing Reinert's sensible suggestions were poorly thought out.

  3. This is made all the more clear by the fact that the second of these instances is actually easier to understand if one does not attempt to alternate speakers. Were the reader to suppose that “He must be eighty years old” and “Anyway I should say he was eighty” are spoken by two different waiters, it would be difficult to understand the purpose of “Anyway” in the second sentence. As Reinert explains, the second sentence seems to indicate an admission of subjectivity on the part of the speaker of the previous line; it seems to be an attempt to disqualify after a pause, “the objective certainty of ‘He must be eighty years old’” (Reinert, p. 418). While it is not impossible to read the two lines as though they were spoken by two different speakers, the feeling of continuity which is created by the use of “Anyway” makes it at least as acceptable to read the lines as spoken by the older waiter.

  4. Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (New York: Scribner's, 1957), p. 69.

  5. Hagopian, p. 141.

  6. Ernest Hemingway, The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Scribners, 1953), p. 287.

  7. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, p. 119.

  8. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, p. 476.

  9. Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (New York: Scribner's, 1940), p. 462.

  10. For Whom the Bell Tolls, p. 143.

  11. Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (New York: Scribner's, 1954), p. 210.

  12. One of these instances occurs as Ad is speaking angrily to Nick: “‘How the hell do you get that way?’ came out from under the cap sharply at Nick.” Ad then says the following indented statement: “Who the hell do you think you are? You're a snotty bastard. You come in here where nobody asks you and eat a man's food and when he asks to borrow a knife you get snotty” (The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, p. 135). The other example occurs at the end of the story when Bugs says the long paragraph which ends, “‘Would you like to take some of that ham and some bread with you? No? You better take a sandwich,’ all this in a low, smooth, polite nigger voice,” and then says the next indented line, “Good. Well, good-bye, Mister Adams. Good-bye and good luck!” (The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, p. 138). There are additional examples in other works, too. It is likely, for example, that near the beginning of Book II of The Sun Also Rises, Brett says both, “Might” and the next indented statement, “I needed that” (The Sun Also Rises, p. 83).

  13. As all critics have agreed, it is clear that at one point in the original text the younger waiter says, “His niece looks after him,” and the older waiter replies, “I know. You said she cut him down.” The question about these lines has never been how they should be read, but only if they are correct as they are printed, for if they are correct then it is clear that Hemingway does ignore dialogue conventions in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

  14. Information in a letter to the author from Charles Scribner, Jr., April 5, 1971.

John Leonard (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: “‘A Man of the World’ and ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: Hemingway's Unified View of Old Age,” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring, 1974, pp. 62-73.

[In the following essay, Leonard considers the common thematic concerns of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “A Man of the World.”]

Scholars and critics lately have put to good use the companion pieces among Ernest Hemingway's short fiction. Susan Beegel has achieved insights into “The Undefeated” and “A Lack of Passion” from side-by-side analysis of these two antithetical companion stories. Robert Fleming, in “Dismantling the Code: Hemingway's ‘A Man of the World,’” opens up the riches of that short story when he aligns it with “The Undefeated” and “Fifty Grand” by interpreting all three narratives as “structured around ‘code heroes’”(6). By comparing “A Man of the World” with “The Battler,” “The Killers,” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Fleming sees an initiation story, although he concludes that the protagonist of “A Man of the World,” Blindy, is a parody of the “code hero” and, underneath “his stoic insistence on the sacredness of that [heroic] identity,” a “hollow man” (9).1 For Fleming, “A Man of the World” is an ironic code story.

Applying the same critical method, I offer a comparison between “A Man of the World” and its more famous counterpart, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” The close reader quickly discovers a large number of elements common to both stories. This is not to say that “A Man of the World” replicates the conscious and hidden symbols and actions of its renowned predecessor. There are differences, most notably the memorably foregrounded nihilism in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” which as Fleming points out is not found in “A Man of the World,” and the use of a first-person narrator (Tom) in the later story.

The reader should bear in mind that the stories were published nearly a quarter century apart: “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” in 1933 and “A Man of the World” in 1957, the latter about four years before the author's suicide. But given the two stories' common themes, one must acknowledge the author's uniform and sustained attitude toward age. Hemingway's wisdom concerning age came early, and he seems to have kept that counsel all his life. In The Garden of Eden, David Bourne has the same recognition: “He [David Bourne] must remember that. He had only a sorrow that had come from his own tiredness that had brought an understanding of age. Through being too young he had learned how it must be to be too old” (1-2).

Age is a central theme in both short stories, and it is the older characters, the old man and older waiter versus the younger waiter in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and Frank the bartender and Blindy versus the young fellow/stranger in “A Man of the World,” who carry the ideological burden. Tom the narrator stresses the generation gap throughout “A Man of the World”: Blindy has been “on lots of roads” (CSS 493); Frank the bartender was a witness to Blindy's brawl with Willie Sawyer during the former's “fighting days,” making him coeval with Blindy; the outsider who learns about Blindy's history is “the young fellow” during the first half of the story. In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” opposing viewpoints due to differences in age and experience create dramatic conflict. Julian Smith calls “A Man of the World” a “technically perfect story” (10), and also notes that it takes its meaning from “the reactions inspired in others” (Willie Sawyer, Frank, Al Chaney, Tom, and the young fellow) by Blindy (10). Actually all of the older characters seek the young fellow's response in one way or another: Tom by denying that he knows anything about how Blindy lost his sight (494), Frank by setting the record straight, Blindy by justifying his name (“I earned that name” 495). Each older subject has a specific restless need to initiate youth.

Readers of Hemingway know well the brief plot of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” They may however need reminding of the abbreviated action in “A Man of the World,” narrated by Tom and set in Wyoming. Blindy nightly cadges money from the patrons of saloon slot machines in The Flats, and then travels on foot or hitchhikes to Jessup, where he works that town's two saloons, The Pilot and The Index. On the night the story takes place, Tom asks Blindy why he looks frozen and Blindy explains that he had to walk part of the way to Jessup. Blindy refuses a drink from Al Chaney, and when a young fellow hits twice on the machines, Blindy begs a quarter from him each time. After serving the young fellow and Tom a drink, Frank the bartender tells the young stranger how years earlier Blindy lost both eyes in a brawl with Willie Sawyer, whose face Blindy mutilated in the same fight. Blindy overhears the narration and with pride adds a detail or two. He also notes that it was Willie Sawyer who put him out of the car on the way to Jessup, because Blindy placed his hands on Willie's face. After insisting that his name is now Blindy and not Blackie, he accepts from Frank a drink and an offer to sleep overnight in the back of The Pilot. The story is brief, but a detailed reading reveals that a lot happens in the span of four pages.

The consolation of light is crucial in both stories, most obviously in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (CSS 290). “Well” is an important qualifier: the café is shadowed by leaves so as not to be “very bright” (291). In addition it is “clean and pleasant” (290). The bodega has a “shining steam pressure coffee machine” (291), but unlike the café is “very bright” (291). Its excessive brightness and “unpolished” bar repel the older waiter (291). In “A Man of the World,” approaching cars pick up Blindy in “their lights” (492) as he stops along the road between The Flats and Jessup, and his fight with Willie Sawyer took place in the lights from the doors of The Pilot and The Index (494). Blindy regrets not being able to “see sometimes” (495), but darkness does not undermine his ebullient persona. He puts a heroic face on his tragic life.

Annette Benert interprets the “Light” of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” as one of the “barriers … against Nothingness itself” (183). Steven K. Hoffman sees the light of the same story as a metaphor for “a special kind of vision, the clear-sightedness and absolute lack of illusion to look into the darkness and thereby come to grips with the nada which is everywhere” (176). One can argue that Blindy also has this “special kind of vision.” He is well aware of the odds against him, of his lowly and disadvantaged position in a difficult society, of the incessant demands life puts on his wits and will-power, yet he never despairs. Toward the end of the story Tom describes a brief, passing gesture of Blindy's: “His hand reached out and found the glass and he raised it accurately to the three of us” (495). Blind though he is, Blindy performs his toast “accurately,” as if he could see and did not live in darkness. The accurate toast becomes an implicit metaphor for the daily routines of Blindy's life. He is careful on the roads, drinks moderately, works the slot machines nightly, and is ever alert to the sounds from the machines. He lives as if he actually experiences light with little or no psychic or physical disorientation. His is a very limited life but one that is admirably functional. At times he rejoices with manic glee over his bits and pieces of good fortune.

As a frequently discussed symbol or as a special kind of vision (Hoffman 176), light opens to wide view “the dignity of movement” that is the surface of Blindy's daily life and, to a lesser degree, the hidden “seven-eights” below. I should note that many still question the “dignity of movement” in the one-eighth above the surface of “A Man of the World”—according to Paul Smith, “Carlos Baker dismissed both these stories [“A Man of the World” and “Get a Seeing-Eyed Dog”] as trivial and there is always the off chance that he was right” (392).2 Much of what is subtextual is arguable, conjectural, and enigmatic; as well as ultimately indistinguishable from the voice of Hemingway. But what is there must be formidable enough to sustain the resilience of Blindy's surface life.

Another signifier common to both short stories is concern over money, specifically in the context of age. The old man in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has “plenty of money” (298), but Blindy must “work” the slot machines of the two towns (492). Both characters evince a middle-class fiscal conservatism, of the same sort George Cheatham, following Scott Donaldson, finds in Jake Barnes. Cheatham defines it this way: “Just exchanges [Jake's term in The Sun Also Rises] are also equitable exchanges, legal, correct, proper, exact, accurate, uniform exchanges” (29). Note how the old man accounts and pays for his drinks in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”: “[He] slowly counted the saucers, took a leather coin purse from his pocket and paid for the drinks, leaving half a peseta tip” (290). The exchange is “proper, exact, accurate,” even given the old man's inebriated condition.

Blindy may lack the wealth of the old man but he imbues his financial and social affairs with the same spirit of “just exchanges.” Blindy has to scramble for quarters, but his transactions are always enacted with the assiduous sense of the honest business deal. Blindy gets his first quarter from the young fellow despite the latter's reluctance to give it to him. On the “pretty good” second jackpot Blindy politely accepts a single quarter; he raises no quarrel about a bigger jackpot entitling him to a bigger cut, and when the young fellow's luck turns, Blindy does not badger him with any undue pleas for money. Nor does Blindy follow the young fellow after he leaves the machines and returns to the bar; Blindy continues to stand by the machines “waiting for someone else to come in and make a play” (493). Blindy will “earn” his quarters. His diligence, his obsessive concern about justly earning his quarters, his name, and even his social worthiness, overshadows his physical ugliness, his lack of personal hygiene, and his formerly violent nature. The narrator again and again attests to the assiduity of Blindy's vocation: “it must have taken him quite a time” “to learn the sounds of all the different machines” (492). For a blind man to walk the often frozen road between The Flats and Jessup every night is a considerable feat—“He'd stop by the side of the road when he heard a car coming and their lights would pick him up and either they would stop and give him a ride or they wouldn't and would go on by on the icy road” (492). The narrator uses the word “worked” twice in the first paragraph of the story and in the second “threw his trade” to emphasize the economic propriety of Blindy's cadging in these difficult circumstances. Blindy also uses financial terms to describe the acquisition of his nickname: “[I] earned that name. You seen me earn it” (495).

The old man and Blindy live out their lives with the diminishment or loss of the male sexual drive. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” the younger waiter boasts that he has “a wife waiting in bed” (289) and then scornfully avers that “A wife would be no good to him [the old man] now” (289). The compassionate older waiter counters: “You can't tell. He might be better with a wife” (289), a response abundant with meanings: a wife might be an antidote to the loneliness and depression the old man experiences, someone to care for him or someone for whom he could care, someone with whom perhaps to have conjugal relations. The older waiter's sympathy for the old man's conjugal deprivations finds a responsive chord in Hemingway's correspondence. In a letter written in 1954 to Bernard Berenson, Hemingway observed: “But B.B. there is nothing like Africa as there is nothing like youth and nothing like loving who you love or waking each day not knowing what the day will bring, but knowing it will bring something” (SL 838).

A reader might lose sight of the lost sexuality theme amid the sensational violence and repellent physical ugliness described in “A Man of the World.” But despite all that has befallen Blindy since his memorable brawl with Willie Sawyer, and despite his current squalor, only once in the story does he evince sadness or discouragement and that by understatement. In “his high-pitched voice” (494) Blindy tells the young fellow that after blinding him Willie Sawyer “stomped me when I couldn't see” (494). He then discursively adds the judgment: “That was the bad part” (494). Blindy could reconcile himself to being blinded by Willie Sawyer; being castrated by him, however, is horrible and morally reprehensible, a wanton act of humiliation. The “youth … and loving” Hemingway described to Berenson is lost forever.

In the aftermath of these irreversible traumas Blindy has shown what Julian Smith calls “lifelong endurance under pressure” (9). His stoical acceptance of his dire fate inspires Smith to add: the “dignified, stigmata-bearing Blindy [is] … like Christ, a man of the world, a man of all the world” (12). Between Smith's effusive judgment and Howard L. Hannum's estimate of Blindy as “Hemingway's final, sardonic comment on the boxer-brawler” (342) lie the upbeat elements, amid preponderant squalor and ugliness, of Blindy's life: his speaking “without any rancor,” his narrating “happily” how he touched Willie Sawyer's face earlier that night, and his raising his glass “accurately to the three of us” (495). His élan is the manic antipode to the sad though dignified life of the old man in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”. Both characters, however, play out their biases as a response to losing the consolatory joys of human sexuality.

Another theme common to both stories is social isolation. The old man is a widower; the younger waiter calls him “lonely” (289), and the older waiter agrees. The older waiter, arguably the story's protagonist but certainly the “mentor,” lives much like the old man, apparently also with no wife and with no niece. At the end he is to “go home to his room”; his profoundest “thinking” is shared with no one: he keeps his thoughts “to himself” (291). In “A Man of the World” the cars that pass Blindy on the road, Blindy's positioning himself “down at the far end of the machines” (494), his sleeping by himself in the back of The Pilot, and Tom's assertion that it “was always hard for me to look at him” (493) demonstrate the reality of Blindy's loneliness. Considering Blindy's social isolation, “A Man of the World” is an ironic title; that Blindy tries to sustain this view of himself is a tribute to his lonely heroism. Isolation envelops other characters as well. Even though Blindy's life is tied to Willie Sawyer's in a perverse and unrelenting way, Blindy states the truth simply: Willie Sawyer is “Probably alone home by himself” (495). The “young fellow” becomes “the stranger” in the second half of the story, following the narrator's denial of having witnessed the brawl between Blindy and Willie Sawyer. That the older characters in the Hemingway canon must suffer in isolation seems to be a constant. David Bourne in The Garden of Eden sounds the knell: “That was all he took from the elephant except the beginning of the knowledge of loneliness” (16).

Three other themes cluster about loneliness, adding their dismaying significance to the view of age presented in both stories. Consider physical debility. That the body withers and loses its prowess and beauty is a commonplace but worrisome fact. The drama lies in the eventual allotment of debilities to each person and how he or she responds spiritually. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” the old man counts “slowly” and walks “unsteadily” (290). He is deaf, “in despair” (288), and according to the younger waiter, “a nasty thing” (289). The older waiter argues against that judgment, observing, “He [the old man] drinks without spilling” (289), a thrust at the younger waiter having “poured on into the glass so that the brandy slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer of the pile” (289). The older waiter too has lost “youth” (290), “confidence” (291), sleep (“only insomnia” 290), and by implication joy. But his sadness yields compassion (“Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the café” 290).

In “A Man of the World” physical debility is shockingly fore-grounded in Willie Sawyer and Blindy. Sawyer's face has a hole big enough so that “the whole inside of his face … [could] catch cold” (495). And then there are Blindy's eyeless sockets covered with “small pus icicles” (493), his body which smells “plenty strong” (492), and his “high-pitched” voice (494). He is so physically repellent that it is “hard for [Tom] to look at him” (493). He looks “so awful” (493) that the young stranger “quit playing [the slots] and came over to the bar” (493). In both stories, the younger characters are unsympathetic to the infirmities inherent in age. A “nasty thing” says the younger waiter of the old man, and “Him fight?” asks the young stranger of Blindy (494). Empathy for the aging subjects proceeds from their cohorts, the older waiter in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and Frank the bartender in “A Man of the World.”

Depression bordering on despair dogs the older characters in these stories. The old man is “drunk every night” (289), is quite capable of becoming “too drunk,” and has “tried to commit suicide” (288). Depression pervades the story linguistically and dramatically. The old man's drunkeness, despair, loneliness, and attempted suicide dominate the conversation between the waiters and gloom even infects their observations on the “girl and a soldier [who go] by in the street”: “The guard will pick him up” (288). The younger waiter becomes a pitiless agent of despair, telling the unhearing old man to his face “You should have killed yourself last week” (289). The older waiter too bears a melancholic burden; lacking “Everything but work” (290), he fully comprehends that “a man was nothing too” (291). Only in the final paragraph does the pall of despair begin to lighten, with “sleep” and “daylight” finally becoming achievable ends.

In “A Man of the World,” depression, both from trauma and shame, drives the self-imposed and unchanging social isolation of Willie Sawyer. Depression nags at Blindy's spirit also, though paradoxically acted out. He exhibits a hale and happy resilience even to strangers (“Your night is my night” 493); a laudable prudence governs his bibulousness (he has “to be careful on the roads” 493). It is true that by cadging drinks, in addition to husbanding his meager store of coins, he guarantees that he never has to drink alone. Yet Tom, the narrator, clearly alludes to the dark underside of Blindy's nature. (Blindy placed himself “at the far end of the machines,” figuring “no one would come in if they saw him at the door” 494). Even though he tries to get tauntingly “funny” with Willie Sawyer, Blindy states emphatically that they “have never made friends” (495). On two occasions he angrily tells Tom and Frank that “Blindy's the name,” “just don't call me Blackie” (495). A sense of unworthiness, bitterness over the castrating injury, sadistic humor, and suppressed anger exact their depressive levy on Blindy's spirit. Only Frank's quick action defuses Blindy's anger and melancholic mood: “Have a drink, Blindy” (495), Frank says, offering alcohol-induced tranquility and safe sleep at the story's end.

In the Hemingway oeuvre, from In Our Time to The Garden of Eden, the essential characteristic of all experience is threatened or actual violence. The old man in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an unsettling reminder that age is no protection against violence. Violence is the primary raw material of the critical industry surrounding the Hemingway canon. From Malcolm Cowley's, “In no other writer of our time can you find such a profusion of … morally wounded people who also devour themselves” (40-41) to Amberys R. Whittle's observation that many “of Hemingway's stories … are parables of … violent death” (287), the question is one of how the subject deals with violent, often lethal experience. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “A Man of the World” are no exceptions.

Consider “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” The old man tries to commit suicide by hanging. The soldier for a night of passion risks arrest by the guard. The young waiter urges the deaf old man to commit suicide. Only accidental good fortune forestalls violence in the first half of the story: the niece prevents the old man from dying, the guard does not arrest the soldier, and the old man cannot hear the younger waiter's brutal taunt. In the second half of the story, only the ameliorating actions of the older waiter and the old man defuse two potentially violent incidents. The old man responds cooperatively to the younger waiter's “Finished”; and the older waiter/mentor backs off his “insult” to the younger waiter by saying he was only trying “to make a joke” (290).

The violence in “A Man of the World,” both past and present, is actual. Violence at its most sensational occurs in Frank's narrative and Blindy's coda about the fight between Blindy and Willie Sawyer. Based on those two paragraphs, Howard L. Hannum logically concludes that Blindy's story is “Hemingway's final, sardonic comment on the boxer-brawler,” representing “the final stage of such violence” (342). The reader must stretch to find “dignity of movement” in the fight passages, and may incline either to share “Carlos Baker's estimate” (340) or to follow Paul Smith's lead and link up the story with “Mark Twain and the tradition of the tall tale” (393).

Putting aside the sensational “fight” passage, the reader will discover violence in other guises. Willie Sawyer puts Blindy out of his car to “be frozen up so bad” (493). Later Blindy confesses he started the altercation in the car by once again putting his hands on Willie Sawyer's face (495). Although their “fighting days” are long past, the urge to assault or humiliate each other is still present (495). Even if Blindy is just using his hands to “see” and remind himself of his past accomplishments, his action is abusive and malevolent, an assault on Willie's forlorn dignity.

Reprising the subtle, psychological, and diminishing violence in “A Man of the World” requires an extended dramatic example involving Blindy, Tom, and Frank. First, one should note that Paul Smith, following Julian Smith, is correct in ascertaining that the “drama [in ‘A Man of the World’] rests in the reaction of the three others [Frank, Tom, the young fellow/stranger] at the bar” (393). Secondly, Julian Smith in his critical study has noted certain parallels with the New Testament:

Blindy, I am suggesting, is, like Christ, a man of the world. … But whereas Blindy has accepted his fate, Tom the narrator would turn away could he. Thrice he denies Blindy, once by claiming not to know his story, once by claiming he has not heard of the fight though he was there, once by calling him by his old name. Tom is a doubting Thomas unwilling to put his hands, metaphorically, into Blindy's wounds—unlike Blindy who can touch Willie's wounds.

(12)

This religious interpretation does not lack cogency, although it is arguable. However, the dramatic import of Tom's denial is evident. When the outsider asks Tom how Blindy lost “his sight,” Tom belligerently replies, “I wouldn't know” (494). Immediately Tom, who up until then had identified the outsider seven times as “the young fellow,” calls him “the stranger” and will do so twice more in the remainder of the narrative:

“I wouldn't know,” I told him.


[“In a fight,” Frank told him.]3


“Him fight,” the stranger said. He shook his head.


“Yeah,” Frank said.

(494)

Tom, obviously unnerved, estranges himself from the young outsider. And he also grows testier with Frank's and Blindy's recapitulation of the brawl, a testiness exacerbated by Frank's deliberately curt retorts, “In a fight” and “Yeah,” aimed at jogging Tom's memory and conscience. His testiness is also demonstrated when he angers Blindy by using his old name: “Give Blackie a drink,” I [Tom] said to Frank. “Blindy's the name, Tom. I earned that name. You seen me earn it.” (495).

Blindy goes on to explain to the stranger what he did to Willie Sawyer's face earlier that night, arousing the disapproval of Frank, who reproves the blind man by calling him Blackie: “‘Blackie, you have one on the house,’ Frank said.” Blindy, of course, takes vehement exception once again to being called by his old name: “That's mighty good of you Frank [to offer me sleeping quarters]. Only just don't call me Blackie. I'm not Blackie any more. Blindy's my name.” Frank, unlike Tom, wisely and compassionately corrects himself and adds a fillip: “Have a drink, Blindy” (495). Just as the older waiter in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” defuses a potentially violent altercation by making “a joke,” Frank also becomes the peacemaker who facilitates the swing of the narrative from abhorrent violence to social amity and eventually to the tranquility of isolated but secure and consolatory sleep.

The stories share positive as well as negative themes. There is a merging of voices into a kind of spiritual bond. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” the voices of the older waiter and the old man, who, as Carlos Baker notes, never speak a single word to each other, join to express a common ethos, by implication Hemingway's as well. In “A Man of the World” there is a similar bonding between Frank and Blindy. Tom is uneasy about Blindy's loquacious presence, but it's Frank the bartender who should want Blindy gone from The Pilot. Blindy is bad for business: he “had run … [the young fellow] out” from the slot machines (493), the patrons threaten to “go next door to The Index,” “no one would come in if they saw him at the door” (494). And yet Frank tells the story of the fight, pacifies Blindy by using his correct name, and offers him a drink and a room for the night “in the back of the place” (495). Like the older waiter in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” one “of those who like to stay late at the café” (290), Frank signals his spiritual closeness to Blindy with various offers of comfort and security.

Blindy “reached out and found the glass and he raised it accurately” (495) and gratefully for the bartender's respect and compassion for him. As the “accurate” toast shows, Blindy never forgets his manners. Good manners, indeed dignity and self-esteem, found in such an unlikely subject, only reinforce the argument that the need to act with grace is universal and lifelong. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” the old man and the older waiter certainly embody this virtue. The old man walks “unsteadily but with dignity” (290), he says “thank you” (289) to the insulting younger waiter who pours him a brandy, and he pays for all his drinks, “leaving half a peseta tip” (290). The older waiter too exercises good manners. Although the younger waiter does “not understand” (290), the older waiter never sinks to rude or provocative behavior, but responds with a well-mannered “Good night” (291). And even though the older waiter “disliked bars and bodegas,” his final words in the story, addressed to the barman, naturally are: “No, thank you” (291)—laconic but polite.

Strange to tell, a politeness born of earned self-esteem is also Blindy's strong suit in public. He too says “thank you” each time to the young man who gives him a quarter from his jackpots. He stays “at the far end of the machines” (494) so as not to drive away any new patrons, and he is politely grateful to Frank for allowing him to stay the night (“That's might good of you” 495) and for offering him a drink, accepting with a “Yes, sir” (495) and a formal toast. As for the mentor/code hero of the story and his patience, wisdom, generosity, business savvy, and deference toward Blindy, especially in the matter of Blindy's correct name—all these I have already alluded to as elements of Frank's persona.

And so both short stories converge dramatically on these common themes: age, the consolation of light, a conservative viewpoint toward money, the loss or diminishment of sexuality, aloneness, the deprivation of physical powers and beauty, lurking depression and despair, violence (here eventually attenuated), the lifelong need for dignity and self-esteem, spiritual bonding among men, and the wisdom of age duly earned. In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” the abundance of naturalistic detail, some of it unpleasant, does not undercut the dignity of movement in the text and most readers come away “unusually stirred,” as Sean O'Faolain once put it (112). A “dignity of movement” occurs, perhaps arguably, in “A Man of the World,” especially if the reader perceives the overall movement toward amity and tranquility in the narrative and if he or she acknowledges that the tall-tale part of the story, the two paragraphs in which Frank and Blindy respectively recount the brawl, represents action that is prior, off-stage and verbally reprised to suit the occasion.

There is much in age that is a “nasty thing.” But the older subjects in both these stories face it with exceptional dignity, some with more (the older waiter and Frank) and some with less (the old man and Blindy). The adversities that confront the latter, perhaps even the greater flaws in their characters (Blindy's sadistically violent nature and the old man's brooding aloofness) diminish their heroism. In the case of “A Man of the World,” Blindy's durably happy and fun-loving disposition is a partial counterweight to the increased dross of violence that weighs down his heroism. It's a dicey trade-off that Hemingway made late in his career, making “A Man of the World” appear to be a “final, sardonic comment on the boxer-brawler” and clouding over the unexpected similarities between this story and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Ironically, the less despairing of these two short stories comes just four years before that fateful 2 July 1961 date. The singular event of that day in American letters prevented Ernest Hemingway from experiencing the aspects of age he had creatively prefigured in these two short stories.

Notes

  1. “Hollow man” that Blindy is, Fleming does not take his heroism away from him: “Not all heroes have the good fortune to die at the most heroic moment of their lives as Francis Macomber does. Some are left long years to meditate on the meanings of their actions as Blindy does in ‘A Man of the World’” (9).

  2. Carlos Baker's memorable putdown reads: “In its place he wrote a short story called ‘A Man of the World’ about a malodorous old bum named Blackie who had been blinded in a tavern brawl in Jessup, Wyoming. ‘I think it is a good story’ said Ernest. If he really thought so, his judgment was slipping” (Life 538).

  3. This line, “‘In a fight,’ Frank told him,” is missing in the Finca Vigía Edition of Hemingway's stories, but present in the November 1957 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, where “A Man of the World” first appeared. A missing line of dialogue, albeit tagged, invites comparison with the famous missing line of dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” It also shows an incipient curtness and anger in Frank that he quickly brings under control two lines later when with verbal irony and a parenthetical remark he lets Tom off the hook: “‘No. You wouldn't of,” Frank said. ‘Of course not. You wasn't here, I suppose.’”

Works Cited

Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Scribner's, 1969.

Beegel, Susan F. “Ernest Hemingway's ‘A Lack of Passion.’” In Hemingway: Essays of Reassessment. Ed. Frank Scafella. New York: Oxford U P, 1991. 62-78.

Benert, Annette. “Survival Through Irony: Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Studies in Short Fiction 11 (1974): 181-89.

Cheatham, George. “‘Sign the Wire with Love’: The Morality of Surplus in The Sun Also Rises.The Hemingway Review 11.2 (Spring 1992): 25-30.

Cowley, Malcolm. “Nightmare and Ritual in Hemingway.” Hemingway: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robert P. Weeks. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965.

Fleming, Robert. “Dismantling the Code: Hemingway's ‘A Man of the World.’” The Hemingway Review 11.2 (Spring 1992): 6-9.

Hannum, Howard L. “Hemingway's Tales of ‘The Real Dark.’” Hemingway's Neglected Fiction: New Perspectives. Ed. Susan F. Beegel. Ann Arbor: UMI Research, 1989.

Hoffman, Steven K. “Nada and the Clean, Well-Lighted Place: The Unity of Hemingway's Short Fiction.” In New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Ed. Jackson Benson. Durham: Duke U P, 1990. 172-191.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Finca Vigía Edition. New York: Scribner's, 1987.

———. The Garden of Eden. 422.1—Folder 29, Hemingway Collection, J.F.K. Library, Boston.

———. Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961. Ed. Carlos Baker. New York: Scribner's, 1981.

O'Faolain, Sean. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” In Hemingway: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robert P. Weeks. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965. 76-79.

Scholes, Robert. “Decoding Papa: ‘A Very Short Story’ As Work and Text.” In New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Ed. Jackson Benson. Durham: Duke U P, 1990. 33-47.

Smith, Julian. “Eyeless in Wyoming, Blind in Venice: Hemingway's Last Stories.” Connecticut Review 4 (April 1971): 9-15.

Smith, Paul. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.

Lawrence Broer (essay date 1976)

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SOURCE: “The Iceberg in ‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place,’” in Lost Generation Journal, Vol. IV, No. 2, Spring-Summer, 1976, pp. 14-15, 21.

[In the following essay, Broer explores the bond between the old waiter and old customer in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]

“I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg,” Ernest Hemingway said about his craft. “There is seven-eights of it under the water for every part that shows.” In drawing attention to the often unsuspected depths in his work, Hemingway provides the ground for instruction in one of the major aesthetic principles of modern fiction: the art of indirection. What most modern writers have realized, and what Hemingway achieves so well in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” is that it is possible to convey a great many things on paper without stating them at all. The art of implication, of making one sentence say two or more different things with a minimum of description, and the possibilities of conveying depths of emotion and the most intimate and subtle of moods through the interplay of image and symbol are grasped by Hemingway as well as by any writer of our time.

Especially in the case of a story like “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” must the reader be warned against a too easy acceptance of what happens literally in the tale. The tale begins as an infirm old man drinks alone one night in a café that is about to close, proceeds through a rather laconic dispute between two waiters over the propriety of closing the café early, and concludes as the older of the two waiters muses over the difference between a bar and a clean, well lighted café, has a nightcap at a nearby bar, and finally retires to his room for the night.

Obviously, a description of the mere tip of the iceberg scarcely begins to account for the compelling power and poignancy of Hemingway's story. Its art resides rather in the author's ability to create the dramatic illusion of nothingness through resonant images of isolation and aloneness, through ironic juxtapositions, through symbolic characterizations, and through a momentary glimpse into the desparing consciousness of the old waiter.

From the very first line of the story Hemingway causes the reader to dwell on the hopeless void within and around the old man who comes nightly to drink at the café. Not only is it late in his life, but he is now reduced to drinking alone and in the late night shadows of an empty café. Even the dust on the street outside seems a grim reminder that the old man's life has come to a close, a symbolic hint of the fate nature has in store for him. We furthermore learn that he is deaf—that, literally, his life has become a hermetically sealed compartment, and that the old man's imprisonment of isolation and inevitable suffering has produced in him a despair so terribly frustrating that he contemplates suicide as an answer. The very bleakness of the conversation of the two waiters—unadorned and terse—conspires to emphasize the deadly stale monotony of the final days of his life.

As with the paucity of dialogue, just as with the lack of emotional commentary on the part of the author, the very absence of background information in the story about the past life of the old man augments the readers's sense of the vacuum that has formed around him. We are given the present form of his despair—he has attempted suicide in a hideous fashion and manages to bear life now only by drugging himself on liquor—but we are given little direct information about the source of that despair. When, in fact, the young waiter asks his colleague why the old man attempted suicide, he answers flatly that it was over “nothing.” It is an answer, of course, which assumes dramatic symbolic importance later in the story. But for the moment, taken literally, it hardly suffices to explain the forces which have created his predicament—forces which the reader is made to feel unconsciously due to the movement of the submerged portion of the iceberg.

It is through the careful placing together of highly ironic scenes and images that the author comments on those things in the old man's past which, having now been denied him, explain and greatly intensify his sense of void, or “nada,” which old age has created. The old man's sense of emptiness and futility is stressed in the obvious contrast between the vitality of youth and the passivity of old age. “You have youth, confidence and a job,” the old waiter tells his impatient, youthful co-worker. “You have everything.” Hemingway suggests that it is not the passing of youth in and of itself that frustrates and embitters the old waiter, but the passing of the fuller, more active and productive life that youth makes possible. The “everything” includes the ability to make love, the capacity for excessive drinking, and the confidence and energy to work at a worthwhile job.

In dismal contrast to the young waiter who rudely reminds his colleague that he has a wife waiting home in bed for him, the old waiter must return alone each night to an empty room, and the burned out old man who drinks alone in the café has only a niece who pityingly “looks after him.” Thus, the isolation and loneliness of both old men becomes considerably more tragic, especially in view of an explicit statement Hemingway makes on this subject in Death in the Afternoon.

All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is not a true story teller who would keep that from you. Especially do all stories of monogamy end in death, and your man who is monogamous while he often lives most happily, dies in the most lonely fashion. There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her.

That the solace of companionship and sexuality with a good woman has been denied the two old men is further emphasized in the juxtaposition of the solitary figure of the old man drinking alone in the shadows of the café, and the eager young couple hurrying by him in the night to fulfill a romantic adventure. Against the expectancy and intensity of the soldier and the young waiter, the two old men have nothing to look forward to in the night but thoughts of death and nothingness.

The contrast between the insensitivity and unconcern of the young waiter and the understanding and compassion of the older waiter amplifies still further the pathos of isolation in old age. But it also serves to set up the crucial identification—the essential oneness—of both old men in the story, and hence the symbolic statement of theme in the old waiter's embittered recitation of the Lord's Prayer. From the very beginning of the story we see that the old waiter has more than a passing interest in the old man's plight. It is he, for instance, who has knowledge of the suicide attempt, and who identifies the source of the old man's despair as “nada.” And it is he who recognizes and appreciates the old man's attempt to preserve some semblance of dignity amidst the despair and personal dissolution of old age. In contrast to the young waiter, he feels he understands the needs of a proud man grown old, and the obtuseness and insolence of the younger waiter provokes a defense of the old man's virtues. “This old man is clean,” he instructs his colleague. “He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him.” Then, as if to vindicate the older waiter's faith, the old man is particularly careful about counting his saucers, paying the bill and leaving a tip. And when he leaves, we sense that it is with considerable pride that the old waiter observes him “go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.” The old waiter knows that an old man, despite the disintegration of his body, may still affirm his worth as a man by keeping himself under control, by facing his ordeal without asking any favors or making any concessions to his age, and thus showing himself superior to circumstances until the final moment of death—until nada's will is done.

For the two old men in the story, the capacity for stoic endurance—the faculty for control and manly bearing—provides at least one positive standard by which an old man might gain honor and dignity in the face of inevitable defeat. In the manner of Hemingway's other embattled and aging heroes, Santiago and Colonel Cantwell, these two old men act in keeping with the author's belief that there is very definitely a correct way to live and a correct way to die, and that the manner of dying may demonstrate man's indomitability beyond his physical destruction. Certainly we do not find the old men in this story asserting their manhood in the conspicuous fashion of Santiago or Cantwell, yet the image of the old man enduring his physical hardship quietly and alone, attempting to make the best of a bad situation, signals a positive connection with these other proud and disdainful figures. Even the old man's decision to meet death head-on—to initiate his own destruction violently and quickly—rather than live on in the perpetual horror of nothingness, dying a slow and humiliating death by degrees—is consistent with the defiant attitudes of the author's most prominent heroes.

Despite the resemblance of the old men in this story to the familiar figure of the Hemingway hero, they differ in one very crucial respect; and in this difference lies the particular pathos of their condition. Whereas Hemingway's other aging heroes are able to combat the forces of nada through immersion in the life of the senses, by seizing the intensity of the moment and an indifference to the consequences of intense and dangerous action, circumstances have rendered these old men passive. It is their frustration and vulnerability that we feel—not their ability to dominate. Their senses hardly serve anymore, and capacity for defiance has become limited to pose and gesture. And whereas Hemingway's other aging heroes achieve a partial triumph over despair—a ray of light in a darkened world—through love and human compassion, these old men are completely cut off from contact with their fellow human beings. Despite their attempt to endure their last days with dignity and courage, we see through the introspective reverie of the old waiter that they have been forced into an impotent despair so obsessive that only death offers any hope for relief.

The final bond of sympathy between the two old men, ironic, since it affords them no solace in their mutual isolation, is established when the older waiter informs his colleague, “We are of two different kinds … I am of those who like to stay late at the café. … With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.” Because of the insight given him through the power of suffering, the old waiter comprehends the horror of “nada” to which the old man has been condemned for the night, i.e., thoughts of dissolution and death and perpetual void that loneliness in the night shall surely produce. Hence, he is able to appreciate the fact that the order and cleanliness and light of the café provides a temporary stay against such despair, and explains, consequently, that “each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café.” The contrast between the bodega and the café climaxes the series of juxtapositions of light and dark, early and late, youth and old age—with the attendant association of life and death—that have accumulated from the opening line of the story.

But it is the old waiter's answer to the barman's question, “What's yours?” that indicates the symbolic merging of identities of the two old men, as well as the full measure of their common fate. “Nada,” the old waiter replies, thus establishing that his is the same condition and the same state of mind underlying the old man's suicide attempt mentioned earlier in the story. His is a life without relation to any other human being, without hope for the future, and worse, as we see through the embittered reading of the Lord's Prayer, without the light and order that religion can sometimes bring to life. Beneath the stiff control of the facade, we see that the old waiter has taken to brooding over the futility of life—its essential meaninglessness, injustice, and cruelty. His recognition that he lives in a world totally indifferent to human aspirations, that God as well as man is nothing, and hence, that no relief is due his suffering, causes him to reduce the values and promises embodied in the Lord's Prayer to nothingness. The substitution of “nada” for every important word in the prayer is a symbolic way of saying that each of these phrases means “nothing,” that they have failed to make men better, or to order the world, or to bring justice, and, most important, that they are as powerless as the other illusions of youth against the ultimate reality of death and void, from which there is no deliverance. It is noteworthy that we find the old waiter offering up his prayer to nothingness before “a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine,” no altar, no religious shrine, but a gleaming machine, banal and totally devoid of spirituality, a fitting symbolic mockery of spiritual aspiration. It is no doubt a sardonic smile of acknowledgment with which the old waiter ponders the machine.

It is the old waiter's sense of cosmic alienation that culminates and makes unbearable the feeling of void in old age. And yet it is just this tragic awareness of life's essential meaninglessness which marks his moral superiority to the young waiter in the story. When the older waiter says that “we are of two different kinds,” a basic value judgment is implied which makes the unrelieved arrogance of the young waiter even more ironic and unpardonable. The older waiter recognizes that nothing in the young waiter's life has allowed him to glimpse the tragic side of life and the inevitability of death that old age has brought to him and the old man. “Some lived in it and never felt it.” the old waiter concludes. He realizes that the enjoyment of the daily material things, family, security, position, and money has dulled the edge of the younger waiter's perceptivity, and thus provided him with the ability temporarily to ignore the ultimate, ever-present realities of nada. In contrast, experience and observation have taught the older waiter that, in Hemingway's words, “our bodies all wear out in some way and we die. … that no man can avoid death by honest effort. …” The older waiter has acquired the tragic perception which is at the center of the author's nihilistic vision: “That death is the unescapable reality, the one thing man may be sure of; the only security; that it transcends all modern comforts.”

Once again, it is the lack of emotional commentary on the part of the author, and the use of ironic contrast, which makes so terrible the prospect of the old waiter going home alone to him room. “He would lie in the bed and finally with daylight, he would go to sleep,” the old waiter muses. “It is probably only insomnia.” The irony of understatement here calls to mind the famous line at the end of chapter one in A Farewell to Arms. “At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.” In both cases it is the jarring incongruity between the casualness of the utterance and the actual grimness of the situation which creates the tension—the emotional impact—in the reader. In dreary fact, it is not the relatively innocent state of “insomnia” that awaits the old waiter in the dark of his room, but the certain torment of thoughts of death and nothingness, intensified, probably, by the haunting memory of an old man hanging grotesquely from a roof beam.

In explaining his reliance upon the art of indirection to convey meaning in his stories, Hemingway has written that

I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become a part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened.

In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” what the author has eliminated are certain devices and patterns which have been the skeletal bones of traditional narrative literature—expository structure, turning points, climax and symmetrical plot. In order to obtain a maximum emotional response from his reader, he has employed instead the connotative devices of image, symbol, and irony of statement and circumstance. This is no doubt disheartening news for those readers whose tastes run more to the literal truths of “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.” Upon encountering the stylistic subtleties of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” such a reader is likely to close his book after a few moments because “nothing is happening,” or to throw up his hands in despair, or cry out in exasperation, “Why can't these authors say what they mean?” It is hoped that for such a reader the preceding sounding of depths in Hemingway's classic tale of spiritual and social isolation will enable him to perceive that complexity, indirection—in particular, the elements of imagery, symbolism, and irony—may be a necessary integral part of the “saying,” and the “meaning,” and that these differences in quality often distinguish the story of genuine value from a piece of competent trash, the kind of fiction produced by the pulp magazines to provide mindless entertainment and which leaves no residue, no aftermath of deeply stirred emotion, no moral implications to think over, no particular insights into life, behavior, or human character.

C. Harold Hurley (essay date 1976)

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SOURCE: “The Attribution of the Waiters' Second Speech in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Winter, 1976, pp. 81-5.

[In the following essay, Hurley takes issue with Hagopian's attribution of the some of the dialogue in the story, maintaining that the dialogue should be “consistent with the characters as revealed elsewhere in the story.”]

John V. Hagopian's emendation of the much-disputed dialogue of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” establishes that it is the older waiter, not the younger waiter, who knows of the old man's suicide attempt.1 Each of the waiters' statements can now be identified unequivocally, except the controversial second exchange concerning the soldier and the girl. This passage, made more difficult by the omission of all explicit identifying tags, must be attributed correctly if the waiters are to be viewed as separate character types. But despite the lack of identifiers, the text contains several patterns that differentiate the speakers of this crucial exchange and maintain the waiter's distinctiveness, which, according to the older waiter's remark to his colleague, “‘We are of two different kinds,’” is what Hemingway intended.

Professor Hagopian's solution to the problem of the dialogue, since adopted by Scribner's,2 is to move the words, “‘You said she cut him down,’” to the preceding line, thus:

Younger Waiter: “A wife would be no good to him now.”


Older Waiter: “You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.”


Younger Waiter: “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”


Older Waiter: “I know.”

This exchange, the only logical guide to the correct attribution of the opening dialogue, indicates that it is the older waiter who knows about the deaf old man's suicide attempt. The first exchange, then, can be attributed as follows:

Older Waiter: “Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.


Younger Waiter: “Why?”


Older Waiter: “He was in despair.”


Younger Waiter: “What about?”


Older Waiter: “Nothing.”


Younger Waiter: “How do you know it was nothing?”


Older Waiter: “He has plenty of money.”

Critics, unable to match with confidence the lines of the first and third exchanges with those of the second, are divided over the attribution and interpretation of the second exchange. William Colburn, who early called attention to the confused dialogue, stated what was then the prevailing view: “No doubt most readers will agree that the older waiter should be the one to feel that money and a wife in bed are not enough and that he should be concerned that the soldier with the streetwalker will get into trouble” (p. 242). Several years later, Joseph F. Gabriel reiterated the view: “It is generally assumed that it is the older waiter who expresses fear that the soldier and the girl will be caught …” (p. 543). This reading, though correct, is difficult to confirm because of the omission of identifying tags.

Professor Hagopian, ignoring earlier opinion, altered the general view by attributing the opening line of the second exchange, “‘The guard will pick him [the soldier] up,’” to the younger waiter, with the gloss, “a bit of Schadenfreude, quite consistent with his remark to the deaf old man ‘You should have killed yourself last week’” (p. 144). “The younger waiter,” Hagopian adds, “wants everybody to get off the streets, including the old man, so that he can go home to his wife. It is he who is keenly aware of the time, who complains that he never gets into bed before three o'clock, and who is impatient …” (ibid.). To the older waiter Hagopian assigns the line, “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” with the gloss, “consistent with his indifference to the usual social norms, with his nihilism, and with his awareness of the value of youth and confidence …” (p. 144). David Lodge and Warren Bennett, the latest contributors to the controversy, accept Hagopian's attribution of the waiters' second exchange; but the text supports only one interpretation—the former.

Joseph Gabriel's contention that “there are two equally good ways of reading the dialogue” (p. 543), though a compromise between the opposing opinions, is contrary to Hemingway's intention of delineating two distinct characters. As the story unfolds, Hemingway distinguishes between the main characters with the following tags: “the younger waiter,” “the older waiter,” “the waiter who was in a hurry,” “the unhurried waiter,” and “the waiter with a wife.” Unfortunately, these tags do not apply to the passage in question; but Hemingway does provide a consistent set of patterns in differentiating between the waiters, which, when taken with the context, enable us to resolve the controversy over the second exchange.3

The attributions of the first and third exchanges, now generally unquestioned, reveal a simple pattern: the younger waiter asks the questions and the older waiter provides terse answers that, as we shall see momentarily, have meanings known only to himself.4 This pattern is maintained in the disputed speech, attributable as follows:

Older Waiter: “The guard will pick him up,” one waiter said.


Younger Waiter: “What does it matter if he gets what he's after?”


Older Waiter: “He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.”

In addition to maintaining the question-answer pattern in the first three exchanges, Hemingway employs a second pattern of distinguishing between the waiters that further supports this attribution. The opening line of the first exchange, ascribed to the older waiter, reads:

“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.

The opening line of the disputed exchange reads:

“The guard will pick him up,” one waiter said.

These lines, in close proximity in the text, have much in common. Both are similar structurally; both initiate the exchange and express compassion, first for the old patron, and then for the young soldier; and both have the “one waiter said” tag, used nowhere else in the story. These parallels are purposeful and enable us to match the speakers of the second exchange with those of the first and third. The older waiter, who unquestionably speaks the opening line of the first exchange, should be attributed with the opening line of the disputed exchange.

Hemingway, employing the “one waiter said” tag to refer to the older waiter, utilizes a similar device to designate the younger waiter. Except when explicitly identified, the younger waiter is referred to simply as “the waiter.” In the scenes where the men appear together, the designation “the waiter” is used seven times to refer exclusively to the younger waiter, and is used to refer to the older waiter only after he is alone and cannot be mistaken for his colleague.

The context of the controversial scene, together with these distinguishing patterns, indicates that the initial line of the second exchange, “‘The guard will pick him up,’” should be attributed to the older waiter, and the line, “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” to the younger waiter; and not the other way around. As Carlos Baker observed (p. 124), the waiters' first exchange dramatizes the unspoken bond between the older waiter and the old man. The older waiter, recognizing the old man as a fellow-sufferer, is reluctant to close, because he, too, needs the light, cleanness, and order that the café provides against the dark. In the next scene, the older waiter extends his compassion for the old patron to embrace the young soldier, since he perceives in them, and himself, a progression in despair that moves from youth through middle age to old age.5 The despondent old man is what the others may become. The younger waiter, unconcerned with the old man and the soldier, is simply concerned with going home to his wife.

That the older waiter, the old man, and the soldier are all of a kind is further exemplified by the metaphor of light and something clean or polished in the line, “The street light shone on the brass number of his collar.” The soldier, on the street past the curfew hour, is disillusioned with the military just as the older waiter and the old patron are disillusioned with the world; and just as they find a momentary stay against nothingness in a clean, well-lighted café and a drink, the soldier finds a momentary respite in relations with a girl.6

In this scene, the younger waiter does not recognize the implications of the older waiter's remark, “‘The guard will pick him up.’” With a wife waiting in bed for him, the younger waiter queries, “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” Actually, the older waiter, knowing that the soldier might be better off with a girl just as the old man might be better off with a wife is not concerned that the soldier “gets what he's after” but that “the guard will pick him up.” The older waiter realizes that sex, even with a streetwalker, is an interpersonal relationship, more desirable by far than nothingness.

Finally, critics who would reverse the attribution of the second exchange misinterpret the younger waiter as well as the older waiter. The younger waiter's interest in money and sex is normal and does not make him a “callous materialist.” Nor does he derive pleasure in thinking the soldier may be picked up or in hastening the old patron from the café. He even agrees with the older waiter that buying a bottle and drinking at home is not the same. With “youth, confidence, and a job,” the younger waiter has “everything,” and, as yet, is unaware of the despair surrounding his colleague and the old man. Hemingway himself indicates that the younger waiter “did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry.”

In summation, the older waiter's remark to his colleague that “‘We are of two different kinds’” and the explicit identifying tags express Hemingway's intention of delineating the waiters as distinct character types. As such, the dialogue of the disputed second speech should be read in a way consistent with the characters as revealed elsewhere in the story. The several patterns employed to distinguish between the waiters, taken with the context of the dialogue, suggest that the lines which express concern for the soldier being picked up should be attributed to the older waiter, and the line that deals with the soldier having relations with the girl should be attributed to the younger waiter. And not the other way around.

Notes

  1. John V. Hagopian, “Tidying Up Hemingway's Clean Well-Lighted Place,” Studies in Short Fiction, 1 (1964), 140-146. In addition, see: Robert Penn Warren, “Ernest Hemingway,” Kenyon Review, 9 (Winter 1947), 1-28; F. P. Kroeger, “The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, 20 (Feb. 1959), 240-241; William E. Colburn, “Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, 20 (Feb. 1959), 241-242; Otto Reinert, “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” College English, 20 (May 1959), 417-418; Joseph F. Gabriel, “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, 22 (May 1961), 539-546; Edward Stone, “Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More,” American Speech, 37 (1962), 239-240; Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, 3rd ed. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 124; Sheridan Baker, Ernest Hemingway: An Introduction and Interpretation (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1967), p. 87; Warren Bennett, “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, 42 (1970), 70-79; David Lodge, “Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted Puzzling Place,” Essays in Criticism, 21 (1971), 33-56; and Charles E. May, “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Studies in Short Fiction, 8 (1971), 326-330.

  2. Hagopian does not speculate how the words came to be misplaced, only that “all the texts to date have merely perpetuated a typographical error” (p. 146). Charles Scribner, Jr. indicated to me in a letter that the confused dialogue in the original version of the story “was unquestionably the result of an error,” but “whether this error was made by the author or a typist, or a typesetter we cannot tell because we do not have the original manuscript.” Mr. Scribner adds that “in editing other works of Hemingway's (e.g. Islands in the Stream) I have noted more than one place where he ‘skipped a beat’ in a long passage of dialogue in which the speakers are not identified. Accordingly, I feel all the more confident in having changed the text [of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’] as we have.” I wish to express my appreciation to Mr. Scribner for his assistance.

  3. Warren Bennett established that the older waiter knew of the old man's suicide attempt through Hemingway's use of several other patterns: the “serious question, verbal irony by the older waiter, a dropping of the subject, and then a serious reply” pattern (p. 72), and the younger waiter's use of the word kill (p. 71).

  4. Professor Hagopian's contentions that “all the questions demanding answers are uttered by the young waiter” and that “the older waiter never seeks information from the younger, all his questions being purely rhetorical” (p. 144) need to be refined. The older waiter's response to the younger waiter's “‘What did he want to kill himself for?’” is “‘How should I know,’” “which is not a question at all (the text has no question mark), but a statement; and the older waiter's “‘Why didn't you let him stay and drink?’” “is not a rhetorical question, nor is it so construed by the younger waiter who answers, “‘I want to go home to bed.’” Hagopian, however, was aware that the pattern of the waiters' dialogue provides a clue to the attribution of their speeches.

  5. William B. Bache, “Craftsmanship in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” The Personalist, 37 (Winter 1956), p. 64.

  6. For this interpretation of the second scene, I am indebted to Warren Bennett, p. 77.

Hans-Joachim Kann (essay date 1977)

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SOURCE: “Perpetual Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: The Manuscript Evidence,” in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1977, pp. 115-18.

[In the following essay, Kann examines Hemingway's original manuscript and concludes that it was the author who inserted an uncharacteristic line of dialogue for the older waiter.]

Ever since the appearance of the first articles by F. P. Kroeger and William E. Colburn in 1959,1 it has been clear that, apart from the apparent ambiguity in the first dialogue, the third dialogue section of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is obscure (or even messy) at the end. Numerous attempts have been made2 to explain the contradiction and to restore order in the two waiters' dialogue. Otto Reinert wanted to have two indented and quotation-marked lines read as one line of dialogue; Joseph F. Gabriel saw the confusion as an intended literary device; John V. Hagopian pleaded for splitting the line, “I know. You said she cut him down,” and redistributing the two sentences (the 1965 Scribners edition of the stories followed this advice); in 1973, Scott MacDonald3 argued in favor of reverting to the original text; in between, Warren Bennet4 suggested as a solution the assumption that a slug of type was misplaced5 and Nathaniel M. Ewell6 saw two slugs of type lost.

The tearsheets from the first publication in Scribner's Magazine7 do not offer any assistance—the proofreading marks do not affect the lines in question.

More can be learned from the manuscript8 (an interpretative investigation of what, how, and why Hemingway altered or deleted—for instance, the last twenty-nine words of the original draft—is a rewarding undertaking, but it would go beyond the limited scope of this note).

Hemingway began with an undifferentiated “boys,” changed his mind on page 2, between line 2 and line 15, crossed out “boys”/“boys,” and put in “waiter”/“waiters” instead.

He must have felt the need of a differentiation beyond “one waiter”/“the other waiter”; thus, on page 2, “One of the waiters” is changed to “The younger waiter,” although this must have happened when Hemingway had already been writing for some time because the correction is written with a thicker, worked-down pencil. Hemingway obviously saw the danger of ambiguity in other parts, too, as is demonstrated by the alterations “the waiters came over”/“the waiter who was in a hurry came over” (p. 4), “the waiter”/“the unhurried waiter” (p. 5), “the waiter”/“the waiter who was in a hurry” (p. 6).

The separation of “with his colleague again” and “He's drunk now,’ he said” (p. 3) through paragraphing and indentation made the identification of the “he” somewhat difficult—Hemingway connected the two lines with a run-in indication. Unfortunately the printed version disregarded his proof-reading mark.

Another printing mistake was the deletion9 of the period after “Anyway” in “Anyway I should say he was eighty.” Here, the manuscript supports Edward Stone's10 theory that “Anyway” is supposed to be a literal translation from the Spanish dialogue and that it functions as an affirmative.

In two places, Hemingway was confused himself. In the first instance when he had already written the younger waiter's utterance “… three o'clock.” / “He should have killed himself …” as two separate lines, he corrected himself by a simple run-in mark (p. 3). In the second instance he saw that the alternating line count attributed “His niece looks after him.” to the younger waiter positionally, just as the next line, “I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.” (p. 4) was the younger waiter's line. To restore the alternating count Hemingway inserted a line,11 however with the wrong semantics: the older waiter might say “I know.” but not “I know. You said she cut him down.” Hemingway must not have recognized the mistake either at the time of writing or later—otherwise he would not have written in 1956 that the dialog “made perfect sense to him.”12

Thus, although the passage does not make sense, it is still Hemingway's original—the teacher, however, may, for his students' sake, point out that, since the whole line is “filling material,” the second sentence might be quietly disregarded.

Notes

  1. Both in College English, XX (February 1959), 240-2.

  2. For a discussion of Kroeger, Colburn, Reinert, Stone, Gabriel, Hagopian, and Hagopian/Dolch see Hans-Joachim Kann, Ubersetzungsprobleme in den deutschen Übersetzungen von drei anglo-amerikanischen Kurzgeschichten: Aldous Huxley's “Green Tunnels”, Ernest Hemingway's “The Killers” und “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (München, 1968), Mainzer Amerikanistische Beitrage, X, pp. 59-61. Most of these articles are reprinted in Morris Friedman and David B. Davis, eds. Controversy in Literature: Fiction, Drama and Poetry with Related Criticism (New York: Scribners, 1968), pp. 121-141. More recent items are listed in Nathaniel M. Ewell, “Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1971, 306, n. 1, and in Audre Hanneman, Supplement to Ernest Hemingway: A Comprehensive Bibliography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 9-10.

  3. “The Confusing Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?” Studies in Short Fiction, 1 (Spring 1973), 93-101.

  4. “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, 42 (March 1970), 70-79.

  5. Ibid., 70.

  6. Ibid., 305.

  7. # 222, Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Library, Waltham, Massachusetts.

  8. #337, Hemingway Collection. The author is indebted to Mrs. Ernest Hemingway for her permission to quote from the MS.

  9. Except for one instance of a stylistic change, the printed version differs from the manuscript only in unimportant details of spelling, punctuation and grammar (definite article deleted twice), besides the two important changes mentioned above.

  10. “Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More,” American Speech, 37 (October 1962), 240. For Hemingway's repeated attempts to have the speech in this story sound like a literal translation from Spanish, see Kann, pp. 62-64.

  11. The line is squeezed in and even slightly indented to fit.

  12. George Monteiro, “Hemingway on Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1974, p. 243.

Warren Bennett (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, Vol. 50, No. 4, January, 1979, pp. 613-24.

[In the following essay, Bennett reiterates the importance of Hemingway's original manuscript of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and asserts that it shows “evidence of two mistakes, one by a typist or typesetter, and one by Hemingway himself; and it clarifies Hemingway's intention as to which waiter knows about the old man's suicide attempt.”]

The known manuscripts of Ernest Hemingway are in the possession of Mrs. Mary Hemingway, who on several occasions since 1972 has deposited short story material at the John F. Kennedy Library. This has been inventoried and arranged for examination, and was opened to research in 1975. In this material is a previously undiscovered pencil manuscript of Hemingway's much debated short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”1 This discovery seems to resolve many of the questions about the original dialogue sequence and how the confusion in the story came about.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933. It has been the subject of a critical debate concerning the inconsistent dialogue between the two waiters since F. P. Kroeger and William E. Colburn first drew attention to the confusion in their articles published in 1959. Colburn argued that

The major difficulty in analyzing the dialogue arises because there are in the story several separate conversations between the waiters, and in only a few places is the speaker identified by the author. One line, however, we can assign to the younger waiter, because of information which is brought out later: “‘He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.’” Using this line as a reference point, we can trace backwards in the story the alternate lines and discover that it is the younger waiter who is asking about the old man's attempt at suicide and it is the older waiter who knows the details as to the method and who prevented him. Counting forward in the story from our reference line, however, we find the older waiter saying, “‘I know. You said she cut him down.’” Obviously there is an inconsistency here. It is the older waiter who knows about the suicide attempt and is enlightening the younger.2

Otto Reinert, in an article the same year, disagreed with Colburn's assigning of the dialogue and took the position that it was the “young waiter,” a “callous materialist,” who knew about the attempted suicide of the old man.3 He preferred to

preserve the unity and plausibility of the two waiter's characters and the consistency of their function in the moral drama, than to find ‘an insoluble problem in the dialogue’ (Kroeger) or an irreconcilable conflict between artistic intent and execution (Colburn). We can do so if we assume that Hemingway did not observe the typographical convention [that a new, indented line implies a new speaker.]

He suggested that in two different places in the story “Hemingway may have violated the convention in order to suggest a reflective pause between two sentences in a single speaker's uninterrupted utterance.”

I submit that it is the young waiter who speaks both “he's drunk now” (because the pronoun reference demands it) and the next speech, “He's drunk every night.” And that it is the old waiter who speaks both “He must be eighty years old” and “Anyway I should say he was eighty.”

Joseph F. Gabriel then entered the debate with what he called an intention to “redeem the story …,”

What specifically I contend is that there was no error made in the dialogue, either by Scribner's or Hemingway himself; that we have here one of the most artfully contrived pieces in the Hemingway canon; and that, in short, the inconsistency in the dialogue is deliberate, an integral part of the pattern of meaning actualized in the story.


The experience of the reader duplicates their [the older waiter's and the old man's] experience, for the reader, too, is called upon to bear uncertainty, inconsistency, confusion, and ambiguity, as he attempts to fashion some pattern of meaning out of the chaos of the dialogue. Thus, the confusion in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is neither a mistake nor an accident. It is deliberate.4

John V. Hagopian, however, found it “unfortunate that the discussion … remains where Joseph F. Gabriel left it,” because “if there is anything that is ‘artfully contrived,’ it is Gabriel's interpretation.” Hagopian suggested that, “it is far kinder to Hemingway to label a single line of dialogue as the obvious typographical error than it is to torture his prose into ambiguous chaos.” Arguing on the basis of a series of glosses, Hagopian determined that the “obvious typographical error” was in the line of dialogue previously pointed out by Colburn, “I know. You said she cut him down.” He assigned the place of this dialogue to the older waiter but also concluded that “the line ‘you said she cut him down’ clearly belongs to the speech of the younger waiter; it has all the overtones of his sadistic irony. All the texts to date have merely perpetuated a typographical error.” Hagopian suggested that “in future editions of this story, Scribner's simply move the line to its proper place and avoid any further fuss.”5

In 1965, a year after the appearance of Hagopian's article, Scribner's issued a new edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, and in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” made an editorial correction in the dialogue.

All texts from 1933 to 1965:


“His niece looks after him.”


“I know. You said she cut him down.”6


The 1965 text and all subsequent printings:


“His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”


“I know.”7

This correction, however, only compounded the existing debate.8 Because it changed the story in a major way, critics began to argue not only the assigning of the dialogue and the consequent interpretation but also the ethics and efficacy of the Scribner's editorial change.9

The recent discovery of the pencil manuscript is therefore of significant importance. It reveals how the illogical dialogue sequence may have occurred; it shows evidence of two mistakes, one by a typist or typesetter, and one by Hemingway himself; and it clarifies Hemingway's intention as to which waiter knows about the old man's suicide attempt.

The story was, by all appearances, written at one sitting, with surprisingly little revision after an initial “false start.” The insertions and revisions, judging from the thickness and texture of the pencil lead, were evidently made at three different stages: almost immediately after the first phrasing; relatively late or as the story neared completion; and much later, perhaps another day, with a sharp pencil.

The first line of the false start reads, “In Zaragossa the,” but this incomplete sentence is crossed out (p. 1). The second and third sentences are about “an old man,” and although X'ed out they are essentially the same description of the street, tree, light, and dust as in the true draft. A title was written below the false start and erased; the only legible word remaining is the last word: “Nothing.” “A Clean, well lighted place,” is written over the erasure (p. 1).

Initially there were no “waiters” as such. There were “two boys,” reminiscent of the two-boy situations in the Nick Adams stories, although the term “boy” may also be an attempt to render Spanish idiom. The manuscript, without revisions, reads,

The two boys inside the café knew that the old man was a little drunk and that if he … became too drunk he would leave without paying so they kept watch on him.


“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one boy said.10

It is not until after the scene with the soldier and the prostitute that the word “waiter” appears: “‘The guard will pick him up,’ one waiter said” (p. 2). There is no descriptive distinction between the two waiters, such as age, until page six where the manuscript reads, “‘You have youth, confidence and a job,’ the older waiter said. ‘You have everything.’” Then Hemingway evidently went back to page two of the manuscript and inserted a reinforcing reference to the “younger” waiter, because the thickness and texture of the pencil point at the time of this revision is about the same as in the writing on page 6. (Insertions by Hemingway are indicated here by pointed brackets.)

The old man sitting in the shadow rapped on his saucer with his glass. One of the waiters went over to him.11

The descriptions of the waiters as the waiter “in a hurry” (pp. 4 and 6) and the “unhurried” waiter (p. 5) are also insertions but may have been made almost immediately after the first phrasing. The line which describes the younger waiter as “speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners,” is also an insertion, written over the length of the righthand margin of page five. It was probably made much later, after the story was completed, because the pencil used is again a sharp pencil, and the writing is smaller and tighter. The same sharp pencil (again with small, tight writing) was used to add three lines to the story—all three of which were then lined out:

… not know. It would be easier if one knew.


One feels certain things but one


knows nothing. Certainly there is no one who


knows another.

(p. 12)

What all of these particular insertions and revisions suggest is that at the beginning of the story Hemingway had not preconceived any significant distinction between the two main characters—with the exception, perhaps, that he intended one of them to have a “wife,” for the reference to the younger waiter's wife is not an insertion but appears in the first phrasing on page four. Perhaps Hemingway discovered their significant difference as they began to speak in the dramatic context of the situation with the drunk old man who had attempted suicide. He then enhanced the difference by developing the difference in ages, the difference between being “hurried” or “unhurried,” and finally the statement, “‘We are of two different kinds,’ the older waiter said” (p. 7).

If the characters did develop as they spoke and as the story itself developed, that might explain the origins of the obscurities which have produced so much debate. These involve three problematic sections in the story. One relates to the question of which waiter says of the old man, “‘He's drunk now,’” and whether or not the same waiter speaks the following line, “‘He's drunk every night.’” The second problem arises in that crucial sentence which was editorially reassigned by Scribner's. The third appears in the conversation between the two waiters concerning the soldier and the prostitute.

In the first problematic section, the manuscript reads,

“You should have killed yourself last week,” he said to the deaf man. who The old man motioned with his finger, “A little more,” he said. The waiter poured the glass so that the brandy slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer of the pile. “Thank you,” the old man said. The waiter took the bottle back into the café. He sat down at the table with the other waiter again <“He's drunk now,” he said.>


“He's stewed every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”


“Christ “How should I know?”

(p. 3)

It has been argued in the debate over which waiter should know about the old man's suicide attempt that the younger waiter speaks both the line “‘He's drunk now,’ he said,” and the line “‘He's drunk every night.’” But a run-on line drawn in the pencil manuscript indicates that the dialogue, “‘He's drunk now,’ he said,” should be the last line of the preceding paragraph, which negates the “reflective pause” argument. That the published story did not properly place the line suggests a mistake by either a typist or a typesetter. In any case, however, the pencil manuscript registers Hemingway's original intention about the speakers of the two lines of dialogue. The younger waiter says, “He's drunk now,” and the older waiter says, “He's [stewed] drunk every night” (p. 3).

This is supported by Hemingway's diction, his changing the word “stewed” to “drunk.” The younger waiter would hardly say, “He's drunk,” in one line, and then “He's stewed,” in the next. The obvious intent was for the older waiter to say, “He's [stewed] drunk every night,” and the younger waiter to ask the following question, “‘What did he want to kill himself for?’” (p. 3). This establishes the fact that it was the older waiter who knew about the old man's attempted suicide.

The second problematic section concerns those two lines changed by Scribner's. In attempting to sort out Hemingway's intention with this dialogue, the spacing of the manuscript becomes important. The story was written on unlined paper, and the spacing of the writing is relatively consistent throughout the manuscript, increasing from about ten millimeters on the early pages to about twenty millimeters on the later pages. The only time there is less than ten millimeters between the lines is when Hemingway has made an insertion or a revision. Regarding the lines in question there are only five millimeters between the line “His niece looks after him” and the following line “I know.” This indicates that an insertion was made. And the text suggests that the insertion was made because Hemingway evidently noticed that he had “missed a beat”—there was an inconsistency in the dialogue. If the first writing were reconstructed the manuscript would read,

YW: “He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.”


OW: “He had a wife once too.”


YW: “A wife would be no good to him now.”


OW: “You cant tell. He might be better with a wife.”


YW: “His niece looks after him.” They treat


YW: “I wouldnt want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”

Hemingway must have noticed the inconsistency of the above dialogue and so inserted another line of dialogue.

YW: “His niece looks after him.” They treat


OW: “I know.”


YW: “I wouldnt want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”12

The other published sentence, “You said she cut him down” (the line moved by Scribner's in their correction) seems to have been added in the pencil manuscript after the first revision. It is written in a noticeably thicker and darker pencil and it begins at a level slightly higher than the “I know”:

“His niece looks after him.” They treat


“I know. You said she cut him down.”


“I wouldnt want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”

(p. 4)

The manuscript indicates that during the first writing Hemingway followed the statement “His niece looks after him” with what might have been, “They treat [him well enough].” The intention of the line may have been to reflect ironically the younger waiter's “stupidity” in not knowing what a wife could give the old man that the niece could not. The reason Hemingway did not finish the statement was probably that the subject of the old man's treatment was information beyond the characterization of the younger waiter. But sometime later, after he had inserted “I know” to correct the dialogue sequence, Hemingway evidently still felt dissatisfied with this exchange. So he added a second revision, “You said she cut him down.” Perhaps he intended the statement to replace “They treat [him well enough],” but more probably he forgot the context and simply felt that the weak line “I know” needed support. In this case, one may conjecture that the first confusion in the dialogue sequence must have still lingered in Hemingway's mind. When he read “His niece looks after him,” he probably thought it was the older waiter speaking, since earlier in the story it was the older waiter—not the younger waiter—who knew about the niece: “His niece [cut him down].” It was an unfortunate lapsus memoriae on the part of Hemingway, and “bad luck” for the story, because Hemingway now introduced a new inconsistency into the sequence he had previously corrected.13 But however the mistake occurred, the manuscript evidence still clearly establishes that it is the older waiter who knows about the old man's suicide attempt. And on the basis of the manuscript, the Scribner's emendation makes sense of a nonsensical passage while properly giving information about the old man to the older waiter.

Hemingway, however, as a matter of artistic form, had been omitting dialogue identification to a dangerous extreme anyway. An example of that appears in the problematic section of the story concerned with the soldier and the prostitute. The story as published reads,

A girl and a soldier went by in the street.


The street light shone on the brass number on his collar.


The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him.


“The guard will pick him up,” one waiter said.


“What does it matter if he gets what he's after?”


“He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.”14

The question has always been, which waiter is emphasizing the guards and which waiter is interested primarily in the soldier getting “What he's after?” Assigning this dialogue to speakers seems to be made easier by the pencil manuscript, which reads,

… A girl and a soldier went by in the street. The light shone on the brass number on his collar. The girl wore no head covering [following three words are part of the preceding line] and hurried beside him.


“The guard will pick him up,” one waiter said.


“What does it matter if he gets his tail?”


“He better get off the street. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.”

(p. 2)

The line, “The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him” is an insertion, but of greater importance is the change of diction from “his tail,” to “what he's after.” There are two similar changes in the story, and in each case the changed dialogue belongs to the older waiter. Both changes occur in that scene where the younger waiter returns from serving the old man brandy.

“He's drunk now,” he said.


“He's stewed every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”


“Christ “How should I know?”

(p. 3)

There, as in the scene with the soldier and the prostitute, the original language suggested a tough “realism” associated with the older waiter. Its ultimate extension will be the older waiter's parody of the Lord's Prayer, “our nada who are in nada” (p. 10) and his “Hail Mary” parody, “Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”15 Thus from the evidence of changed diction in the manuscript, it seems certain that it is the older waiter who says, “What does it matter if he gets what he's after?”

But regardless of the correct assigning of the dialogue, my feeling is that in Hemingway's mind both waiters knew more about the deaf old man than just that he was a “good client” (p. 1). When one waiter says the old man's niece cut him down, referring to a single person, the other waiter replies in the plural, “Why did they do it?” (p. 3, italics mine). And in the manuscript the next line reads, “They “Fear for his soul” (p. 3). Both seem to know that the niece was not alone in saving the old man's life. And, although it is the older waiter who says that the old man's “niece” “cut him down,” it is the younger waiter who remarks that the niece also “looks after him” (p. 4). Again, both know something about the old man. If such mutual knowledge was envisioned in Hemingway's imagination, it may have caused Hemingway himself to become confused, first, as to the early characterization of the waiters; second, as to just how much each waiter knew about the old man; and third, as to which waiter was speaking at certain times.

This argument, of course, presents not the stereotyped image of Hemingway the ideal craftsman, weighing each word and revising each sentence to perfection. It sees Hemingway the writer as a fallible human being—and perhaps also as a writer in a hurry, eager to record his vision and lock it up. The manuscript certainly bears out the impression that the story was written and brought to completion in one rapid session. The first two and one-half pages were written with a sharp pencil, the handwriting relatively small, the lines sloping only slightly downward across the page. Gradually the handwriting enlarges, the words and lines become more spaced out. By pages ten and eleven, which involve the nada prayer and the bodega barman, the pencil has become blunted and the lettering heavy; the handwriting is significantly larger, the words well spaced out, the lines slanting dramatically downward across the page; and there are only about half as many lines per page as on the beginning pages. This pictures not Hemingway the slow perfectionist, hovering over each word and detail, but an artist “fired up,” and writing at considerable speed in producing what must be regarded, in spite of the flaw in the dialogue, as classic Hemingway: expressing much by showing little.

Notes

  1. Ernest Hemingway. “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” 337. Manuscript. Titled pencil manuscript w/one false start. pp. 1-12. See also #222. Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Library, Waltham, Massachusetts. Unless footnoted for explanatory purposes, all subsequent references will be by page number in parentheses after the quotation.

    I want to thank Mrs. Mary Hemingway for the permissions she has granted me to work with this manuscript, and to publish page four of it. Also, I want to thank Jo August, Curator of the Hemingway Collection, and E. William Johnson, Senior Archivist, for their helpfulness in my research.

  2. William E. Colburn, “Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, XX (Feb., 1959), 241-242; see also, F. P. Kroeger, “The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, XX (Feb. 1959), 240-241.

  3. Otto Reinert, “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” College English, XX (May, 1959), 417-418.

  4. Joseph F. Gabriel, “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, XXII (May, 1961), 540, 545.

  5. John V. Hagopian, “Tidying Up Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, I (Winter, 1964), 140, 142, 143-144, 146.

  6. Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Scribner's Magazine, XCIII (March, 1933), 149.

  7. Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York, 1965), p. 381. Hereafter cited as Short Stories.

  8. See, for example, Warren Bennett, “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, XLII (March, 1970), 70-79. Reprinted in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays, ed. Jackson J. Benson (Durham, N.C., 1975), 261-269. In this interpretive article, I establish first that it is the older waiter who knows about the old man's attempted suicide by analysing Hemingway's pattern of verbal irony on the part of the older waiter; also, it is the younger waiter who uses the phrase “kill himself.”

  9. In addition to the critics to which I have already referred, the following is a checklist of other pertinent criticism related to the problem of the dialogue. Robert Penn Warren, “Ernest Hemingway,” Kenyon Review, IX (Winter, 1947), 1-28; Edward Stone, “Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More,” American Speech, XXXVII (Oct., 1962), 239-240; Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, 3rd ed. (Princeton, N.J., 1969), p. 124; Sheridan Baker, Ernest Hemingway: An Introduction and Interpretation (New York, 1967), p. 87; Nathaniel M. Ewell, III, “Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1971, 305-306; David Lodge, “Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted Puzzling Place,” Essays in Criticism, XXI (Jan., 1971), 33-56; Charles E. May, “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Studies in Short Fiction, VIII (Spring, 1971), 326-330; Scott MacDonald, “The Confusing Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?” Studies in American Fiction, I (Spring, 1973), 93-101; George Monteiro, “Hemingway on Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1974, p. 243; and C. Harold Hurley, “The Attribution of the Waiters' Second Speech in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, XIII (Winter, 1976), 81-85.

  10. In all the quotations from the manuscript I have tried to be as faithful to the original as it is possible to be with print. In this particular quote, the “g” in the second line (“he g became”) is probably the beginning of the word “got” which Hemingway changed to “became.”

  11. In this quote I have again tried to accurately render the manuscript. The word “waiter” in the second line was originally plural, “waiters.” When Hemingway crossed out “One of the” and inserted “The younger,” he X'ed out the “s.”

  12. In this mock up, I have placed a quotation mark after the word “know.” In the manuscript, it appears to me that Hemingway had so closed the quotation. But when he inserted the sentence, “You said she cut him down,” he wrote the “Y” of “You” over the first apostrophe of the closing quote; the second apostrophe of the quote appears to be over the “o” of “You.”

  13. The question which arises is why Hemingway felt under the compulsion—in working on this section a second, or even a third, time—to insert a sentence which repeats information which the reader already knows. It is even a bit incongruous within the context of the discussion. And why does Hemingway use “she” instead of “they,” as he evidently originally intended? But then, why is it a “niece” instead of a daughter—or sister, brother, son or nephew?

  14. Short Stories, p. 379.

  15. “Hail Nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee,” is an insertion of the third category, i.e., after completion of the story, or on another day, with a sharp pencil.

Steven K. Hoffman (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: “Nada and the Clean, Well-Lighted Place: The Unity of Hemingway's Short Fiction,” in Essays in Literature, Vol. VI, No. 1, Spring, 1979, pp. 91-110.

[In the following essay, Hoffman explores Hemingway's thematic concern with “nada,” or nothingness, in his short fiction.]

One of his most frequently discussed tales, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is justly regarded as one of the stylistic masterpieces of Ernest Hemingway's distinguished career in short fiction. Not only does it represent Hemingway at his understated, laconic best, but, according to Carlos Baker, “It shows once again that remarkable union of the naturalistic and the symbolic which is possibly his central triumph in the realm of practical aesthetics.”1 In a mere five pages, almost entirely in dialogue and interior monologue, the tale renders a complex series of interactions between three characters in a Spanish café just prior to and immediately after closing: a stoic old waiter, a brash young waiter, and a wealthy but suicidal old man given to excessive drink.

Aside from its well-documented stylistic achievement, what has drawn the most critical attention is Hemingway's detailed consideration of the concept of nada. Although the old waiter is the only one to articulate the fact, all three figures actually confront nothingness in the course of the tale. This is no minor absence in their lives. Especially “for the old waiter,” Carlos Baker notes, “the word nothing (or nada) contains huge actuality. The great skill in the story is the development, through the most carefully controlled understatement, of the young waiter's mere nothing into the old waiter's Something—a Something called Nothing which is so huge, terrible, overbearing, inevitable and omnipresent that once experienced, it can never be forgotten.”2 Because the terrifying “Something called Nothing” looms so very large, and since “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” appeared in a 1933 collection in which even “winners” take “nothing,” critics have generally come to see the piece as a nihilistic low point in Hemingway's career, a moment of profound despair both for the characters and the author.3

If this standard position does have a certain validity, it also tends to overlook two crucial points about the story. First is its relation to the rest of Hemingway's highly unified short story canon. In the same way that two of the three characters in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” meet nada without voicing the fact, all of the major short story characters also experience it in one of its multiple guises. Thus “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” a rather late story written in 1933, is something of a summary statement on this recurrent theme; the tale brings to direct expression the central crisis of those that precede it—including the most celebrated of the Nick Adams stories—and looks forward to its resolution in the masterpieces that come later, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936) and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936).

Second, because nada appears to dominate “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” it has been easy to miss the fact that the story is not about nada per se but the various available human responses to it.4 As a literary artist, Hemingway was generally less concerned with speculative metaphysics than with modes of practical conduct within certain a priori conditions. The ways in which the character triad in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” respond to nada summarize character responses throughout the canon. The fact that only one, the old waiter, directly voices his experience and manages to deal successfully with nothingness is also indicative of a general trend. Those few Hemingway characters who continue to function even at the razor's edge do so in the manner of this heroic figure—by establishing for themselves a clean, well-lighted place from which to withstand the enveloping darkness. For these reasons, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” must be termed the thematic as well as the stylistic climax of Hemingway's career in short fiction.

Although the difficulty of attributing certain individual statements in the tale creates some ambiguity on the subject, it is clear that the young waiter's use of the term nada to convey a personal lack of a definable commodity (no thing) is much too narrowly conceived. In his crucial meditation at the end, the old waiter makes it quite clear that nada is not an individual state but one with grave universal implications: “It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too” [my italics].5 According to William Barrett, the nada-shadowed realm of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is no less than a microcosm of the existential universe as defined by Martin Heidegger and the existentialist philosophers who came before and after him, principally Kierkegaard and Sartre.6 Barrett's position finds internal support in the old waiter's celebrated parody prayer: “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; pues nada” (p. 383). The character's deft substitution of the word nada for all the key nouns (entities) and verbs (actions) in the Paternoster suggests the concept's truly metaphysical stature. Obviously, nada is to connote a series of significant absences: the lack of a viable transcendent source of power and authority; a correlative lack of external physical or spiritual sustenance; the total lack of moral justification for action (in the broadest perspective, the essential meaninglessness of any action); and finally, the impossibility of deliverance from this situation.7

The impact of nada, however, extends beyond its theological implications. Rather, in the Heideggerian sense (“das Nicht”), it is an umbrella term that subsumes all of the irrational, unforseeable, existential forces that tend to infringe upon the human self, to make a “nothing.” It is the absolute power of chance and circumstance to negate individual free will and the entropic tendency toward ontological disorder that perpetually looms over man's tenuous personal sense of order. But the most fearsome face of nada, and clear proof of man's radical contingency, is death—present here in the old man's wife's death and his own attempted suicide. Understandably, the old waiter's emotional response to this composite threat is mixed. It “was not fear or dread” (p. 383), which would imply a specific object to be feared, but a pervasive uneasiness, an existential anxiety that, according to Heidegger, arises when one becomes fully aware of the precarious status of his very being.8

That the shadow of nada looms behind much of Hemingway's fiction has not gone entirely unnoticed. Nathan Scott's conclusions on this issue serve as a useful summary of critical opinion: “Now it is blackness beyond a clean, well-lighted place—this ‘nothing full of nothing’ that betrays ‘confidence’; that murders sleep, that makes the having of plenty of money a fact of no consequence at all—it is this blackness, ten times black, that constitutes the basic metaphysical situation in Hemingway's fiction and that makes the human enterprise something very much like a huddling about a campfire beyond which looms the unchartable wilderness, the great Nada.”9 The problem with this position is that it tends to locate nada somewhere outside of the action, never directly operative within it. It is, to William Barrett, “the presence that had circulated, unnamed and unconfronted, throughout much of [Hemingway's] earlier writing” [my italics].10

The clearest indication of nada's direct presence in the short stories is to be found in the characters' frequent brushes with death, notably the characteristic modern forms of unexpected, unmerited, and very often mechanical death that both Frederick J. Hoffman and R. P. Warren consider so crucial in Hemingway.11 Naturally, these instances are the climactic moments in some of the best known tales: the interchapters from In Our Time, “Indian Camp,” “The Killers,” “The Capital of the World,” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” But death or the imminent threat of death need not be literally present to signal an encounter with nada. What Philip Young and others have called Nick Adams's “initiation” to life's trials is actually his initiation to nada.12 In “The End of Something” and “The Three Day Blow,” Nick must cope with the precariousness of love in a precarious universe; in “The Battler,” with the world's underlying irrationality and potential for violence; in “Cross-Country Snow,” with the power of external circumstance to circumscribe individual initiative. In several important stories involving the period in Nick's chronology after the critical “wound,” nada, as the ultimate unmanageability of life, appears as a concrete image. In “Big Two-Hearted River,” it is both the burnt-out countryside and the forbidding swamp; in “Now I Lay Me,” the night; in “A Way You'll Never Be,” a “long yellow house” (evidently the site of the wound).

Other imagistic references to nada appear in the non-Nick Adams tales. In “The Undefeated,” it is the bull, a particularly apt concrete manifestation of active malevolence in the universe, also suggested by the lion and buffalo in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” These particular images, however, are potentially misleading because nada does not usually appear so actively and personally combative. An example to the contrary may be found in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” where nada is the distinctly impersonal and paralyzing banality of life in an isolated hospital, as well as the constant “risk” of a gambler's uncertain profession. Regardless of its specific incarnation, nada is always a dark presence which upsets individual equilibrium and threatens to overwhelm the self. And, as Jackson Benson has pointed out, “A threat to selfhood is the ultimate horror that the irrational forces of the world can accomplish.”13 In that each story in the canon turns on the way in which particular characters respond to the inevitable confrontation with nada, the nature of that response is particularly important. The only effective way to approach the Void is to develop a very special mode of being, the concrete manifestation of which is the clean, well-lighted place.

Again, it is the old waiter who speaks most directly of the need for a physical bastion against the all-encompassing night: “It is the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity” (p. 382). In direct contrast to the dirty, noisy bodega to which he repairs after closing and all the “bad” places that appear in Hemingway's fiction, the pleasant café at which the old waiter works possesses all of these essential attributes: light, cleanness, and the opportunity for some form of dignity. Perhaps the most direct antithesis of this legitimate clean, well-lighted place is not even in this particular story but in one of its companion pieces in Winner Take Nothing, the infernal bar in “The Light of the World” (1933). Here, light does little more than illuminate the absence of the other qualities, the lack of which moves one of the characters to ask pointedly, “‘What the hell kind of place is this?’” (p. 385). Thus, in an inversion of the typical procedure in Hemingway, Nick and his companion are impelled outside where it is “good and dark” (p. 385).

Evidently, well-lighted places in Hemingway do not always meet the other requirements of the clean, well-lighted place. Moreover, since the café in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” must eventually close, even the legitimate haven has distinct limitations. These facts should be enough to alert us to the possibility that tangible physical location is not sufficient to combat the darkness. The clean, well-lighted place that is, is not actually a “place” at all; rather, it is a metaphor for an attitude toward the self and its existential context, a psychological perspective which, like the café itself with its fabricated conveniences and electric light, is man-made, artifical. The “cleanliness” of the metaphor connotes a personal sense of order, however artifical and temporary, carved out within the larger chaos of the universe, a firm hold on the self with which one can meet any contingency. By “light” Hemingway refers to a special kind of vision, the clear-sightedness and absolute lack of illusion necessary to look into the darkness and thereby come to grips with the nada which is everywhere. At the same time, vision must also be directed at the self so as to assure its cleanness. With cleanness and light, then, physical locale is irrelevant. Whoever manages to internalize these qualities carries the clean, well-lighted place with him, even into the very teeth of the darkness. The degree to which the Hemingway character can develop and maintain this perspective determines his success (or lack thereof) in dealing with the Void.

The man who does achieve the clean, well-lighted place is truly an existential hero, both in the Kierkegaardian and Heideggerian senses of the term. In the former, he is content to live with his angst, and, because there is no other choice, content to be in doubt about ultimate causes. Nevertheless, he is able to meet the varied and often threatening circumstances of day-to-day living, secure in the knowledge that he will always “become” and never “be.” In the latter, he can face the unpleasant realities of his own being and the situation into which he has been “thrown,” and can accept with composure the inevitability of his death. In both instances, he is an “authentic” man.14

Two of the main characters in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” as well as a host of analogous figures in other tales, fail to develop this attitude either for lack of “light” (the young waiter) or for lack of “cleanness” (the old man). As is evidenced by his inability to grasp the full impact of his partner's use of the word nothing, the egotistic young waiter has not even grasped the fact of nada—has not seen clearly—and therefore can hardly deal with it. “To him,” comments Joseph Gabriel, “nada can only signify a personal physical privation. Nothing refers simply to the absence of those objects capable of providing material satisfaction. And by extension he applies the term to all behavior which does not grant the sufficiency of things.”15 Unable to see that the old man's wealth is a woefully inadequate bulwark against the Void, he is, in his ignorance, contemptuous both of the man and his predicament. Perhaps as a direct outgrowth of this lack of light, the young waiter also violates the principle of cleanness by sloppily pouring his customer's desperately needed brandy over the sides of the glass. Thus, he easily loses himself in a fool's paradise of blindness and illusion. Still young, secure in his job, and, as he boasts, “‘I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me,’” (p. 380), he is “all confidence”: as such, a particularly patent example to the old waiter of those who “lived in it [nada] and never felt it” (p. 383).

Yet, in the course of the story, even this naif has an unsettling glimpse of the fundamental uncertainty of existence and its direct impact on his own situation. What else can account for his sharply defensive reaction to the old waiter's joke? [Old Waiter]: “‘And you? You have no fear of going home before your usual hour?’” [Young Waiter]: “‘Are you trying to insult me?’” [Old Waiter]: “‘No, hombre, only to make a joke’” (p. 382). The youth's subsequent grandiose claims to security notwithstanding, the force with which he objects to the merest possibility of marital infidelity clearly underscores the shaky foundations of his “confidence.” This bogus self-assurance does not emanate from a mature awareness of himself and his world, but is based on the most transitory of conditions: youth, present employment, sexual prowess, and the assumed loyalty of his wife. The young waiter depends for his very being on factors over which he has no control, leaving him particularly vulnerable, in the case of marital uncertainty, to what Warren Bennett calls the “love wound,” a common form of deprivation in Hemingway.16 But because he is essentially devoid of light or insight, he is not cognizant of the significance of his testy reply; his vision is so clouded by putative “confidence” that he fails to see through the ephemeral to the underlying darkness in his own life. Consequently, he cannot even begin to reconstruct his existence upon a more substantial basis.

Hemingway must have reveled in such naifs, aflame with so obviously compromised bravado, for he created many of them. Perhaps the most notable is Paco, the would-be bullfighter of “The Capital of the World” (1936), who even in the face of his own death, is “full of illusions.” For many of these characters, moreover, blindness is not a natural state but a willed escape from nada. Conscious flight from reality is particularly prevalent in the early stages of the “education” of Nick Adams. In “Indian Camp” (1924), for instance, one of the first segments in the Adams chronology, Nick has a youthful encounter with nada both as the incontrovertible fact of death (the Indian husband's suicide) and as human fraility, the intrinsic vulnerability of mankind to various species of physical and psychic suffering (the Indian woman's protracted and painful labor). The pattern of avoidance set when he refuses to witness the Caesarean section climaxes in his more significant refusal to recognize the inevitability of death itself at the end. Lulled by the deceptive calm of his present circumstances—a purely fortuitous and temporary clean, well-lighted place—he maintains an internal darkness by retreating into willed ignorance:

They were seated in the boat, Nick in the stern, his father rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nick trailed hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning.


In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.

(p. 95)

In another early story, “The Killers” (1927), the somewhat older Nick is again faced with harsh reality, but his reaction to it has not appreciably altered. Again, death (the Swede's) is the primary manifestation of the Void. But here the manner of its coming is also particularly important as a signature of nada. As represented by the black-clad henchmen who invade the café—another inadequate place of refuge—nada is totally impersonal; in the words of one of the killers, “‘He [the Swede] never had a chance to do anything to us. He never even seen us’” (p. 283). Moreover, nada displays its tendency to disrupt without warning any established external order, and, ironically, is visited upon its victims not without a certain macabre humor. Naturally, as Nick learns from the intended victim, its effects are totally irremediable. Thus, in spite of their suggestive black clothing, the killers do not represent forces of evil unleashed in an otherwise good world, as so many critics have claimed: rather, they stand for the wholly amoral, wholly irrational, wholly random operation of the universe, which, because it so clearly works to the detriment of the individual, is perceived to be malevolent and evil.

In spite of the clearly educational nature of his experience, Nick once again refuses initiation. Only now his unreasoned compulsion to escape is more pronounced than that of his younger counterpart. Deluded into thinking that this is the kind of localized danger that can be avoided by a mere change in venue, Nick vows not only physical flight (“‘I'm going to get out of this town’”) but psychological flight as well: “‘I can't stand to think about him waiting in the room and knowing he's going to get it. It's too damned awful’” (p. 289). Both versions of Nick Adams, then, are “young waiter” figures because they neither will allow themselves to look directly at the fearsome face of nada nor recognize its direct applicability to their own insecure lives.

That such an attitude is ultimately insupportable is exemplified by a third early tale, “Cross-Country Snow” (1925). Here, yet another Nick employs a physically demanding activity, skiing, as an escape from yet another incarnation of nada, entrapping circumstance. This appearance of the Void is also ironic in that the specific circumstance involved is the life-enhancing pregnancy of Nick's wife. Nevertheless, its impact on the character is much the same as before in that it serves to severely circumscribe independent initiative, even to the point of substituting an externally imposed identity—in this case, fatherhood—on the true self.17 Once again misled by the temporary security of the “good place,” this Nick also attempts to escape the inescapable, and, at the height of his self-delusion, is moved to raise his pursuit of physical release to the level of absolute value: “‘We've got to [ski again] … It [life] isn't worth while if you can't’” (p. 188).

The ski slope, however, offers only apparent protection from nada, for even in his joyous adventure, Nick encounters its own form or hidden danger: “Then a patch of soft snow, left in a hollow by the wind, spilled him and he went over and over in a clashing of skis, feeling like a shot rabbit” (p. 183). Unlike the others, this story ends with clarified vision, and Nick does come to terms with the inevitable external demands upon him. Finally, he is no longer able to pretend that the pleasures of the ski slopes—themselves, not always unmixed—are anything more than temporary, in no way definitive of human existence or even a long-lived accommodation to it. Thus, in response to his companion's suggested pact to repeat their present idyll, Nick must realistically counter, “‘There isn't any good in promising’” (p. 188).

In this relationship to nada, the old man of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is cast as the polar opposite of the young waiter. Said to be eighty years old, virtually deaf, and recently widowed, he is “in despair” in spite of his reputed wealth, and has attempted suicide shortly before the story begins. Unlike the young waiter, he has the light of unclouded vision because he has clearly seen the destructive effects of time and circumstance on love and the self and directly witnessed nada in its death mask. But unlike the old waiter, he has not been able to sustain a satisfactory mode of being in the face of these discoveries. He therefore seeks escape from his knowledge either through the bottle or the total denial of life in suicide. Undoubtedly, the old man senses the importance of the clean, well-lighted place, but to him it is very literally a “place” and thereby no more helpful in combatting nada than Nick's ski slope. That it is inadequate is suggested imagistically at the outset; darkness has indeed invaded this character's “place,” for he sits “in the shadows the leaves of the trees made against the electric light” (p. 379).

What seems to offer the old man the little balance he possesses, and thus helps keep him alive, is a modicum of internal cleanness and self-possession, his dignity or style. Of course, this is an issue of great import in Hemingway in that an ordered personal style is one of the few sources of value in an otherwise meaningless universe. The old waiter draws attention to this pitiful figure's style when he rebukes the young waiter for callously characterizing the old man as “‘a nasty old thing’”: “‘This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk’” (p. 381). But even this vestige of grace has been compromised over time. While the old man leaves the café “with dignity,” he is “walking unsteadily” (p. 381).

The product of a series of encounters with nada, the old man's despair is mirrored in two Nick Adams stories on the period immediately following the critical war wound. In “Now I Lay Me” (1927), the emotional dislocation stemming from his brush with death is continued in an almost psychotic dread of the night and sleep. Nada is imaged both as the night itself and, as Carlos Baker has suggested, by the disturbing and seemingly ceaseless munching of silkworms, just out of sight but most assuredly not out of Nick's disturbed mind. Paradoxically, the protagonist's abject terror in the face of potential selflessness—permanent in death; temporary in sleep—has resulted in a severe dissociation of the self. Using Paul Tillich's descriptive terminology from The Courage To Be, one can say that he is burdened by “pathological” anxiety: a condition of drastically reduced self-affirmation, a flight from nonbeing that entails a corresponding flight from being itself:18 “I myself did not want to sleep because I had been living for a long time with the knowledge that if I ever shut my eyes in the dark and let myself go, my soul would go out of my body. I had been that way for a long time, ever since I had been blown up at night and felt it go out of me and go off and then come back” (p. 363).

Awakened to the fact of his own death, Nick experiences angst so strongly that he is virtually paralyzed. Unwilling to sleep in the dark and not yet able to develop an internal light and cleanness to cope with his trauma, he depends entirely on external sources of illumination: “If I could have a light I was not afraid to sleep” (p. 363). In the absence of this light, however, he attempts to pull back from the awareness of nada by reliving the happier times of his youth, a period of cleanness and assured order. But the search for a good “place” in the past is ultimately fruitless; his memories of favorite trout streams tend to blur in his mind and inevitably lead him to unpleasant reminiscences of his father's ruined collection of arrowheads and zoological specimens, a chaotic heap of fragments that merely mirrors his present internal maelstrom.

In “A Way You'll Never Be” (1933), Nick's dissociation has not been remedied and is suggested initially by the post-battle debris with which the story opens. Plagued by a recurring dream of “a low house painted yellow with willows all around it and a low stable and there was a canal, and he had been there a thousand times and never seen it, but there it was every night as plain as the hill, only it frightened him” (p. 408), he is close to an old man's despair. He now intuits something of the significance of the vision: “That house meant more than anything and every night he had it [the dream]. That was what he needed” (p. 408). But he is still too traumatized by the experience there to examine it more closely, and can only ramble on in self-defense about the “American locust,” another familiar item from his childhood. In his present condition, Nick is an oddly appropriate choice for the absurd mission on which he has been sent, to display his American uniform in order to build morale among the Italian troops. At the moment, his “self,” like the entire American presence in the region, is solely the uniform; the clothes are as dimly suggestive of a more substantial identity as they are of the substantial military support they are designed to promise. For the present, though, this barely adequate package for his violently disturbed inner terrain is Nick's only semblance of the clean, well-lighted place. Still insufficiently initiated into the dangerous world in which he is doomed to live, he desperately clutches at any buffer that will hold nada in abeyance.

The other side of Hemingway's “old man” figure is epitomized by Manuel Garcia, the aging bullfighter of “The Undefeated” (1925). After numerous brushes with death in the bullring, he too depends for his very being on style. Garcia's style has also eroded, leaving him defenseless against the bull, Harold Kaplan's “beast of nada.19 Banished from the brightly lit afternoon bouts, he now performs in the shadowy nocturnals for a “second string critic” and with bulls that “‘the veterinaries won't pass in the daytime’” (p. 237). The performance itself is merely “acceptable” if not “vulgar.” Largely as a result of his diminished capabilities, he is seriously (and perhaps mortally) wounded, and, at the conclusion, is left with only his coletta, as is the old man his shred of dignity. With these all-important manifestations of internal cleanness sullied, the fates of both are equally uncertain: Manuel's on the operating table, and the old man's in the enveloping night.

Of all Hemingway's short story characters, however, the one who most fully recapitulates the “old man” typology is Mr. Frazer of “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” (1933). Confined to a backcountry hospital as a result of a riding accident, Frazer too experiences nada, “the Nothingness that underlies pain, failure, and disillusionment alike,”20 in the form of his own incapacity and that of the broken men who share his predicament. He also experiences banality, one of the less overtly disturbing but nonetheless ominous visages of nada, in the form of the numbing routine of this claustrophobic, but clean and well-lighted place. If Frazer has an old man's clear perspective on nothingness, he is no better able to achieve the cleanness of character necessary to cope with it. As is suggested by Hemingway's first title for the story, “Give Us a Prescription, Doctor,” Frazer too seeks external anodynes for his nada—induced pain. His compulsion to monitor random radio broadcasts and so imaginatively transport himself from his present circumstances is analogous to the old man's drinking because each involves a flight from, rather than a confrontation with reality. His very choice of songs—“Little White Lies” and “Sing Something Simple”—serves to underscore the escapism of this pastime.

In the end, however, neither escape succeeds. The old man remains in despair, and Frazer is given to periodic fits of uncontrollable weeping. In the same way that the former cannot entirely banish the specter of loneliness and death from his consciousness, neither can Frazer, nor any man, completely cloud his view of nada with the various “opiums” at his disposal. The very consideration of the question of release leads Frazer through the opium haze to the terrible truth that lies beneath:

Religion is the opium of the people. … Yes, and music is the opium of the people. … And now economics is the opium of the people; along with patriotism the opium of the people in Italy and Germany. … But drink was a sovereign opium of the people, oh, an excellent opium. Although some prefer the radio, another opium of the people, a cheap one he had just been using. … What was the real, the actual opium of the people? … What was it? Of course; bread was the opium of the people. … [Only] Revolution, Mr. Frazer thought, is no opium. Revolution is a catharsis; an ecstasy which can only be prolonged by tyranny. The opiums are for before and for after. He was thinking well, a little too well.

(pp. 485-87)

The old waiter definitely stands apart from the other two characters in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” If the running controversy over dialogue attribution has thrown some doubt on whether he or his young partner first learns of the old man's attempted suicide, it has done nothing to contradict earlier assumptions on which of the two is more sensitive to the reasons for it. It is evident throughout that the old waiter's insight into the word nothing he so frequently uses is much broader. He recognizes from the first that the old man's despair is not a reaction to a material lack but to a basic metaphysical principle. Thus, he is unable to delude himself into a bogus “confidence.” When he responds to the youth's boasting with “‘You have everything’” (p. 382), he is clearly being ironic; the latter indeed has “everything,” except a firm hold on the “nothing” which underlies “everything.” They are “of two different kinds” (p. 382) because the old waiter knows the ability to withstand the dark “is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful” (p. 382). In spite of their superficial beauty, both the transitory condition of youth and the illusory confidence that so often goes with it are clearly inadequate tools with which to combat the darkness.

There is a closer connection with the old man, however, initially because the news of his attempted suicide begins the old waiter's formal consideration of the reasons for it. In this sense, at the beginning of the tale, the old waiter is a representation of Earl Rovit's “tyro” and Philip Young's “Hemingway hero” (as opposed to the “tutor” and “code hero”) in that he is in the process of learning about the dark underside of life. But while the old man's plight is a necessary goad for the old waiter's musings on his own situation, the latter certainly outstrips his “mentor” in the lengths to which he pushes his speculations on nada: “What did [the old waiter] fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada” (p. 382-83).

Like the old man, then, the old waiter sees clearly, in fact more clearly, the fearsome nothing, but he reacts far differently to his discovery. Instead of lapsing into despair or escaping into drunkenness, this character displays true metaphysical courage in raising the concept of nada to a central article in his overtly existentialist creed, climaxing with his mock prayer of adoration, “Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee” (p. 383). Perhaps even more importantly, he refuses to limit himself to abstract speculation but willingly embraces the impact of universal nothingness on his own person. Thus, in response to the barman's question, “‘What's yours?’” he demonstrates the ironic sense of humor that typifies him throughout by unflinching answering, “‘Nada’” (p. 383). No other statement in the tale so clearly designates the old waiter as the central figure of Hemingway's 1933 collection: he is the “winner” who truly takes “nothing” as his only possible reward.

If his stoic courage in the shadow of the Void differentiates the old waiter from the old man, so does his method for dealing with it. Again, the old waiter provides some grounds for confusing the two modes of existence when he insists upon the importance of a purely physical haven: “‘I am one of those who like to stay late at the café. … With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night’” (p. 382). Yet, he does more than merely accept the dubious protection of an already established “place”; he is, in fact, the keeper of the “clean, well-lighted place,” the one who maintains both its cleanness and its light. To cite Cleanth Brooks on this subject, “The order and light are supplied by him. They do not reflect an inherent, though concealed, order in the universe. What little meaning there is in the world is imposed upon that world by man.”21 Given the stark contrast between his café and the distinctly unclean and ill-lighted bar he frequents after work, his almost ritualistic efforts to furnish and consistently maintain these essential qualities are definitely not representative of those around him. Finally, the old waiter's clean, well-lighted place is distinctly portable—transcending “place” altogether—because it is so thoroughly internalized. He carries it in the form of equanimity and dignity to the shabby bodega, and he carries it home as well.

Thus, it is the old waiter, a man who can see clearly the darkness surrounding him yet so order his life that he can endure this awareness, who most fully attains the attitude symbolized by the clean, well-lighted place. In the society presented by this tale, and in the Hemingway canon as a whole, he is indeed “otro loco mas” when set against a standard of sanity epitomized by an egotistical partner, unfeeling barmen, lustful soldiers, and suicidal old men. Both realist and survivor, epitome of “grace under pressure,” he is by the end of the tale an exceptional man and very much a representation of the highest level of heroism in Hemingway's fictional world, whether it be denoted by Young's “code hero” or Rovit's “tutor.” Even his insomnia, which he regard as a common trait (“Many must have it”), is a mark of his extraordinary character: his vision is too clear, his sense of self too firm, to allow him the ease of insensate slumber. One need only compare this insomnia with Nick Adams' pathological fear of sleep in “Now I Lay Me” to appreciate the qualitative difference between the old waiter and other men.

Some of Hemingway's most important tales also contain characters who either presage an achievement of or actually attain the old waiter's clean, well-lighted place. A notable early example is the Nick Adams of “Big Two-Hearted River” (1925). Again, the confrontation with nada is critical here, but the appearance of nada is more artfully veiled than in other tales. There are hints of the Void in the description of the burned-over countryside at the beginning, in Nick's vision of the trout “tightened facing up into the current” (p. 210) shortly thereafter, and in the methodical series of tasks that comprise the central action of the story. As Malcolm Cowley first suggested and Sheridan Baker has since amplified, the ritualistic series connotes a desperate attempt to hold off something “he had left behind” (p. 210); in Philip Young's reading, the “something” is the memory of the traumatic war wound that so discomfits other versions of Nick in “Now I Lay Me” and “A Way You'll Never Be.”22 But nada is most overtly suggested by the forbidding swamp: “Nick did not want to go in there now. … In the swamp the banks were bare, the big cedars came together overhead, the sun did not come through, except in patches; in the fast deep water, in the half light, the fishing would be tragic” (p. 231). Aside from the old waiter's prayer, this is Hemingway's most detailed characterization of nada: it too is dark; its depth is ungauged but considerable; and, with its swiftly moving current and bare banks, it is most assuredly inhospitable to man.

As the “patches” of sunlight suggest, though, the nada/swamp can be discerned and therefore analyzed by human vision. And, by the end of the story, Nick seems to have gained the light necessary to see into the Void—at the very least, to realize that he can never truly leave it behind him. Yet Nick still lacks the inner cleanness to delve further into nada; he is still too dependent on a distinct physical locale as a buffer zone. As he says early on, “He was there, in the good place” (p. 215). But the very ritualistic behavior that alerted Cowley to the possibility of a mind not right also suggests progress toward an internalized order. Like the trout's in the potentially destructive current, this discipline could hold Nick steady in the dangerous eddies of life and so enable him eventually to enter the swamp. Thus, while the tale ends with a temporary withdrawal from direct confrontation, Nick strikes a positive note when he says, “There were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp” (p. 232).

Two characters in the late short stories actually do “fish” the swamp of nada, the sportsman Macomber in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936) and the writer Harry of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936). The two men approach the clean, well-lighted place from different directions, however: Macomber, from an old man's despair; and Harry, from a young waiter's naive faith in transitory material security. For Macomber, the master of “court games” and darling of drawing rooms, it is necessary to leave the protective enclosures of the rich to meet his nada in the African tall grass in the figure of the wounded lion, an epitome of pure destructive force: “All of him [the lion], pain, sickness, hatred and all of his remaining strength, was tightening into an absolute concentration for a rush” (p. 19). The brush with externally conceived nada triggers Macomber's cowardly flight, but more importantly leads him to an appreciation of his own inner emptiness, a Sartrian version of nothingness, as well as a Sartrian nausea at his inauthenticity. Granted, Macomber responds to the threat with fear, but it is also more than fear, “a cold slimy hollow in all the emptiness where once his confidence had been and it made him feel sick” (p. 11). Thus Macomber comes face to face with the fact that nada need not destroy the physical being to make man a “nothing”; man is a nothing unless and until he makes himself “something.”

The black despair that follows his initiation to nada without and within is not Macomber's final stage. Through the ministrations of the hunter Wilson and the familiar, secure place (the jeep), he undergoes a significant and almost miraculous change at the buffalo hunt. As Wilson describes it, “Beggar had probably been afraid all his life. Don't know what started it. But over now. Hadn't had time to be afraid with the buff. That and being angry too. Motor car too. Motor cars made it familiar. Be a damn fire eater now” (p. 33). The jeep is indeed useful as a means for facing nada analogous to the old waiter's café and Nick Adams' peaceful campsite, but Macomber's real “place” is distinctly internal. Again, Wilson furnishes the analysis: “Fear gone like an operation. Something else grew in its place. Main thing a man had. Made him into a man [italics mine]” (p. 33). Macomber's real achievement, then, is the creation of an ordered “something” to fill the inner void. It not only prepares him for the buffalo hunt but enables him to see clearly, as if for the first time, his inauthentic condition, not the least important facet of which has been his sacrifice of personal identity to an unfulfilling marriage and social expectation. With his “place” securely inside him, he can face with dignity and courage another brush with nada in the “island of bushy trees” (p. 35), a hostile testing ground certainly reminiscent of Nick's swamp.

In “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Harry too has multiple confrontations with nada, the first of which is with the ultimate manifestation of the Void, death: “It came with a rush; not as a rush of water nor of wind; but of a sudden evil-smelling emptiness” (p. 64). As we learn later, this appearance certainly fits Carlos Baker's oxymoronic designation for nada as the “nothing that is something,” for “It had no shape, any more. It simply occupied space” (p. 74). The immediate effect of the experience is to lead Harry to an appreciation of the underlying absurdity of an existence that could be doomed by such a trivial injury—a small scratch which becomes gangrenous for lack of proper medication. With this awareness of his radical contingency, the protagonist can defuse death of its terror: “Since the gangrene started in his right leg he had no pain and with the pain the horror had gone and all he felt now was a great tiredness and anger that this was the end of it. … For years it had obsessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself” (p. 54).

Like Macomber's, Harry's brush with imminent death also awakens him to a second face of nada, the inner nothing caused by his failure to preserve artistic integrity, his very self, against the lures of the inconsequential: material comfort, financial security, hedonistic pleasure. Every bit as much as Macomber, this most autobiographical of Hemingway's short story characters suffers a hollowness at the very core. Therefore, the basic thrust of the tale is Harry's effort to cleanse and reorder his life through a pointed self criticism. Gradually he manages to “work the fat off his soul” (p. 60) by jettisoning the excess baggage of a young waiter's facile confidence in the material and replaces it with something more substantial, a pledge to take up his writing once more. Again, the process is facilitated by his being situated in a tangible clean, well-lighted place: “This was a pleasant camp under big trees against a hill, with good water, and close by, a nearly dry water hole where sand grouse flighted in the mornings” (p. 53). But again, the important “place” is actually within. According to Gloria Dussinger, Harry's difficult rite of purification leads, as it should, to a reclamation of his own identity: “Harry is left with his naked self, the irreducible I am that defies chaos.”23 Though the climactic dream flight from the plain is decidedly ambiguous, it does seem to vouchsafe Harry's success at this endeavor, for the author allows him imaginative entry into the cleanest and best lighted of all the places in the short story canon: “great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going” (p. 76).

Although Harry and Macomber both achieve the clean, well-lighted place, their premature deaths deprive them of the opportunity to bring additional value to their lives, as the old waiter most assuredly does. Having controlled his own life through the implementation of a clean, well-lighted place, he fulfills the remaining provisions of Eliot's Waste Land credo by sympathizing with the plight of others and aiding them in their own pursuits of this all important attitude. In so doing, he becomes an existential hero in Martin Buber's particular sense of the term, a champion of the “I-Thou” relationship. His “style” is essentially compassion, the willingness to treat others as valid, subjective “Thous” rather than depersonalized “Its.”24 This facet of his personality is implicit as early as his expression of sympathy for the pleasure-seeking soldier who risks curfew violation. As he himself comments on the risks involved, “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” (p. 379). But his capacity for true compassion is made most explicit near the end, particularly in his admission, “‘Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café’” (p. 382).

The ability to extend outward to others from a firmly established self is once again in direct contrast to the narrow, selfish pride of the young waiter, who is unmoved by the needs of the old man and sees love as a matter of blind loyalty (verging on bondage) and physical gratification. This inclination is made all too clear by his insensitive comment on the old widower's plight: “‘A wife would be no good to him now’” (p. 381). The old waiter's attitude is also contrasted to that of the old man, who is so absorbed by his own misery that he is barely cognizant of others. This admirable figure passes beyond Rovit's “tyro” stage to that of “tutor” when he humorously, but pointedly, attempts to instruct the youth on the evanescence of “confidence” and the latter's serious misuse of love (e.g., by the joke). Moreover, he tries to provide the morose old man with some basis upon which to reconstruct his shattered life by rendering to this wretched figure the respect and sympathy he so desperately needs. Thus, in Buber's sense as in Heidegger's, Kierkegaard's, and Sartre's, the old waiter “authenticates” his life by fulfilling his responsibilities both to himself and to others.

The picador Zurito in “The Undefeated,” the dignified major in “Another Country” (1927), and the guide Wilson of “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” all transcend the limits of self-sufficiency by sympathizing with and proferring aid to those who most need it. But the character who most closely approximates the old waiter's multi-faceted heroism is Cayetano Ruiz, the luckless gambler of “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio,” a story whose three main characters (Ruiz, Frazer, Sister Cecilia) form a triadic grouping analogous to the hero, victim, and naif of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”25

That the gambler does attain the exemplary attitude is implicit in William Barrett's summary characterization of him: “Cayetano is the absurd hero who carries on his code, even if it is only the code of a cheap gambler, defiantly and gracefully against the Void.”26 Cayetano, of course, earns his heroism in that he too encounters the death mask of nada. Like Harry's, his wound comes totally without warning, and, given the rather unreliable aim of his assailant, almost totally by accident. Yet even before this crisis, the perspicacious gambler with eyes “alive as a hawk's” (p. 468) has undoubtedly sensed its presence in the form of chance and the ever-present risk of his chosen profession. In spite of the fact that his work takes him into places that are anything but clean and well-lighted, he has so internalized the “place” that he can calmly face external hostility and internal suffering, and face them with honor and exemplary courage. Consequently, he refuses to inform on his assailant and also refuses opiates to dull the physical pain that serves as metaphor for the metaphysical pain nada induces.

But Ruiz is far more than Barrett's “cheap,” albeit heroic, gambler because he strives to communicate his insights on life to others. Indirect proof of his compassion is to be found both in his embarrassment over the offensive odor of his peritonitis and in his considerate silence even in periods of terrible pain. Direct evidence is available in the conversations with Frazer. Here Ruiz incisively analyses the untreatable ills of the human condition—the absurd irony, the prevalence of accident and risk, and, most of all, the difficulty of maintaining a self amidst the vagaries of fortune that have driven his auditor to tears. Like the old waiter, he is quite capable of humbling himself, denigrating his own considerable courage, in order to provide comfort to one less able to withstand nada. Surely he consciously misstates fact when, in an attempt to assuage Frazer's shame at lapsing into tears, he declares, “‘If I had a private room and a radio I would be crying and yelling all night long’” (p. 482). Evidently this self-described “victim of illusions” (p. 483) also possesses the old waiter's ironic consciousness, for it is at the very heart of his dispassionate self-analysis, also delivered principally for Frazer's benefit: “‘If I live long enough the luck will change. I have bad luck now for fifteen years. If I ever get any good luck I will be rich’” (p. 483). Although he fully realizes that “bad luck” will continue to predominate, like the other residents of the metaphoric clean, well-lighted place, the gambler is content to “continue, slowly, and wait for luck to change” (p. 484). In the interim, he will continue to try to instill in others some of the light and cleanness essential to the authentication of the self.

In their dealings with the various faces of nada, then, the old waiter figures represent the highest form of heroism in the Hemingway short story canon, a heroism matched in the novels perhaps only by the fisherman Santiago. Those who manage to adjust to life on the edge of the abyss do so because they see clearly the darkness that surrounds them yet create a personal sense of order, an identity, with which to maintain balance on this precarious perch. The failure either to see the significance of the encounter with nada or, if seen, to constitute an inner cleanness vitiates the lives not only of the young waiter and old man of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” but also of a host of similarly flawed figures throughout the canon.

Because of the frequency with which nada appears in the short fiction, we can only assume that the Void also played a major role in Hemingway's own life, whether as the shattering war wound or the countless subsequent experiences, both real and imagined, that threatened to make him a “nothing.” Carlos Baker concluded as much in his biography: “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ was autobiographical … in the sense that it offered a brief look into the underside of Ernest's spiritual world, the nightmare of nothingness by which he was still occasionally haunted.”27 But if we are justified in seeing Hemingway's life in terms of his encounters with nada, are we not equally justified in following Earl Rovit's lead and thereby treating his fiction as one of the by-products of these encounters—in fact, as a primary strategy for dealing with nada?28

Both the fiction itself and the author's comments on it seem to support us in this regard, for Hemingway's basic aesthetic suggests precisely the sort of perspective symbolized by the clean, well-lighted place. The need for clearsightedness, for instance, is the essence of the writer's celebrated remark on art in Death in the Afternoon (1932), a personal testament published just a year before “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”: “Let those who want to save the world if you can get to see it clear and as a whole. Then any part you make will represent the whole if it is made truly.”29 But unclouded vision alone, not uncommon among his fictional progeny, could guarantee neither a psychological nor an aesthetic clean, well-lighted place. A careful and conscious ordering of disparate material was also required in order to fill the Void of nothing (the blank page) with an enduring something. Thus, the characteristic Hemingway style: the clean, precise, scrupulously ordered prose that so often serves to illuminate shimmering individual objects against a dark background of chaos.30 As for his old waiter figures, the actual places that inspired the author's descriptions pale against the deftly constructed “places” that are the descriptions; because the latter are no longer subject to the random, transitory world of fact but rather interiorized and subsequently transmuted into art itself, they are much more secure, and certainly more permanent, strongholds against nothingness.

In spite of the apparent disdain for utilitarian art in the passage from Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway also performed some of that function, albeit indirectly, by probing the sources of our well-documented modern malaise and offering at least tentative solutions to it in the form of resolute personal conduct. In this way he too displayed some of the Buberesque qualities of his short story heroes. It should come as no surprise, then, that Granville Hicks' summary of the author's artistic mission has a rather direct applicability to that of the old waiter as well. For in their potential impact on an attentive audience. Hemingway and his extraordinary character are virtually one and the same. Like the latter, “The artist makes his contribution to the salvation of the world by seeing it clearly himself and helping others to do the same.”31

Perhaps nothing so effectively demonstrates the difficulty of maintaining the clean, well-lighted place than Hemingway's own failure to do so in the years immediately preceding his death. Like so many of his “old man” figures, he never lost sight of nada but did lose the essential inner cleanness, without which the light must eventually be overpowered by darkness. With his internal defenses in disarray, Hemingway turned to an old man's despairing act. In effect, in his suicide, he opted for the release from turmoil offered by the metaphorical “opiums” of Mr. Frazer: “He would have a little spot of the giant killer and play the radio, you could play the radio so that you could hardly hear it” (p. 487).

Notes

  1. Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, 4th ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), p. 128.

  2. Baker, p. 124.

  3. Of course, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is not the only story in Winner Take Nothing (New York: Scribner's, 1933) that conveys the sense of desolation. “After the Storm,” “The Light of the World,” “A Natural History of the Dead,” and “A Way You'll Never Be” are apt companion-pieces and Hemingway's epigraph firmly sets the tone for the entire collection:

    Unlike all other forms of lutte or combat the conditions are that the winner shall take nothing; neither his ease, nor his pleasure, nor any notions of glory; nor, if he win far enough, shall there be any reward within himself.

    In addition to the commentary of the nada theme, at least a dozen articles have been written on the difficulty of attributing certain portions of dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” In perhaps the most provocative of them, Joseph Gabriel argues that the speeches of the old and young waiter were intentionally confused so that the reader might not only witness but actually experience the uncertainty of nothingness in the very act of reading the tale. See “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, 22 (May 1961), 539-47. For an overview of the dialogue controversy, see Charles May, “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Studies in Short Fiction, 8 (1971), 326-30.

  4. Annette Benert also stresses the response to nada in this particular tale, but only the old waiter's, in “Survival Through Irony: Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, 11 (1974), 181-89.

  5. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Scribner's, 1966), p. 383. All subsequent references to Hemingway's stories and all page references are to this volume. Dates provided for individual stories refer to their initial publication.

  6. Time of Need: Forms of Imagination in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper, 1972), pp. 83-92. For a useful, if overly systematic, study of Hemingway and existentialist thought, see John Killinger's Hemingway and the Dead Gods: A Study in Existentialism (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1960). See also Richard Lehan's section of Hemingway, Sartre, and Camus in A Dangerous Crossing: French Literary Existentialism and the Modern American Novel (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 46-56.

  7. For more detailed theological and linguistic analyses of the old waiter's prayer, see John B. Hamilton, “Hemingway and the Christian Paradox,” Renascence, 24 (1972), 152-54; David Lodge, “Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted, Puzzling Place,” Essays in Criticism, 21 (1971), 33-34; and Earl Rovit, Ernest Hemingway (New York: Twayne, 1963), pp. 111-14.

  8. Evidently leaning heavily on the old waiter's statement “and man was a nothing too,” Joseph Gabriel sees nada from a Sartrian perspective. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre posits that the human self (“pour soi”) is by its very nature a “nothing” with only the possibility of becoming “something.” Although I claim no direct influence, in most of his stories Hemingway seems to be operating under the Kierkegaardian and Heideggerian senses of nada as an external “force.” He does appear to be more Sartrian, however, in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”; I will treat the consequences when discussing those tales.

  9. “Ernest Hemingway: A Critical Essay,” in Ernest Hemingway: Five Decades of Criticism, ed. Linda Wagner (East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1974), p. 214.

  10. Irrational Man (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958), p. 284. Carlos Baker seems to come closest to my viewpoint in Hemingway: The Writer as Artist. He sees a rather explicit appearance of nada in “Now I Lay Me” and connects it generally with the idea of “not home,” a significant image in the short stories and novels alike. See especially pp. 133 ff.

  11. See Frederick J. Hoffman, “No Beginning and No End: Hemingway and Death,” Essays in Criticism, 3 (Jan. 1953), 73-84, and Robert Penn Warren, “Ernest Hemingway,” in Ernest Hemingway: Five Decades of Criticism, pp. 75-103.

  12. Without dealing directly with nada, Young traces Nick's initiation and the frequent refusals of initiation in Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration (New York: Harcourt, 1966), pp. 29-55.

  13. Hemingway: The Writer's Art of Self-Defense (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1969), p. 130.

  14. For more information on their versions of nothingness and the existential “authentication” of the self, see Kierkegaard's Either/Or, trans. D. Swenson and W. Lowrie (1843; rpt. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1944), and Heidegger's Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (1927; rpt. London: SCM Press, 1962).

  15. “The Logic of Confusion,” p. 542. See also John Hagopian's discussion of the young waiter's limited sensitivity to the word nothing in “Tidying Up Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, 1(1964), 141-47.

  16. “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, 42 (1970), 78. Reacting to Hemingway's own claim that he often omitted the real ending of his stories, Bennett proceeds to speculate that the omitted ending here is the fact that the young waiter's wife has indeed left him, presumably for the soldier who passes by the window of the café.

  17. Delmore Schwartz expanded on this idea in his discussion of “Cross-Country Snow” in “The Fiction of Ernest Hemingway”:

    Skiing and activities like it give the self a sense of intense individuality, mastery and freedom. In contrast, those activities which link the self with other beings and are necessary to modern civilization not only fail to provide any such self-realization but very often hinder it. The individual feels trapped in the identity assigned him by birth, social convention, economic necessity; he feels that this identity conceals his real self; and the sense that he is often only an anonymous part of the social mass makes him feel unreal.

    See Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz, ed. Donald Dike and David Zucker (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 257.

  18. Tillich distinguishes between the three forms of “existential” anxiety (of death, meaninglessness, and condemnation), which “belong to existence as such and not to an abnormal state of mind,” and “pathological” anxiety, which represents an escape into neurosis, in The Courage To Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1952), pp. 64-70.

  19. In using this term, Kaplan underscores the unintelligent natural violence, the concentrated destructiveness of the bull. See The Passive Voice (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 1966), p. 106.

    There are many who see Garcia, and the old man as well, as representations of the Hemingway “code hero” precisely because of their dignity in the face of potentially catastrophic external circumstances. These critics, and Kaplan is one, point to Garcia in particular because as a bullfighter, he is in constant touch with danger yet maintains a certain grace by virtue of his role in the bullfight, a ritualistic form of order imposed upon the chaos of life.

    Granted, both the old man and Garcia display admirable courage, but they lack the firm internal order I see necessary for the true Hemingway hero. As his desperate attempt at suicide and very unsteady balance suggest, the old man's place of refuge is now totally external. Garcia's form has also eroded to the point that he can hardly be considered an exemplar of dignity. There is a certain desperate foolhardiness in his stubborn insistence on making a comeback and his unrealistic hope for “an even break” after his recent disasters in the ring; as his friend Zurito admits, these are signs of empty pride. On the other hand, the picador himself, though aged, is still a thoroughly professional craftsman. Thus, I agree with Arthur Waldheim's view in A Reader's Guide to Ernest Hemingway (New York: Farrar, 1972) that Zurito, along with the old waiter, is much more fully representative of the “code hero.”

  20. Edward Stone, “Hemingway's Mr. Frazer: From Revolution to Radio,” Journal of Modern Literature, 1 (1971), 380.

  21. The Hidden God (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1963), p. 6.

  22. See Malcolm Cowley, “Nightmare and Ritual in Hemingway,” in Ernest Hemingway: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robert Weeks (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962), pp. 40-52; and Sheridan Baker, “Hemingway's ‘Big Two-Hearted River,’” in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, ed. Jackson Benson (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 150-59. In addition to the ritual series in the tale, Baker finds a suggestion of desperate defensiveness against a shadowy threat in the image of Nick's tent, “stretched as tightly as his own state of mind, equally protective in its static tension” (pp. 151-52).

  23. “‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’: Harry's Second Chance,” Studies in Short Fiction, 5 (1967), 58.

  24. Buber's most detailed consideration of this ethic is in I and Thou, 2nd ed. 1923, rpt. trans. R. Smith (New York: Scribner's, 1958).

    Randall Stewart has also noted the old waiter's proclivity for compassion and sees it as crucial both to the clean, well-lighted place and to the tale's quasi-Christian ritual:

    The café is a place where congenial souls may meet. The older waiter, particularly, has a sympathetic understanding of the elderly gentleman's problem. Living in a clean, well-lighted place does not mean solitary withdrawal so long as there are others who also prefer such a place. One can belong to a communion of saints, however small.

    See American Literature and Christian Doctrine (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1958), p. 135. See also Richard Hoving's discussion of the need for communion in Hemingway: The Inward Terrain (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1968), p. 25.

  25. Because of her faith in the transcendent forces “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” negates and her naive ambition for sainthood, Sister Cecilia seems an apt equivalent for the unrealistic young waiter. Indeed, as Paul Rodgers has pointed out in “Levels of Irony in Hemingway's ‘The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio,’” Studies in Short Fiction, 7 (1970), 446, her blindness—also the young waiter's defect—is suggested by the very etymology of her name (from the Latin caecus, or “blind”).

    Upon closer examination, two other stories reveal a similar triad, “The Undefeated” has its own version of the old waiter (Zurito) and the old man (Garcia), but it also has a young waiter in the person of the young bullfight critic. He too neither empathizes nor sympathizes with the victim's plight and thus engages in facile criticism of him. Moreover, like the young waiter, he is far more interested in a midnight tryst; consequently, he too hurries away, leaving the old man figure to his fate. In “The Battler” (1925), the naive Nick Adams meets only confusion in his encounter with the despairing, jumbled Ad Francis (old man), and fails to fully appreciate the compassionate efforts on both his and Francis's behalf of the eternally watchful Bugs (old waiter).

  26. Time of Need, p. 94.

  27. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (New York: Scribner's, 1969), p. 305.

  28. Rovit convincingly argues that nada was both a challenge to and a stimulus for Hemingway's art in Ernest Hemingway, pp. 168 ff. See also Jackson Benson, Hemingway: The Writer's Art of Self-Defense on this point.

  29. Death in the Afternoon (New York: Scribner's, 1932), p. 278.

  30. See Ihab Hassan's illuminating discussion of Hemingway's literary pointillism in “Valor Against the Void,” in The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature (New York: Oxford, 1971), pp. 80-110.

    Tony Tanner makes a similar point about the Hemingway style in The Reign of Wonder (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1956), pp. 241-50. In Tanner's terms, Hemingway characteristically resisted disorder by erecting a verbal “cordon sanitaire” around each individual image, thus creating any number of miniature, aesthetic clean, well-lighted places.

  31. The Great Tradition: An Interpretation of American Literature Since the Civil War, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1969), p. 277.

David Kerner (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: “The Foundation of the True Text of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, 1979, pp. 279-300.

[In the following essay, Kerner determines the possible sources for Hemingway's confusing and unconventional use of dialogue and urges a restoration of the author's original text.]

It is almost sixty years since Hemingway silently patented a small change in the way we arrange dialogue; but many readers still refuse to acknowledge the innovation, so that we have had, over the past twenty years, not only twenty conflicting articles on the dialogue of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” but even the publisher's unwarranted emendation of the text. Like the justice of the peace at the end of Faulkner's “Spotted Horses,” we want to cry, “I can't stand no more! This court's adjourned! Adjourned!” The latest misleading testimony, from both sides of the North Atlantic, is that the “error” has been traced to the pencil manuscript: inserting a one-line speech, Hemingway gave it to the wrong waiter. Hans-Joachim Kann suggests we advise students to ignore the insertion as obvious filler, intended merely to restore the conventional alternating pattern for two speakers.1 But that convention is what Hemingway's innovation modifies: at least twenty-five times—in five novels and seven stories, not counting “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”—Hemingway deliberately (and sometimes confusingly) assigned consecutive, separate speeches to a single speaker. The manuscript of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” cannot be interpreted without an awareness of this unconventional practice, which removes the alleged inconsistency. (This solution was proposed by Otto Reinert the year the controversy began and was later amplified by Scott MacDonald.)2

Since the innovation antedates the manuscript, the genetic approach must go back to the moment Hemingway wrote the following lines in “The Three-Day Blow”:3

“That's right,” said Nick. “I guess he's a better guy than Walpole.”


“Oh, he's a better guy, all right,” Bill said.


“But Walpole's a better writer.”


“I don't know,” Nick said. “Chesterton's a classic.”

There are only two speakers here, so at first we suspect that the third speech was mistakenly indented (since the smooth continuity does not suggest that a line was dropped); but the probability that exactly this sort of mistaken indention occurs twenty-seven times in so careful a writer as Hemingway is very slight, especially when from the start he took pains to be obvious in his insistence that a character be permitted to pause, then speak again, without the author's having to label the pause—as in “The Undefeated,” which Hemingway wrote in 1924.

“I was going great till I got hurt,” Manuel offered.


“You ought to have seen me, Manos,” Manuel said, reproachfully.

And in “Fifty Grand,” written in 1925:

“That was a fine bunch out here this afternoon,” he said. “They don't take any chances, those two.”


Then a little later, “Well,” he says, “they're right. What the hell's the good in taking chances?”


“Don't you want another, Jerry?” he said. “Come on, drink along with me.”4

By first using “Then a little later” and then omitting it for the third paragraph, Hemingway was educating his readers.

But even with these early examples, the genetic approach has not quite reached its goal. One reason that readers have been unwilling to accept Otto Reinert's solution is their belief that Hemingway's innovation is not to be found in any other writer—as though, if it can't be shown where Hemingway learned the trick, he never did it.5 The fact is that the “innovation”—in its original, modest form—is at least a hundred years old.6 On 28 December 1921, a week or two before the first draft of “The Three-Day Blow,” Hemingway had joined Sylvia Beach's rental library, where he “started with Turgenev and took the two volumes of A Sportsman's Sketches” (A Moveable Feast, p. 36).7 These volumes were the Constance Garnett translation, where, in “The Hamlet of Shtchigri District,” Hemingway found this:

‘Honoured sir!’ he cried, ‘I am of the opinion that life on earth's only worth living, as a rule, for original people; … but I am not to be reckoned among them!’


‘And yet,’ he went on, after a brief silence, ‘in my youth what expectations I aroused! …’

And this:

‘And now,’ he went on warmly, ‘… The beam is still there in my barn, to which I repeatedly made up my mind to hang myself!’


‘Some pears,’ he began again, after a brief pause, ‘need to lie in an underground cellar for a time. …’8

Garnett's back-to-back juxtaposition of end and opening quotation marks, with indention, for a single speaker appears twice also in “A Living Relic” (II, 239, 246) and once more in “The Peasant Proprietor Ovsyanikov” (I, 96). Did Hemingway immediately borrow—and extend—Garnett's unconventional indention? All we know is that the new arrangement was in the version of “The Three-Day Blow” that he wrote between the spring of 1923 and September 1924; and after reading Turgenev, Hemingway tells us, he went on to read “the Constance Garnett translations of Tolstoi” (p. 130). In Anna Karenina (one of his favorite books) Hemingway would have found the following passage, in which there are only two speakers:

“If only Countess Marya Borissova were Minister of War …,” said a gray-headed, little old man in a gold-embroidered uniform, addressing a tall, handsome maid of honor. …


“And me among the adjutants,” said the maid of honor, smiling.


“You have an appointment already. …”


“Good-day, prince!” said the little old man to a man who came up to him.

And near the end of the novel:

“I can never see these collecting-boxes unmoved while I've money in my pocket,” he said. “And how about today's telegrams? Fine chaps those Montenegrins!”


“You don't say so!” he cried, when the princess told him that Vronsky was going by this train.9

It is unlikely that Hemingway read these translations without noticing a single instance of Garnett's unconventional practice of pointing with indention. In Our Time, which Hemingway finished in 1923, shows him experimenting with every style of pointing dialogue: he uses inverted commas, and he omits them; he uses the European dash, and he omits it. Could he, then, have missed in Garnett a new style of pointing that he found attractive? Even as a beginner, Hemingway was so concerned with the ways typography can affect meaning that he would go “to a printer's shop in the late evening to learn how to set up type so as to know exactly how his manuscripts, to the last comma, would look on the printed page.”10 And can one believe that Hemingway arrived at his innovation while reading Garnett's translations, which he admired, and yet never noticed it in her own practice?

In fact, the difference between her practice and the first instance of Hemingway's, in “The Three-Day Blow,” permits us to reconstruct, with some reasonableness, the process of Hemingway's inspiration. He evidently wondered why Tolstoy and Turgenev should have felt obliged to explain that the same speaker was continuing after a pause or interruption. The convention was at fault in fostering the notion that two speakers always alternate in actual conversation. That Hemingway acknowledged the effectiveness of the conventional English multi-paragraph pointing for a continuing speech, we see in Frances Clyne's diatribe at the end of chapter 6 of The Sun Also Rises; but if a speaker pauses between consecutive speeches, why must the novelist throw in a dead expository phrase, breaking the rhythm of the dialogue, merely because a typographical metronome has conditioned the reader not to expect a certain perfectly natural irregularity? Hemingway decided to recondition his readers: by only implying the pause he would jolt them into an appreciation of the need to modify the convention.

But can we be sure it was Garnett's practice alone that inspired Hemingway's? Might he have found it in other translators whom he had read before 1922?11 In the United States, too, he could have read Gertrude Stein's Three Lives (1909), where, at the very beginning, he would have found this:

“You bad dog,” Anna said to Peter that night, “you bad dog.”


“Peter was the father of those pups,” the good Anna explained to Miss Mathilda. …

But nothing before “Up in Michigan,” which Hemingway wrote in 1922, suggests the influence of Gertrude Stein; and perhaps he delayed meeting her—he waited until March 1922—because he had not read Three Lives. Similarly—despite reasonable conjectures—Hemingway seems not to have read the excerpts from Ulysses that had run in The Little Review.12 In “Episode XI,” in the August 1919 number, which the post office did not seize, we find this:

—Sweet tea Miss Kennedy having poured with milk plugged with two ears with little fingers.


—No, don't, she cried.


—I won't listen, she cried.

(p. 44)

And this:

—Here's fortune, Blazes [Boylan] said.


He pitched a broad coin down. Coin rang.


—Hold on, said Lenehan, till I …


—Fortune, he wished, lifting his bubbled ale.


—Sceptre will win in a canter, he said.


—I plunged a bit, said Boylan winking and drinking.13

(p. 50)

But Hemingway's fondness for his innovation may have been due in part to his belated discovery of these passages in Ulysses.14 He probably realized that here he was seeing the unconventional Russian punctuation whose effect Garnett had captured in English pointing.15 He would, I suspect, have known by this time that in Russian, as in French, there is only an indention, without a dash, when the same speaker is continuing; an indention with a dash indicates a change of speaker.16 Joyce, like Tolstoy and Turgenev, was using an indention with a dash for the consecutive speeches of a single speaker; and like the Russians, Joyce identified that speaker every time. Did Hemingway smile to see the bold Joyce so timid a follower?17 And did Joyce's timidity encourage Hemingway to display his own virtuosity? In “The Three-Day Blow” we have the only instance of Hemingway's innovation in 1922-1924; then, in 1925-1926, he gave us seven new ones. In “The Three-Day Blow” he had merely indented; in 1925 he risked Garnett's juxtaposition of end and opening quotation marks, and he did it without identifying the speaker. Was this flowering due only to the self-confidence brought by the publication in 1925 of In Our Time? Or—a third possibility—was the new pattern of the innovation in The Sun Also Rises influenced by E. M. Forster? In A Passage to India Mrs. Moore speaks first, to her son and his fiancee, in this exchange:

“One knows people's characters, as you call them. … I have heard both English and Indians speak well of him, and I felt it isn't the sort of thing he would do.”


“Feeble, mother, feeble.”


“Most feeble.”


“And most inconsiderate to Adela.”


Adela said: “It would be so appalling if I was wrong. I should take my own life.”18

This novel came out at the beginning of June 1924, while the manuscript of In Our Time was still in Hemingway's hands, but no evidence has turned up that Hemingway read Forster's book that summer.19 In any case, one cannot expect to be able to trace every step in the genesis of Hemingway's disputed practice; what matters here is that the precedents supply an international foundation for the “violation” that establishes the true text of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

Given this historical background, Hemingway's disputed practice no longer seems anomalous. But the other reason Scribner's 1965 emendation has had support is that no one had shown yet that Hemingway's innovation is to be found elsewhere in his work.20 In 1973 Scott MacDonald identified nine instances. Some of these, and some of the fifteen others I have found, are especially useful for an understanding of the “inconsistency” in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”21 In The Sun Also Rises Jake Barnes advises Brett to write Cohn that she and Mike are joining Jake and Bill in Pamplona; Cohn would then realize he should stay away.

I did not see Brett again until the night of the 24th of June.


“Did you hear from Cohn?”


“Rather. He's keen about it.”


“My God!”


“I thought it was rather odd myself.”


“Says he can't wait to see me.”

(p. 86)

This exchange occurs on the page after one of the passages MacDonald cites, and the two other instances he finds in this novel appear on a single page. There are also two on one page in Across the River and into the Trees, two in “The Battler” (cited by MacDonald), and two in “Homage to Switzerland,” as well as two in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Surely it is no coincidence that so many of the twenty-seven instances of the violation come in pairs: discovery of the same breach of convention assures us—as Hemingway learned from Turgenev—that the first one is not a typo. And one of MacDonald's other examples in The Sun Also Rises—again illustrating the pattern in which the speaker is not identified either time (the reverse of the most obvious pattern)—provides a precedent for the elusiveness of the violations in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”:

Bill was in my room reading the paper.


“See Mike?”


“Yes.”


“Let's go and eat.”


“I won't eat down-stairs with that German head waiter. He was damned snotty when I was getting Mike upstairs.”


“He was snotty to us too.”

(p. 218)

Since Jake knows that Bill brought Mike back to the hotel, Bill must be the first speaker; but we will never know whether it's Jake or Bill who says, “Let's go and eat.” Even more inscrutable, perhaps, is a passage in Across the River and into the Trees, where the waiter begins:

“We don't have fiascos. This is a good hotel, you know. It comes in bottles.”


“I forgot,” the Colonel said. “Do you remember when it cost thirty centesimi the liter?”


“And we would throw the empty fiascos at the station guards from the troop trains?”


“And we would throw all the left over grenades away and bounce them down the hillside coming back from the Grappa?”


“And they would think there was a break-through when they would see the bursts and you never shaved, and we wore the fiamme nere on the grey, open jackets with the grey sweaters?”


“And I drank grappa and could not even feel the taste?”


“We must have been tough then,” the Colonel said.

(pp. 120-121)

But the most persuasive example is the one in To Have and Have Not whose pattern parallels that of the crucial exchange in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” The speakers are Harry Morgan and the lawyer he calls Bee-lips.

“I'm going to get out,” Bee-lips said.


“When are you going to get the boat out?”


“Tonight.”


“Who's going to help you?”


“You.”


“Where are you going to put her?”


“Where I always put her.”

(pp. 109-110)

On first reading, we think Bee-lips speaks the third, fifth, and seventh lines. But the boat is Harry's, so the last line must be his; this inference is confirmed when Harry says, within the page, “I'm going to put her up in the creek right where it crosses the road”; and Harry, being the owner, is the one who would know when “to get the boat out.” So the second speech, as well as the first, belongs to Bee-lips, despite the indention; and the third, fifth, and seventh speeches are Harry's, reversing our first reading. Hemingway forces us to reread this passage and reassign the speeches. The passage illuminates what Hemingway had done four years earlier in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” where the dialogue containing the alleged inconsistency begins with the younger waiter.

“He's drunk now,” he said.


“He's drunk every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”


“How should I know.”

Unaware of Hemingway's innovation, we naturally think the second speech is the older waiter's, and the following question the younger waiter's; so the fourth line establishes the older waiter as the one telling of the suicide attempt. But a few lines later the older waiter says, “You said she cut him down.” We are stopped short—exactly as in the passage above from To Have and Have Not. Forced to retrace our steps, we surmise (after much confusion) that at the beginning of this dialogue—

“He's drunk now,” he said.


“He's drunk every night.”

—the younger waiter speaks both lines: the pattern of these lines duplicates exactly the initially confusing lines:

“I'm going to get out,” Bee-lips said.


“When are you going to get the boat out?”

and, from “The Three-Day Blow,” Hemingway's first use of his invention:

“Oh, he's a better guy, all right,” Bill said.


“But Walpole's a better writer.”22

What distinguishes the innovation in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is that the second instance of it that turns up does more than assure us that we have read the first instance correctly—it asserts itself in its own right as indispensable to the dialogue's coherence.23

Readers who have accepted Scribners's emendation will still want to know how Warren Bennett's argument for it, based on the manuscript evidence, can be refuted. Here are the lines containing the alleged error, from page 4 of the manuscript:

“He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in the bed for me.”


“He had a wife once too.”


“A wife would be no good to him now.”


“You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.”


“His niece looks after him.”


“I know. You said she cut him down.”

Bennett argues that Hemingway—when he added “You said she cut him down” to the earlier insertion, “I know”—“probably thought” that the immediately preceding speech was the older waiter's since the older waiter is the one who has been telling of the suicide attempt (in Bennett's opinion), and that Hemingway, “one may conjecture,” was still suffering from the “confusion” that had caused him to omit a speaker in the alternating sequence (pp. 620, 622). Mistakenly thinking, therefore, that it was the younger waiter who was saying “I know,” Hemingway added “You said she cut him down” to “I know.” So Hagopian and Scribners are right in assigning “You said she cut him down” to the younger waiter—by adding it to “His niece looks after him”—because Hemingway meant to give the line to the younger waiter.

But Hemingway could not have thought that “His niece looks after him” was the older waiter's line, since it contradicts the immediately preceding speech, “You can't tell. He might be better with a wife,” which indisputably belongs to the older waiter. So Hemingway, perfectly aware that he had inserted “I know” as the “missing” speech of the older waiter, added the explanation “You said she cut him down.” This new line—far from being either the filler Hans-Joachim Kann finds it or the redundancy Bennett calls it (p. 622n.)—is, of course, the one line in the story proving that the younger waiter has been telling of the suicide attempt. (The line became redundant only when Scribners assigned it to him.) Furthermore, the two insertions support Hemingway's characterization. To the younger waiter's argument “His niece looks after him,” the older waiter is made to reply dryly, “I know [how well she ‘looks after him’: the old man wants to die, and she won't let him]. You said she cut him down. [I said, just now, ‘He might be better with a wife,’ because you had already made clear to me how ‘his niece looks after him’]”24 The unsupported “I know,” which the gratuitous emendation leaves the older waiter, is uncharacteristically fatuous.

If Hemingway had made the alleged error, we can be sure he would have caught it. On the same page, he at first wrote:

“This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk.”


“I wish he would go home. …”

Revising, Hemingway added two lines:

“Even now, drunk. Look at him.”


“I don't want to look at him. I wish he would go home. …”

How could Hemingway have been attentive to this small break in continuity and have been suffering a few lines earlier from the inattention Bennett imagines?

Moreover, that Hemingway was not confused but at first meant to follow “His niece looks after him” with “I wouldn't want to be that old [and have to be looked after by a nursemaid]. An old man is a nasty thing”—without an intervening reply—can be surmised not only from our antecedent awareness of this unconventional practice of Hemingway's but also from an earlier instance of it in this manuscript: Hemingway originally juxtaposed the lines

“I never get into bed before three o'clock.”


“He should have killed himself last week.”

(pp. 2-3)

—both speeches belonging to the younger waiter; later, Hemingway ran the two lines together. In the disputed passage, he inserted “I know. You said she cut him down” when he decided that here he had to end his riddling refusal to tell us which waiter was saying what—the second insertion went hand-in-hand with other late clarifications of identity: “the other unhurried waiter” on page 5 and “waiter who was in a hurry” on page 6.

The final flaw in the notion of Hemingway's “confusion” here is the implicit charge that Hemingway was again confused when he read the typescript and the Scribner's Magazine proofs and whenever he reread the published story.

Bennett does not open his case with Hemingway's crucial insertion; proceeding chronologically, Bennett argues that “You said she cut him down” must be made consistent with the beginning of the passage. But since the later line is the one that tells us which waiter knows of the suicide attempt, any earlier line that at first seemed to indicate otherwise must be reconstrued. The logic of this order—the technique of retroactive correction imposed by Hemingway's innovation—is demonstrated conclusively by the passage quoted above from To Have and Have Not. All the same, we have to meet the rest of Bennett's argument on his own ground. He quotes from the manuscript, showing two deletions and one insertion:

“He's stewed drunk every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”


“Christ “How should I know?”

Because Hemingway—after originally indenting “‘He's drunk now,’ he said”—drew a line attaching this speech to the end of the preceding paragraph, and because he had indented and had at first written “stewed” in the second speech of the exchange (in contrast to “drunk” in the first speech), Bennett argues that Hemingway's original intention was to assign “He's stewed every night” to the older waiter; the question following would then establish that the older waiter is the one telling of the suicide attempt (p. 619). To this argument three objections may be made.

First, Bennett only assumes that the indention of “‘He's drunk now,’ he said” in the published story is an error. Since Scribner's Magazine did not set the story from the pencil manuscript, one may assume, instead, that Hemingway changed his mind about the run-on line. After all, there are other legitimate differences between the manuscript and the published version: “waiting in the bed” becomes “waiting in bed”; “It was no fear” (on page 9) is changed to “It was not fear”; and where the manuscript, on page 3, says clearly that the waiter “walked out to the old man's table,” the published story has “marched.” So, knowing that the older waiter's line “You said she cut him down” would be surprising, Hemingway must have been paying careful attention to his management of the ambiguity responsible for the surprise; and he could not have failed to correct an unwanted indention in “‘He's drunk now,’ he said,” the first of the two lines creating the ambiguity. Originally, Hemingway meant the younger waiter to say this first line and then sit down; the “he said” was clear then, following immediately “The waiter took the bottle back inside the café”; and the implied sitting down would explain the pause calling for the second indention.25 Then Hemingway decided to insert “He sat down at the table with his colleague again” before the first speech, and he drew the run-on line to make clear that the “he said” does not refer to “his colleague.” The second indention now implied only a pause, without action—a pause that Hemingway's innovation sufficiently explains. But in typing, or going over the typescript, Hemingway evidently decided that a single indention here would indicate, even to him, a new speaker; two indentions for a single speaker was what Hemingway had educated his best readers to be on the lookout for. A pleased confession of the trap laid for unwary readers of this most delicate instance of his still unrecognized innovation may be detected in the tone of Hemingway's dismissal of the query Judson Jerome sent him in 1956 about the “‘messy’ dialogue” in the story: “oh so sorry to disappoint.”26 In any case, why should Bennett find the run-on line sacred when he goes so far as to take “You said she cut him down” away from the speaker Hemingway never stopped assigning it to, from 1933 to 1956?

Similarly, if, by Bennett's own argument, Hemingway would hardly have used “stewed” if the younger waiter were still speaking, then as soon as Hemingway changed “stewed” to “drunk,” he may well have been suggesting that the younger waiter is still speaking. The younger waiter likes to say things twice: “He should have killed himself last week” is followed by “you should have killed yourself last week”; “I never get into bed before three o'clock” is said twice; “I wish he would go home” is said twice; pressed to amplify “plenty of money,” the younger waiter bullishly repeats, “He's got plenty”; and “You'll be drunk” turns into “He's drunk now” and “He's drunk every night.”

Third: the deleted “stewed,” “Christ,” and “tail” (in “What does it matter if he gets his tail? what he's after?”) do force us to assign all three speeches to one waiter—but why not the younger waiter? First of all, can we, with Bennett, hear—in the wit and longing of the older waiter's parody of the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary—an “ultimate extension” of the “tough ‘realism’” of the banal “stewed,” “Christ,” and “tail” (p. 623)? Could Hemingway have given “stewed” to the older waiter, when the word is pejorative, intensifying the preceding “He's drunk now”? Is the rebuff “Christ how should I know?”—a crude, impatient denial of empathy with the old man—characteristic of the older waiter, who sensitively and patiently wishes to explain things to his young colleague? And last, may not “tail” show that the soldier's urgency confirms the machismo of the younger waiter, who boasts of having a wife “waiting” in bed? The soldier is in a hurry, like the younger waiter, who “marches.” Krebs, in “Soldier's Home,” thinks, “a fellow boasted that he could not get along without girls, that he had to have them all the time, that he could not go to sleep without them. That was all a lie”; similarly, the older waiter may wonder whether the soldier still on the street may not end up paying too much for his whistle—“tail” is not a wife. In “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio,” Mr. Frazer includes “sexual intercourse” among the opiums of “some of the best of the people,” but he does not include love: one may distinguish between an opium and a clean, well-lighted place. Would it be more reasonable to find the older waiter condoning the young soldier's desperation as much as the old man's?27 Hemingway, to make his readers think, deleted the three banal words, which would have mechanically identified the younger waiter.

We are left, then, with the unprecedented spectacle of a gratuitous emendation that defies the author's endorsement of his text, the confirmation of the text by the manuscript, and the text's consistency with a fairly common practice of Hemingway's (the genesis of which we have been able to trace, more or less), not to mention the corresponding consistency in characterization and dramatic development. Furthermore, since Charles Scribner, Jr., claims that in the posthumously published manuscripts Hemingway more than once “skipped a beat” in dialogue between unidentified speakers (Hurley, p. 82n.), scholars will have to compare these passages with the edited versions, to make sure the publisher has not presented us with other silent “corrections” of Hemingway's innovation.

Besides restoring Hemingway's text, retraction of the unwarranted emendation would grant his innovation official recognition at last. Not everyone has dismissed the device. We can see its usefulness in Bernard Malamud's “The Magic Barrel”28 and in two post-Hemingway translations in passages where the practice was not used in the original Russian;29 and Faulkner borrowed it almost at once—we find it three times in The Sound and the Fury, most notably as follows:

“You know how come your name Benjamin now.” Versh said. “Your mamma too proud for you. What mammy say.”


“You be still there and let me dry my legs off.” Versh said. “Or you know what I'll do. I'll skin your rinktum.”30

No one, probably, has or will come closer than Forster did to the extreme form Hemingway confused us with, but the transparent unidentified reversal of the conventional alternation of speakers is worth borrowing, as the examples prove; and Hemingway's dramatic underground resistance to the convention—and the torture that at least one of his texts has suffered as a result—dictate that we not only recognize the innovation but name it after him.

Notes

  1. “Perpetual Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: The Manuscript Evidence,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1977, pp. 115-118. The other new witness, who will be examined below, is Warren Bennett, in “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, 50 (January 1979), 613-624. In his “The New Text of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Literary Half-Yearly, 14, i (1973), Bennett wrote, “The new text is by Hagopian and Scribner's” (p. 124)—that is, not by Hemingway; but the manuscript seems to have persuaded Bennett that the emended text is Hemingway's. The emendation was suggested by John V. Hagopian, in “Tidying up Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, 1 (Winter 1964), 140-146.

  2. Otto Reinert, “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” College English, 20 (May 1959), 417-418; Scott MacDonald, “The Confusing Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?” Studies in American Fiction, 1 (Spring 1973), 93-101.

  3. Hemingway first wrote “The Three-Day Blow” in January 1922, but this version was in the suitcase stolen from Hadley in December, and we have no date for the version in the manuscript of In Our Time, which Hemingway sent to New York “towards the end of September” 1924. See A Moveable Feast (New York: Scribners, 1964), pp. 5, 73-75; and Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (New York: Scribners, 1969), pp. 103, 539, 580, and Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 352.

  4. The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (New York: Scribners, 1938), pp. 217, 342, 409; later page references to this volume will accompany the quotations. Ten years after “Fifty Grand,” in To Have and Have Not (New York: Scribners, 1937), we find Hemingway taking the same pains to make obvious the first (p. 57) of the innovation's three appearances in the book; and in Across the River and into the Trees (New York: Scribners, 1950), again we find this pedagogical technique—three obvious instances come first (pp. 70, 80, 97), the third of which is conventional, like the one in “The Undefeated” (so that I exclude both of these from the total count of twenty-seven), and the seventh instance too is obvious (p. 142).

  5. The British critic David Lodge has pointed to “the implausibility of Hemingway's having deliberately violated a well-established typographical convention in a way for which there is no precedent elsewhere in his work (nor, one might add, anywhere else),” in “Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted, Puzzling Place,” Essays in Criticism, 21 (January 1971), 44, rpt. in The Novelist at the Crossroads (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971), pp. 184-202.

  6. The intention behind Hemingway's innovation is perfectly clear in a nineteenth-century instance he never saw—a passage in the manuscript of The Way of All Flesh, which Samuel Butler set aside in 1884 with the instruction “Revised, finally corrected and ready for the press without being further looked at”:

    “I can afford the luxury of a quiet unobtrusive life of self-indulgence,” said he laughing, “and I mean to have it.”

    “You know I like writing,” he added, after a pause of some minutes. …

    This passage, in the only text published before 1964, concludes “‘and I mean to have it. You know I like writing,’ he added after a pause of some minutes. …” See Ernest Pontifex; or The Way of All Flesh, ed. Daniel F. Howard (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964), pp. xxiii, 336; and the Streatfeild edition as published by the Modern Library, p. 531.

  7. Noel Fitch, “Ernest Hemingway—c/o Shakespeare and Company,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1977, pp. 158, 162.

  8. London: William Heinemann, 1906; II, 122-123, 134-135. The title Hemingway uses is Garnett's, and the two-volume translation Hemingway borrowed in later years was Garnett's (Fitch, pp. 165, 175, 181 n.3). Sherwood Anderson, who may have introduced Hemingway to A Sportsman's Sketches, always refers to the book as Annals of a Sportsman (F. A. Abbott's translation [New York: Holt, 1885]); Isabel F. Hapgood's title is Memoirs of a Sportsman (New York: Scribners, 1907).

  9. New York: The Modern Library, 1950, pp. 604, 901. This is the original Garnett translation (London: Heinemann, 1901); the last speech in the first passage begins a three-line omission from the revised Modern Library translation (1965). Garnett's end quotation marks and indention are to be found also in Isabel Hapgood's translation (New York: Scribners, 1899) and the first Louise and Aylmer Maude translation (London: Oxford University Press, 1918).

  10. Bryher, The Heart to Artemis (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962), p. 213. In In Our Time, see chapters 6-8, 11, 13, 15, and “L'Envoi.” “On the Quai at Smyrna” was added in 1930.

  11. In A Moveable Feast Hemingway says to Evan Shipman, “I remember how many times I tried to read War and Peace until I got the Constance Garnett translation” (p. 137); so, since he says he took out War and Peace the day he joined Sylvia Beach's library, evidently when he was writing A Moveable Feast, he believed he had been reading the Russians before coming to Paris. Garnett's unconventional practice appears in the Hapgood translation of Turgenev's Fathers and Children (New York: Scribners, 1907), p. 317, and as early as Eugene Schuyler's translation (New York: Leypoldt & Holt, 1867)—as well as in virtually all the recent translations. In Schuyler the passage goes:

    “There is youth!” said Bazarov tranquilly; “but I count on Katerina Sergheivna! She will console you in less than no time.”

    “Goodbye brother!” he said to Arcadi when he had already climbed into the telega.

    (p. 223)

  12. The Post Office's confiscation of four of the Little Review Joyce numbers and the obscenity trial in February 1921 admittedly stimulated Hemingway's appreciation of Joyce; but Hemingway claims that at that time Ulysses did not influence him directly—see Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, Second Series (New York: Viking, 1963), p. 226.

  13. The dashes at the margin follow Joyce's manuscript: see James Joyce, Ulysses—A Facsimile of the Manuscript (New York: Octagon, 1975). The passages are pointed the same way in the first Shakespeare and Company edition (pp. 248, 254-255) and the first Random House edition (New York, 1934; pp. 255, 261).

  14. We don't know how soon Hemingway read all of Ulysses. In the fall of 1923, in Toronto, while he was telling Morley Callaghan, “James Joyce is the greatest writer in the world” (That Summer in Paris [New York: Coward-McCann, 1963], p. 28), Hemingway was writing Edmund Wilson that The Enormous Room was “the best book published last year that I read” (The Shores of Light [New York, 1952; rpt. Vintage, 1961], p. 118).

  15. Having learned from Turgenev and Tolstoy that French was the language of the Russian gentry, Hemingway had probably deduced that the Russian practice followed the French. Also, Paris in the early 1920s was full of literate Russian emigres: for example, a White Russian prince preceded Hemingway as a subeditor on Transatlantic Review, the first number of which was printed on a Russian press (see Bernard J. Poli, Ford Madox Ford and the “Transatlantic Review” [Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1967], p. 26); and one friend whom proofreader and typesetter Hemingway could easily have questioned, early in 1924, about the Russian pointing of dialogue is Nathan Asch, who was born in Warsaw in 1902 and attended the Russian Lycee in Paris in 1910-1915.

  16. Anyone who has never noticed this can see it in Red and Black, trans. Richard M. Adams, who preserves Stendhal's punctuation (New York: Norton, 1969): Book I, chapter 23, and Book II, chapter 1, pp. 122-123, 184. In Chekhov's story “Gooseberries,” the translator's omission of end quotation marks while Ivan Ivanich's speech continues through several paragraphs is an accurate rendering of Chekhov's omission of opening dashes.

  17. In “The Dead” and A Portrait of the Artist Joyce merely substitutes the dash for the opening quotation marks of an obviously continuing speech: he had borrowed the form of the Russians' juxtaposition but robbed it of its point. See the Viking Critical Editions of Dubliners, ed. Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz (New York, 1969), pp. 202-204, 225, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ed. Chester G. Anderson (1968), pp. 109-111, 117-124, 127-134, 205. In Ulysses Joyce changed his system: indention alone, without a dash, introduces the second paragraph of a continuing speech (New York, 1934; pp. 143-144, 186). Judging by Joyce's practice, the six unidentified speeches in six lines on page 21 of A Portrait do not anticipate Hemingway's innovation, but one cannot be sure. In January 1907 Joyce had been reading A Sportsman's Sketches in French, and he wrote “The Dead” late that summer (Letters, ed. Richard Ellmann [New York: Viking, 1966], II, 207, 212, 64); in 1905 he had written his brother that Turgenev is “useful technically” (p. 90).

  18. London: Edward Arnold, 1924; pp. 206-207. For month of publication, see P. N. Furbank, E. M. Forster: A Life (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), II, 122. Forster in 1914-1915 was working at a book on Samuel Butler (Furbank, II, 3-4).

  19. See Michael S. Reynolds, Hemingway's Reading: 1910-1940 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).

  20. For example, in “The New Text” (see above, n. 1), Warren Bennett writes that “Hemingway never uses reflective pauses anywhere else in his short fiction” (p. 119). By “short fiction,” Bennett shows awareness of Charles E. May's “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Studies in Short Fiction, 8 (Spring 1971), 326-330, which claims the discovery of an instance of the “violation” in A Farewell to Arms; but Edward Stone had already identified an actual instance, in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio”—see “Hemingway's Mr. Frazer: From Revolution to Radio,” Journal of Modern Literature, 1 (March 1971), 376.

  21. In Across the River and into the Trees, the eighth instance, not mentioned below, is on p. 210. The twenty-fifth example is in Stone, “Hemingway's Mr. Frazer,” p. 376n.

  22. The pattern does not confuse when it concludes a dialogue, as on p. 70 of Across the River and into the Trees. Not specifically useful for our purposes—though every instance strengthens the general precedent that establishes the text of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”—is the fourth pattern, identifying the speaker's second speech only. At the end of “Homage to Switzerland,” Harris reveals that “last year” his father had “shot himself.”

    “I am very truly sorry. I am sure his loss was a blow to science as well as to his family.”

    “Science took it awfully well.”

    “This is my card,” Harris said.

    (pp. 532-533)

    In “Fathers and Sons”:

    “Come out after supper?” [Trudy]

    “No.” [Nick]

    “How you feel?” [Trudy]

    “Good.” [Nick]

    “All right.” [Trudy]

    “Give me kiss on the face,” Trudy said.

    (p. 593)

    And To Have and Have Not:

    “Well, I never killed anybody,” Bee-lips told him.

    “Nor you never will. Come on, let's get out of here. Just being with you makes me feel crummy.”

    “Maybe you are crummy.”

    “Can you get them from talking?”

    “If you don't paper your mouth.”

    “Paper yours then.”

    “I'm going to get a drink,” Harry said.

    (p. 134)

    This would seem to be the pattern, too, of the last two of the inscrutable set of speeches at pp. 120-121 of Across the River and into the Trees, but how can we be sure the speakers alternate in the earlier speeches?

  23. Otto Reinert assigns the older waiter both “He must be eighty years old” and “Anyway I should say he was eighty,” so that the preceding speech—“He's got plenty”—confirms that the younger waiter is the one who has been telling of the suicide attempt. Edward Stone suggests that “Anyway” is an attempt to translate a Spanish idiom of agreement (“Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More,” American Speech, 37 [October 1962], 239-240); and, as Kann points out, a period follows “Anyway” in the manuscript. But even if the younger waiter does say “Anyway. I should say he was eighty,” he still has the next line, “I wish he would go home,” so the principle of Reinert's solution still holds.

    The closest approximation to the double use of the innovation in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is in Across the River and into the Trees (p. 131), where, within one short exchange, a waiter speaks twice consecutively two times without typographical clue or expository identification, and the passage is clear. This waiter's appreciation of the value of a pause helps us understand the point of Hemingway's innovation—on p. 144 we have

    “But if you would like some Perrier-Jouet—”

    “Bring it,” the Colonel said and added, “Please.”

    And on p. 147:

    “Take it to the room, please.”

    “You said please without a pause before it.”

  24. Martin Dolch, who accepts Hagopian's emendation, also offers this interpretation of “I know”; but the meaning no longer applies if “I know” follows “You said she cut him down.” See John V. Hagopian and Martin Dolch, eds., Insight I: Analyses of American Literature (Frankfurt am Main: Hirschgraben, 1962), p. 108.

  25. We see this in “Homage to Switzerland” when Harris is drinking alone, and the old man comes over.

    “I beg your pardon if I intrude,” he said in English. …

    “Please sit down,” Harris said. The gentleman sat down.

    “Won't you have another coffee or a liqueur?”

    “Thank you,” said the gentleman.

    (p. 530)

    The action in “The gentleman sat down” explains the original indention of “He's drunk every night.” The unidentified pause for an omitted action between two speeches is nowhere more obvious than in “Hills Like White Elephants,” between “Yes, with water” and “It tastes like licorice” (p. 372).

  26. George Monteiro, “Hemingway on Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1974, p. 243. And Hemingway of course said: “When it is all finished, naturally you go over it. You get another chance to correct and rewrite when someone else types it, and you see it clean in type. The last chance is in the proofs. You're grateful for these different chances” (Writers at Work, p. 222). In the final text of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” we may see Hemingway's hand not only in the removal of the period after “Anyway” but also in the removal of the question mark from “How should I know”—since the period here was the original choice in the manuscript, before Hemingway changed it to the question mark we find in Scribner's Magazine (March 1933): the manuscript question mark is a thick-leaded curve above the thin x Hemingway used for periods, whereas his typical question mark, as seen immediately above and below in the manuscript, consists of a thin curve above a point. Further, in the preface to The First Forty-Nine, Hemingway names “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” as one of the stories that continue to be his favorites after a new reading.

  27. C. Harold Hurley, in “The Attribution of the Waiters' Second Speech in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, 13 (Winter 1976), argues that the repeated pattern in the opening line of the first and second dialogues—“‘Last week he tried to commit suicide,’ one waiter said” and “‘The guard will pick him up,’ one waiter said”—identifies the older waiter as the speaker both times (pp. 83-84). But this reasoning, besides requiring Hagopian's emendation, overlooks the fact that “one waiter said” is the formula of a riddle—it underscores rather than resolves the problem of identification: the point of the second “one waiter said” is that it does not mean “the first waiter said.”

  28. The Magic Barrel (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1958), p. 196:

    [Salzman] placed the card down on the wooden table and began to read another:

    “Lily H. High school teacher. … Wonderful opportunity.”

    “I know her personally,” said Salzman.

    Malamud writes me (4 October 1979): “I remember punctuating paragraphs in that way, at that time, in order to work up a pause before a subsequent remark in a faster rhythm. The device basically related to bringing out the true quality of the characters' speech.”

  29. Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Ilych and Hadji Murad, trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude (London: Oxford University Press, 1934), p. 64:

    “I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me. And now it is all done and there is only death.”

    “Then what does it mean? Why? It can't be that life is so senseless and horrible. But if it really has been so horrible and senseless, why must I die and die in agony? There is something wrong!”

    “Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,” it suddenly occurred to him.

    In the original, Tolstoy uses neither dashes nor quotation marks for the first two of these paragraphs. More interesting for us is Richard Hare's change in Fathers and Children (London, 1948; rpt. San Francisco: Rinehart, n.d.), p. 84:

    “Who is that you were standing with,” [Madame Odintsov] asked him, “when Mr. Sitnikov brought you over to me?”

    “So you noticed him?” asked Arkady in his turn. “… That's my friend Bazarov.”

    Arkady went on to discuss “his friend.…” Meanwhile the mazurka was drawing to a close. …

    The music stopped.

    Merci,” murmured Madame Odintsov, rising.

    “You promised to pay me a visit; bring your friend with you. …”

    Doesn't one think, at first, that it is Arkady who is saying “You promised to pay me a visit”? No other translator indents after “rising”; nor did Turgenev (see the first published text, in the Russian Herald [Russkiy Vestnik], 37 [March 1862], 540, or the corrected manuscript at the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris). Hare's indention, suggesting a pause, parallels Hemingway's

    “He's drunk now,” he said.

    “He's drunk every night.”

  30. New York, 1929; offset reprint (Vintage, 1954), pp. 85-86; and 36, 78. Since these instances do not go beyond the usage in Joyce, the assumption that Faulkner borrowed it from Hemingway needs the support of a passage in Sanctuary (New York: Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, 1931) that has confused two Faulkner scholars (and many other readers probably):

    “Oh, I know your sort,” the woman said. “… Take all you can get, and give nothing. ‘I'm a pure girl; I don't do that.’ … just let a man so much as look at you and you faint away because your father the judge and your four brothers might not like it. …” Across the child Temple gazed at the woman's back, her face like a small pale mask beneath the precarious hat.

    “My brother said he would kill Frank. … I climbed down the gutter and headed Frank off and told him. I begged him to go away. … He said he'd drive me home to get my suitcase. … We came up the path and father reached around inside the door and got the shotgun. … Frank shoved me behind him and held me and father shot him and said ‘Get down there and sup your dirt, you whore.’”

    “I have been called that,” Temple whispered. …

    (pp. 66-67)

    Olga Vickery, in The Novels of William Faulkner (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959), p. 108, and Edmund Volpe, in A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner (New York: Noonday, 1964), p. 145, have taken the second indention—in conjunction with the preceding sentence describing Temple—to indicate that the new speech is hers, even though this speech ends with quotation marks and is followed by an indented speech of Temple's. Faulkner would then be doing what Hemingway does. But doesn't the middle speech belong to “the woman,” Ruby, despite the indention? Is Temple's father, the respected judge, another hillbilly Eupheus Hines with a shotgun inside the door, who would assassinate her lover and say, “Get down there and sup your dirt, you whore”? And would Temple's lover be driving a buggy? Yet Ruby has just told us of Temple's protective brothers, so “My brother” can seem to be one of these. Faulkner, evidently, did not indent the sentence describing Temple because the indention might imply that Temple is the next speaker. But did he have to indent the second speech? He is indicating a gap. This, together with his decision to let the reader identify the middle speaker, comes close to Hemingway's confusing practice. (In the second edition of her book [1964], Mrs. Vickery dropped her reference to the passage.)

David Kerner (essay date 1982)

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SOURCE: “The Manuscripts Establishing Hemingway's Anti-Metronomic Dialogue,” in American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, Vol. 54, No. 3, October, 1982, pp. 385-96.

[In the following essay, Kerner finds several examples of Hemingway's use of anti-metronomic lines of dialogue in his fiction and concurs with other critics who want to restore the original text of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”]

The one remaining step in the demonstration that two instances of anti-metronomic dialogue resolve the notorious crux in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an examination of the manuscripts containing the forty other instances in the books Hemingway saw through the press.1 This examination confirms beyond question thirty-eight of those passages, including—in manuscripts Hemingway wrote in pencil or typed himself—all seven instances of the pattern in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” when the older waiter is understood to be speaking both of these consecutive, unattributed lines:

“He must be eighty years old.”


“Anyway I should say he was eighty.”2

(p. 478)

Insofar as the charge of error (elsewhere in the story) depends on the conventional alternation of speakers in these two lines, the unquestionable precedents for finding the lines anti-metronomic expose the gratuitousness of the need to postulate an unprecedented (and incredible) error. Judging by two instances in The Sun Also Rises,3 Hemingway planted this second, easily acceptable juxtaposition in the story in order to teach us how to read the earlier, more elusive passage (for then the crux is resolved):

“He's drunk now,” he said.


“He's drunk every night.”4

This pattern too appears seven times in the other work Hemingway saw into book form—but the holographs and typescripts confirm only five beyond question: two raise the possibility of the sort of error (a second error) that Warren Bennett alleges at this point in the pencil manuscript of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”5

Bennett argues that the run-on line connecting “‘He's drunk now,’ he said.” with the end of the preceding paragraph proves that the following speech is the other, the older, waiter's; the third speech in the exchange, therefore (“What did he want to kill himself for?”), belongs to the younger waiter, establishing that he is the one asking the questions about the suicide attempt, so that later the older waiter cannot be the one saying, “You said she cut him down.” Thus, for Bennett, the indentation of “‘He's drunk now,’ he said.” in the published story is an oversight that happily confirms the Scribners emendation (suggested by Martin Dolch and John V. Hagopian), which attaches “You said she cut him down.” to the preceding speech, spoken by the younger waiter. But the confirmation is illusory: one cannot logically claim that the preserved indentation is an error unless one has already assumed that the attribution to the older waiter of “You said she cut him down.” is an error—and the only support for that assumption is the prior assumption that Hemingway overlooked his run-on line. This circular reasoning proves nothing. It does help us see, however, that the abandoned run-on line is crucial: all the arguments in the twenty articles on the crux in this story can be reduced to the single question, is there any substantial evidence that Hemingway did overlook the run-on line canceling the indentation of “‘He's drunk now,’ he said.”? And the possibility that Hemingway made that mistake seems plausible suddenly when one discovers in two typescripts the possibility of precisely such an oversight in anti-metronomic passages of the same pattern.

The simpler of the two passages is in “The Three-Day Blow”:

“That's right,” said Nick. “I guess he's a better guy than Walpole.”


“Oh, he's a better guy, all right,” Bill said.


“But Walpole's a better writer.”


“I don't know,” Nick said. “Chesterton's a classic.”

(p. 217)

In Hemingway's typescript (the only surviving manuscript), Bill's first speech in the quoted exchange is the last line on page 6 and ends at the right margin; and his second speech, at the top of page 7, can seem an unindented continuation of the first:

“But Walpole's a better writer.”


“I don't know,” Nick said. “Chesterton's a classic.”


“Walpole's a classic too.” Bill insisted.6

(Item 96, p. 41)

The placement of the first “classic” shows that that second speech of Bill's begins at the left margin. One can argue, therefore, that Hemingway forgot to indent Nick's speech here—a mistake that Hemingway noticed as soon as he typed the first “classic” (since he then began, and continued, to indent one space for each new speech). But if Hemingway had intended no indentation for Bill's second speech, wouldn't he have naturally indented Nick's, knowing he was at the left margin? Hemingway's absorption as he began this page may be surmised from the fact that, after he typed the first “classic,” he indented only one space for the nine little speeches that follow—he did not want his attention diverted by even the slightest unnecessary mechanical movement. (The six variations in the number of spaces for the indentations throughout page 7 indicate that Hemingway was using the space bar to indent.) It would be arbitrary to suppose that the urgency of his imagination led Hemingway to neglect to indent only when he reached the second speech on the page, rather than when he began the page, for his absorption led him to type a “6” at the upper left margin—a mistake that he did not correct until later, as is shown by the slightly higher horizontal alignment of the “7” he then typed next to the x'd out “6.” That Hemingway was not aware he had not indented Bill's speech would then explain why Nick's first speech on the page begins directly below the beginning of Bill's. And that Hemingway could forget to indent as he began a new page of this typescript, we see on page 4: the first line, unindented, is “Bill stood up.” (following a line of dialogue at the bottom of page 3)—and in the left margin is an inserted “¶” symbol. Furthermore, since Hemingway was thus quite capable of inserting this symbol, why didn't he do so in front of “‘I don't know,’ Nick said.” if he thought Bill's opening line unindented? Or why didn't Hemingway insert a “no ¶” in front of Bill's line, to distinguish it from Nick's and the speeches that follow? In the absence of either insertion, Bill's line must be considered to have as much of an indentation as Nick's. Evidently Hemingway thought the column of opening quotation marks running halfway down the page a clear indication that all the speeches are indented. He may, however, have decided he should make those first two indentations clearer: the margin for the second and third lines of the narrative paragraph below the middle of the page is one space closer to the left edge of the sheet. Why would Hemingway go to the trouble of resetting the margin? (It would have to be reset, since he could not get the first “classic” any nearer the left edge of the paper.) Did he intend the new margin to establish a one-space indentation for those first two lines of dialogue? Nine times in a row, in the top half of the page, he shows himself to have been satisfied with one-space indentations. Finally, why should one strain to claim an error here when two anti-metronomic passages—without any possibility of error—turn up in the first draft of The Sun Also Rises the same year Hemingway was very carefully correcting proof for In Our Time?7 One concludes that Bill's anti-metronomic line in the typescript of “The Three-Day Blow” cannot be used as a precedent supporting the charge that Hemingway overlooked an unintended indentation in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

The other problematic passage is in To Have and Have Not:

“I got cojones. Don't you worry about my cojones. But I'm figuring on keeping on living here.”


“I'm not,” Bee-lips said.


Jesus, thought Harry. He's said it himself.


“I'm going to get out,” Bee-lips said.


“When are you going to get the boat out?”

(p. 109)

That the last speech too is spoken by Bee-lips (as the reader learns by paying attention to the rest of the scene) is confirmed by the surviving first handwritten draft of the passage:

“I got cojones. Don't you worry about my cojones.


“When you going to get the boat out?” Bee-lips asked.

When, in this draft, Hemingway squeezed three new lines between these two speeches, the second of the lines went, “‘I'm not,’ Bee-lips said. ‘I'm going to get out.’”; but then Hemingway deleted “‘I'm going to get out.’” and wrote it in at the end of the third of the added lines, curving “Bee-lips said” up the right edge of the sheet and drawing a line from there to the opening of the next speech, from which he now deleted “Bee-lips asked.” That run-on line would seem to indicate that “‘When are you going to get the boat out?’” in the setting copy should not have been indented (and then there would have been no confusion). Yet we know that Hemingway typed that page himself, since a space is skipped consistently after each opening quotation mark, a few of the indentations are irregularly spaced, the error “Whose” for “Who's” perpetuates itself even though it was corrected in the holograph, and there is a revision in syntax.8 Then did Hemingway overlook his own run-on line (as Bennett suggests Hemingway did in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”)?

In that page of typescript, between the two speeches the line in the holograph connects, one notices that the vertical distance (for the first time on the page) is more than a double space and less than a triple and that the letters in the two lines are not aligned vertically; in addition, the space between the two lines is narrower on the carbon than on the original, and the two sheets have lost their earlier alignment. That is, before Bee-lips's second speech here was typed, the page, with its carbon, was removed from the typewriter. Why? Neither an interruption nor an abrupt decision of his own to quit work for the day is the likely explanation: years later, writing a letter longhand, he explains that he hates his new typewriter and “I must not write letters on any [sic; “my”?] old one because it has page 594 of the [African] book in it, covered over with the dust cover, and it is unlucky to take the pages out” (Selected Letters, p. 847). Since the To Have and Have Not typescript was to be the setting copy, Hemingway evidently wanted to use the machine to see how the crowded handwritten insertion would look. Two other circumstances support this inference. First, one notices an earlier and different disalignment of original and carbon at the line “‘Jesus,’ thought Harry. ‘He's said it himself.’”—which has no quotes in the holograph: Hemingway apparently tried the quotes out on the machine, liked how they looked, and then rejected them when he saw them in print.9 Second, when Scribner's Magazine was serializing A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway would copy a passage he wanted to work on—he did not experiment on the typescript Scribners would be using for the book (Selected Letters, p. 299). Such written and typed testing of a revision would have led Hemingway to the “are” added to Bee-lips's last speech, since the pause implied by the preserved indentation is inconsistent with the casual syntax of the holograph's “‘When you going to get the boat out?’” The added “are” makes the question grave and more calculated. Furthermore, Hemingway later corrected at least the original of that typed page, for only he could have changed “‘cutting you in on’” to “‘letting you in on.’” All this evidence of Hemingway's attention to the passage in typescript and galleys is especially significant since Hemingway of course always knew that Bee-lips has the two consecutive speeches (it is Harry Morgan who will “get the boat out”): there was never a question here of that “confusion” Warren Bennett attributes to Hemingway in the manuscript of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Consequently—and, again, in the light of Hemingway's practice elsewhere—the typescript does not support a claim that Hemingway's indentation was an oversight. The abandoned run-on line in To Have and Have Not cannot, then, be used to buttress the otherwise untenable claim that the abandoned run-on line in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was an oversight; and the charge that Hemingway made a mistake in assigning “You said she cut him down.” to the older waiter loses its one possible support.

In fact, instead of confirming that alleged error in the story, the three pages from the manuscripts of To Have and Have Not uphold the authority of the text of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” as originally published. If Hemingway had followed the holograph run-on line in To Have and Have Not, he would have eliminated the momentary confusion the indentation causes the reader. But if Hemingway had followed the run-on line in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” he would have multiplied the confusion endlessly: the older waiter would then be saying “He's drunk every night.” and he would then be answering the questions about the suicide attempt; so he could never say “You said she cut him down.”—and the reader would be permanently lost. Therefore, since the evidence of Hemingway's close attention to the minimal difficulty caused by Bee-lips's consecutive, indented speeches indicates that the run-on line joining them was canceled only after some hesitant deliberation, how much more likely that the crucial cancellation of the disputed run-on line in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was the result of careful consideration.

All the same, in neither manuscript do we catch Hemingway in the act of canceling the run-on line. But in the setting copy of “Homage to Switzerland” we do catch him in the act. The pencil manuscript (Item 476-2, p. 4) confirms the indentation of Harris's second speech in this published passage:

“Please sit down,” Harris said. The gentleman sat down.


“Won't you have another coffee or a liqueur?”


“Thank you,” said the gentleman.

(p. 530)

But in Hemingway's typescript the smudged remains of an erased run-on line connect Harris's second speech here with the end of the first paragraph (Item 477, p. 11). That is, Hemingway indented in the pencil manuscript and typed the indentation, then canceled the indentation by drawing the run-on line, and ended up erasing the run-on line. Can we be sure it was Hemingway who drew the line? On sending this story to Cosmopolitan, he warned, “It is submitted to be published as it is with no changes and no deletions” (Selected Letters, p. 367); and at Scribners, where the story went next, no one needed to be warned—Maxwell Perkins told a correspondent, “Nobody ever edited Hemingway, beyond excising a line or two for fear of libel or other legal dangers.”10 This external evidence (and there is more of it)11 is confirmed by internal evidence: another anti-metronomic passage appears in “Homage to Switzerland”—

“Science took it awfully well.”


“This is my card,” Harris said.

(pp. 532-33)

—and in the pencil draft a squiggle runs through the quotation marks after well. and before This (Item 476-2, pp. 11-12); but no run-on line links the two paragraphs, and Hemingway's typescript restores these canceled quotation marks (Item 477, p. 14). That is, the squiggles catch Hemingway in the act of musing over his use of unattributed anti-metronomic dialogue here—and this musing parallels his drawing and then erasing the run-on line canceling the anti-metronomic indentation earlier in the story. These hesitations are strong support for the inference that such deliberations, rather than oversights, explain the published indentations canceling the holograph run-on lines in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and To Have and Have Not.

There are other, less dramatic examples of Hemingway's attention to his anti-metronomic indentations. In the setting copy of To Have and Have Not, on a page which Hemingway did not type, an indentation between two speeches made by Harry Morgan's mate, Eddy, creates an anti-metronomic passage exactly like the younger waiter's in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (Item 213, p. 45; 212, p. 45). This indentation is not in the pencil draft (Item 204, pp. 90-91), and Hemingway, in both copies of the typescript, canceled the indentation by a run-on line—a cancellation the book follows (52.10-11). In For Whom the Bell Tolls he added an indentation (p. 387). The holograph goes:

“Good, she said. Dentro de la gravidad.” Then she said, squatting by him, “How does it seem to thee now that it is really starting?”

(Item 83-38, page 5 of insert on p. 8)

The carbon typescript preserves this paragraphing (Item 85, p. 729)—but Hemingway did not do the typing; so we must assume that in the original typescript, the setting copy, whose whereabouts are unknown, or in the galleys, Hemingway inserted a “¶” before “Then she said”: no one else would have undertaken such a revision, and its consistency with Hemingway's practice leaves us without grounds for claiming the published indentation to be a printer's error.

But the deliberateness that the number of confirmed anti-metronomic passages leads us to infer behind every instance is nowhere demonstrated more happily or conclusively than in three manuscript passages that catch Hemingway in the act of deleting a superfluous line dictated by the metronomic convention. In the first draft of The Sun Also Rises, he wrote:

“Let me cover you over,” I said.


“No. I'm quite warm.”


I started out of the door.


“Don't go. I have-nt got-ten to sleep yet.”


“You'll sleep Mike,” I said. “Dont worry boy.”

(194-6, p. 6)

“I started out of the door.” never reached Hemingway's typescript (198, p. 142; 199, p. 174): the second of Mike's two speeches exposed the merely metronomic function of the narrative line between them. Hemingway's omission of the two “I said.”s from his typescript makes doubly impossible any claim that the juxtaposition of Mike's speeches was an accident: both kinds of revision testify to Hemingway's belief that the rhythm of dialogue should make itself felt without stage directions.12 In For Whom the Bell Tolls we find this:

“Do you like the food?” the woman of Pablo asked [Fernando].


“Yes, Pilar,” he said with his mouth full. “It is the same as usual.”


Robert Jordan felt Maria's hand on his arm and felt her fingers tighten with delight.


“It is for that you like it?” the woman asked Fernando.


“Yes,” she said. “I see. The stew; as usual. …”

(p. 83)

But in the holograph, Hemingway had at first permitted Fernando an answer between Pilar's last two speeches:


“Yes, Pilar,” he said, turning the spoon down while he spoke. “I like the things as usual.”

(83, p. 171)

Revising, Hemingway canceled this redundant rejoinder; but he preserved the indentation for Pilar's second speech to indicate her ironic pause. A more striking cancellation of a speech appears in To Have and Have Not:

“Well, I never killed anybody,” Bee-lips told him.


“Nor you never will. Come on, let's get out of here. Just being with you makes me feel crummy.”


“Maybe you are crummy.”


“Can you get them from talking?”


“If you don't paper your mouth.”


“Paper yours then.”


“I'm going to get a drink,” Harry said.

(p. 134)

In both the pencil manuscript and the setting copy, Harry's “Paper yours then.” is followed by Bee-lips's retort: “‘Repartee,’ Bee-lips said. ‘Listen to it.’” (204-10, p. 56; 213, p. 103). In the setting copy, however, Hemingway started to revise this weak retort—only to end up canceling it. He can hardly be accused of being unaware here that he was leaving Harry Morgan's last two speeches confusingly juxtaposed: he was satisfied with the implied pause that gives Bee-lips time to speak and to decide he has nothing to say.

By catching Hemingway three times in the act of making such a deletion, we learn how to interpret his complaint to Maxwell Perkins that in the second galley for the second installment of A Farewell to Arms in Scribner's Magazine ten lines had been left out, “so that the resultant dialogue does not make sense—two consecutive sentences are left as dialogue both spoken by the same person” (11 March 1929). The only way to reconcile this objection with Hemingway's own practice—a practice that had already indisputably appeared four times in The Sun Also Rises (as the holograph and typescripts confirm)—is to realize that the complaint implies the decisive difference between intentional anti-metronomic dialogue, which “makes sense,” and an accidental juxtaposition of speeches, which cannot make sense when something necessary has been left out. The Scribner's Magazine proof for June 1929 did not leave Hemingway space to undo the damage: the dialogue still does not “make sense,” even with the obviously makeshift ellipsis he threw in.13 So when Judson Jerome complained that he could not “make sense” out of the apparent inconsistency in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (31 November [sic] 1956), Hemingway in his reply can be heard echoing the words he had used in 1929, not merely those that Jerome was using now: “I just read the story over and it makes sense to me. Sorry.”14 It is a pity that Hemingway chose not to elaborate, but at that time he had no stomach for the objections that he knew would be made to unattributed anti-metronomic dialogue—a practice so elusive that, despite some thirty appearances in thirty years, it had never been subjected to public scrutiny: his recent encounters with the scrutiny of Charles Fenton and Philip Young had left him vowing, “I'm never going to answer one [a critic] again. Not answer a letter, no explanations, no permissions to quote, no nothing. Whatever is written is written and they can cut it up among them.”15

And “cut it up”—beyond anything Hemingway could have foreseen—is what Dolch and Hagopian did to “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” for their emendation violates Hemingway's characterization: how can the insensitive, indifferent younger waiter, who can't wait to throw the old man out, be at the same time concerned enough to persist in asking about the suicide attempt? If any emendation were to be made—not to “correct” the text but to spare the uninitiated reader—what that change should be is suggested by the manuscripts of “The Three-Day Blow” and To Have and Have Not: the indentation of “‘He's drunk every night.’” would be canceled. That is the only acceptable way out of the difficulty created by the older waiter's having the line “You said she cut him down.”: the change would call for no untenable assumptions and would recognize Hemingway's anti-metronomic practice, and his characterization would be preserved. The manuscript does not, however, authorize even that change; and the authority of that manuscript is left intact after close examination of the forty other passages of anti-metronomic dialogue in the manuscripts Hemingway saw through the press.

Notes

  1. Twenty-five of these are cited in “The Foundation of the True Text of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1979, pp. 279-300; the others (and fourteen more, from the posthumously published books) will be identified in a third article. I do not here include the posthumous volumes, to forestall the charge that the passages do not reflect Hemingway's final intentions.

  2. For the stories, page references are to The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories, since the passages cited are the same there as on first publication; for each novel, the reference is to the first U.S. edition.

  3. The famous first draft, in the Fiesta notebooks (Item 194), shows—at both 194-3, p. 14, and 194-6, p. 6—only one instance of anti-metronomic dialogue; to each, Hemingway added an educational preliminary instance in the typescript (within a page), for the two close doublings would prove to the careful reader that the juxtaposition of unattributed indented speeches for one speaker was intentional.

  4. The two anti-metronomic passages were Otto Reinert's solution of the crux, in “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” College English, 20 (May 1959), 417-18.

  5. “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, 50 (Jan. 1979), 613-24.

  6. Item 96 is the setting copy for In Our Time. The original page numbers of Hemingway's typescript of this story appear at the upper left; the new ones, for the book, at the upper right.

  7. To estimate this care, see Hemingway's 1924-25 comments on typographical errors and on Liveright's editing of the punctuation, in Selected Letters 1917-1961, ed. Carlos Baker (New York: Scribners, 1981), pp. 126, 145, 161. When Scribners reissued In Our Time in 1930, Hemingway rejected more of the Liveright changes—see James B. Meriwether, “The Text of Ernest Hemingway,” in O. M. Brack, Jr., and Warner Barnes, eds., Bibliography and Textual Criticism (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 323-24.

  8. For the holograph passage, see Item 204-8, p. 16; the original typescript, Item 213-4, p. 86; and the carbon, Item 212-3, p. 13.

  9. Galley 27-16522, opening chapter 11, at the Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Florida.

  10. Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins, ed. John Hall Wheelock (New York: Scribners, 1950), p. 228.

  11. In Perkins's letters (at Princeton) there is no reference to the indentation. Considering his policy (he kept his staff's hands off even the many gross misspellings in Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night in 1934) and the note by Hemingway in the upper left-hand corner of page one calling for return of the typescript with the proof, no copy-editor would have drawn so bold a line or erased the line so crudely, leaving a heavy smudge. Nor would Alfred Dashiell, then managing editor of Scribner's Magazine, have risked such exposure—in 1926 he had outraged Hemingway by venturing to cut 2500 words from “Fifty Grand,” and Hemingway was still furious six years later: offering the Magazine “Homage to Switzerland” and other new stories, Hemingway warns Perkins “for christ sake” not to turn him over to “that little … Dashiell” and says he “would rather use them for bungroad” than argue about them with “that twirp” (9 August 1932). Dashiell's own retreat from further encounters is suggested by the introduction he wrote in 1932-33 for his anthology of stories, Editor's Choice (New York: Putnam's, 1934): “There are, on the other hand, authors who are so sure they are great artists that they consider the editor only an irritating commercial necessity whose opinion they value not at all. The editor's prayer is ‘From this sin and these people, Good Lord deliver us’” (pp. 7-8). Moreover, Hemingway had established his pre-eminence in 1929 when Scribner's Magazine paid more for A Farewell to Arms than it had ever paid for a serial.

  12. See n. 3 for additional confirmation of the deliberateness of Hemingway's anti-metronomic practice in The Sun Also Rises.

  13. Scribner's Magazine has Frederick Henry say to Captain Rinaldi, “You were sweet to tell me”—but what Rinaldi told him is not there; compare the bottom of p. 651, col. 2, with the book, p. 71, where the missing lines are restored.

  14. Jerome's letter, with Hemingway's handwritten reply at the bottom, was discovered by George Monteiro in 1974 at the Mugar Memorial Library of Boston University. Quoted with Mr. Jerome's and the Library's permission.

  15. Letter to Charles Poore (23-28 February 1953), excerpted in Matthew J. Bruccoli and C. E. Frazer Clark, Jr., comps., Hemingway at Auction 1930-1973 (Detroit: Gale Research, 1973), p. 170.

C. Harold Hurley (essay date 1982)

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SOURCE: “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Response to Warren Bennett,” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. II, No. 1, Fall, 1982, pp. 17-20.

[In the following essay, Hurley maintains that Warren Bennett's “misinterpretation of the waiters' speech in the problematic exchange concerning the soldier and the girl compound rather than resolve the existing debate.”]

Working from a recently discovered manuscript of Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Warren Bennett resolves many of the questions concerning the story's much debated dialogue.1 As Bennett contends, the manuscript indeed “reveals how the illogical dialogue sequence may have occurred” (p. 616); “clarifies Hemingway's intention as to which waiter knows about the old man's suicide attempt” (p. 616); and demonstrates that Hemingway was himself to blame for “the problem that arises in that crucial sentence which was editorially reassigned by Scribner's” (p. 618). But in addressing “the problematic section of the story concerned with the soldier and the prostitute” (p. 622), Bennett misinterprets the evidence of the manuscript and consequently misattributes the waiters' dialogue—a misattribution that alters our conception of the waiters. As I have indicated elsewhere, however, the story's text provides a set of patterns authorizing the reversal of Bennett's attribution and the proper assignation of the line dealing with the soldier having relations with the girl to the younger waiter and the lines expressing concern for the soldier being picked up by the guard to the older waiter.2 The manuscript, properly interpreted, supports this reading and presents the waiters, as Hemingway intended, as “two different kinds.”3

Bennett, on the basis of the manuscript, establishes that the waiters' illogical dialogue concerning the old man's suicide attempt was neither “deliberate,”4 nor “a typographical error,”5 nor “Hemingway's violation of one of the unwritten rules of the art of presenting dialogue visually” (the “reflective pause” theory).6 Writing the story at a single sitting with few revisions, initially making little descriptive distinction between the waiters, and omitting dialogue identifiers to an extreme, Hemingway, although clearly intending the older waiter to know of the deaf old man's attempted suicide, himself erred in attributing the dialogue.

These issues resolved, Bennett seeks in the manuscript the solution to a second longstanding question of dialogue—the correct attribution of the waiters' controversial exchange concerning the soldier and the girl. The text as published reads:

A girl and a soldier went by in the street. The street light shone on the brass number on his collar. The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him.


“The guard will pick him up,” one waiter said.


“What does it matter if he gets what he's after?”


“He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.”

This exchange, made difficult by the omission of explicit identifying tags, must be attributed correctly if the waiters are to emerge as distinct characters. The critics, however, have long been divided on the attribution and interpretation of the passage. William Colburn, who early drew attention to the confused dialogue, stated: “No doubt most readers will agree that the older waiter should be the one to feel that money and a wife in bed are not enough and that he should be concerned that the soldier with the streetwalker will get into trouble.”7 Several years later Joseph F. Gabriel reiterated the view: “It is generally assumed that … it is the older waiter who expresses fear that the soldier and the girl will be caught … and it is the younger waiter who says ‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” (p. 543). Shortly thereafter, John V. Hagopian altered the earlier view by attributing the first line of the exchange, “‘The guard will pick him [the soldier] up,’” to the younger waiter with the gloss, “a bit of Schadenfreude, quite consistent with his remark to the deaf old man, ‘You should have killed yourself last week’” (p. 144). “The younger waiter,” Hagopian adds, “wants everybody to get off the streets, including the old man, so that he can go home to his wife. It is he who is keenly aware of the time, who complains that he never gets into bed before three o'clock, and who is impatient. …” (p. 144). To the older waiter Hagopian assigns the line, “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” with the gloss, “consistent with his indifference to the usual social norms, with his nihilism, and with his awareness of the value of youth and confidence. …” (p. 144). David Lodge and Warren Bennett, the latest commentators on the issue, agree with Hagopian's attribution;8 but as I have indicated in an article entitled “The Attribution of the Waiters' Second Speech in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” the text supports only one interpretation—the former. The recently discovered manuscript, properly interpreted, confirms this reading.

In the aforementioned article, I have demonstrated that Hemingway, despite omitting conventional dialogue identifiers, provides the following set of patterns to distinguish between the two waiters: (1) in the first three scenes the younger waiter asks the questions and the older waiter provides short answers; (2) in the first two scenes the “one waiter said” tag, used nowhere else in the story, refers to lines spoken by the older waiter; and (3) “the waiter” tag is used seven times to refer exclusively to the younger waiter and refers to the older waiter only after he is alone and cannot be mistaken for his colleague. When applied to the scene in question, the first two patterns enable us to attribute to the younger waiter the line dealing with the soldier having relations with the girl and to the older waiter the lines expressing concern for the soldier being picked up by the guard.

Bennett, disregarding these patterns,9 finds in the manuscript version of the scene where the younger waiter returns from serving the old man brandy a key to the correct attribution of these lines. The scene as published reads:

“He's drunk now,” he said.


“He's drunk every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”


“How should I know.”

The second and fourth lines of the manuscript version of this scene, indisputably attributable to the older waiter, read “‘He's stewed [drunk] every night’” and “‘Christ How should I know?’” Bennett contends that in the disputed scene the published line “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” in the manuscript “‘What does it matter if he gets his tail? [what he's after?]’”10 should also be attributed to the older waiter—the original language in both scenes suggesting a tough “realism” associated with the older waiter that finds its ultimate expression in his parody of “Hail Mary” and “The Lord's Prayer” (p. 623). But Bennett's argument, offering no explanation for the deletion of the older waiter's tough realism in the published version of the above scenes and its retention in the prayer scene, is unconvincing. Rather, Hemingway altered the original language of both scenes simply to differentiate more clearly the two waiters.

As Bennett demonstrates, there were initially no “waiters” as such, only “two boys.” Apparently discovering their individuality as they spoke about the old man's attempted suicide, Hemingway went back through the manuscript and enhanced the waiters' differences in age, in being hurried or unhurried, and in their degree of compassion for the old man. (From the outset, Hemingway seems to have intended one of them to have a wife.) In the scene with the undisputed dialogue, Hemingway deleted from the manuscript the manuscript the word “Christ” and changed “stewed” to “drunk” to refine the older waiter's original coarseness and to heighten his compassion for the old patron. Recognizing the old man as a fellow sufferer, the older waiter is “reluctant to close up.” He, too, likes “to stay late at the café … With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.” In the scene with the soldier and the girl, the older waiter's lines are further expressions of compassion, this time directed toward the young soldier. The older waiter, knowing that the soldier might be better with a girl even as the old man “might be better with a wife,” is not concerned that the soldier “gets what he's after,” but that “the guard will pick him up.” Sex, the older waiter realizes, even with a streetwalker, provides a momentary stay against nothingness.

Just as the line “‘The guard will pick him up’” is consistent with the older waiter's compassionate nature, so the line “‘What does it matter if he gets what he's after?’” is consistent with the younger waiter's more prurient but not altogether incompassionate nature. At this point, Hemingway's alteration of “his tail” to “what he's after” has nothing to do with the older waiter, as Bennett argued. Hemingway is simply being kinder to the younger waiter whose interest in sex, as his interest in money, is normal. Unlike his older colleague, the younger waiter cannot envision an eighty-year old man being “better with a wife”; but being young himself and having “a wife waiting in bed,” the younger waiter can identify with the soldier. Despite his impatience and unkind words, however, the younger waiter does not really wish the old man dead nor does he take pleasure in hastening him from the café before the usual closing hour. He even agrees with his colleague that buying a bottle and drinking at home is not the same. With “youth, confidence, and a job,” the younger waiter has “everything.” As one who “lived in it and never felt it,” he is as yet oblivious to the nothingness that for the older waiter and old patron lurks in the darkness beyond the clean, well-lighted café. “Sleepy now” and “anxious to get into bed before three o'clock,” the younger waiter, Hemingway reminds us, “did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry.”

In summation, Bennett's reading of the manuscript of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” answers questions that have plagued critics for a generation, but his misinterpretation of the evidence of the manuscript and subsequent misattribution of the waiters' speech in the problematic exchange concerning the soldier and the girl compound rather than resolve the existing debate. A reinterpretation of Hemingway's revisions, when taken with his intention of portraying the waiters as “two different kinds” and with the patterns employed to distinguish between them, suggests that the line dealing with the soldier having relations with the girl should properly be attributed to the younger waiter and that the lines expressing concern for the soldier being picked up by the guard should properly be attributed to the older waiter, and not, as Bennett would have it, the other way around.

Notes

  1. “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, 50 (Jan., 1979), 613-624.

  2. C. Harold Hurley, “The Attribution of the Waiters' Second Speech in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, 13 (Winter, 1976), 81-85.

  3. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Scribner's, 1965), pp. 379-383. Citations to the published version of the story are to this text.

  4. Joseph F. Gabriel, “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, 22 (May, 1961), 545.

  5. John V. Hagopian, “Tidying Up Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Studies in Short Fiction, 1 (Winter, 1964), 146.

  6. Otto Reinert, “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” College English, 20 (May, 1959), 417-418.

  7. William Colburn, “Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, 20 (Feb., 1959), 242.

  8. David Lodge, “Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted, Puzzling Place,” Essays in Criticism, 21 (Jan., 1971), 51; Warren Bennett, “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, 42 (March, 1970), 77. Bennett's interpretation of the manuscript may have been influenced by his conclusions on the story published earlier. In addition to those already cited, the following items are related to the problem of dialogue: Robert Penn Warren, “Ernest Hemingway,” Kenyon Review, 9 (Winter, 1947), 1-28; F. P. Kroeger, “The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English, 20 (Feb., 1959), 240-241; Edward Stone, “Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More,” American Speech, 37 (Oct., 1962), 239-240; Sheridan Baker, Ernest Hemingway; An Introduction and Interpretation (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1967), p. 87; Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, 3rd ed. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 124; Charles E. May, “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Studies in Short Fiction, 8 (Spring, 1971), 326-330; Scott MacDonald, “The Confusing Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?” Studies in American Fiction, 1 (Spring, 1973), 93-101; George Monteiro, “Hemingway on Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1974, 243; Annette Benert, “Survival Through Irony: Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction, 11 (Spring, 1974), 181-187; Hans-Joachim Kann, “Perpetual Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: The Manuscript Evidence,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1977, 115-118.

  9. In his earlier article (see not 8) Bennett established that the older waiter knew of the old man's suicide attempt through Hemingway's use of several other patterns: the “serious question, verbal irony by the older waiter, a dropping of the subject, and then a serious reply” pattern (p. 72), and the vounger waiter's use of the word “kill” (p. 71).

  10. Hemingway's insertion in the manuscript of “drunk” and “what he's after” are here indicated by pointed brackets. “Stewed,” “Christ,” and “his tail” are crossed out in the manuscript. Note, incidentally, that the published line “‘How should I know’” appears in the manuscript as “‘How should I know?’” A typist or typesetter inadvertently deleted the question mark.

George H. Thomson (essay date 1983)

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SOURCE: “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: Interpreting the Original Text,” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. II, No. 2, Spring, 1983, pp. 32-43.

[In the following essay, Thomson examines the controversy surrounding the waiters' dialogue regarding the soldier and the girl.]

I. THE NATURE OF THE TEXTUAL PROBLEM

Hemingway's story begins late at night in a café. An old man is drinking, watched by two waiters who are not differentiated. In Dialogue 1, comprising seven speeches, there is no way of knowing who begins the exchange, hence no way of knowing which waiter refers to the old man's attempted suicide and which asks questions about it. In Dialogue 2, comprising three speeches, there is similar indefiniteness. Only when the old man asks for another drink does the reader learn that one of the waiters is “younger,” is sleepy, and never gets to bed before three o'clock. Even at the beginning of Dialogue 3—I have for convenience divided it into two parts, 3a and 3b—it is still not possible to identify with assurance the opening speaker. Finally, with the third speech in Dialogue 3b it can confidently be asserted that the “younger” waiter says “I never get to bed before three o'clock.” Assuming normal conventions of paragraphing, it can be deduced that in Dialogue 3a the younger waiter asks the following question about the old man's suicide: “Who cut him down?” And the older waiter replies “His niece.” Similarly it can be deduced that in Dialogue 3b the younger waiter says, “His niece looks after him.” And the older waiter says to the younger, “I know. You said she cut him down.” This statement seems at odds with the deduction that it was the older waiter who first mentioned the niece.

How to explain this apparent anomaly? The following propositions will be considered:

(1) The text is confused and needs emending

(2) The text violates normal conventions for presenting dialogue

(3) The text is correct but has not been correctly interpreted

Hemingway wrote “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” in 1933. The story was published that same year both in Scribner's Magazine and in the collection Winner Take Nothing. The three dialogues are as follows in the 1933 text:

1.

“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.


“Why?”


“He was in despair.”


“What about?”


“Nothing.”


“How do you know it was nothing?”


“He has plenty of money.”

(p. 17)

2.

“The guard will pick him up,” one waiter said.


“What does it matter if he gets what he's after?”


“He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.”

(p. 18)

3A.

The waiter took the bottle back inside the café. He sat down at the table with his colleague again.


“He's drunk now,” he said.


“He's drunk every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”


“How should I know.”


“How did he do it?”


“He hung himself with a rope.”


“Who cut him down?”


“His niece.”


“Why did they do it?”


“Fear for his soul.”


“How much money has he got?”


“He's got plenty.”

(p. 19)

3B.

“He must be eighty years old.”


“Anyway I should say he was eighty.”


“I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o'clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?”


“He stays up because he likes it.”


“He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.”


“He had a wife once too.”


“A wife would be no good to him now.”


“You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.”


“His niece looks after him.”


“I know. You said she cut him down.”


“I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”1

(pp. 19-20)

It was not until 1959 that two critics, William Colburn and F. P. Kroeger, drew public attention to the problem with the dialogue.2 Their articles began an ingenious critical debate which has continued to this day.

II. EXPLANATIONS OF THE TEXTUAL PROBLEM

In 1964 John Hagopian said that the simplest solution was to suppose that initially “a typographical error” had been made which should now be corrected.

Original Version:

“His niece looks after him.” [Younger waiter]


“I know. You said she cut him down.” [Older waiter]

Revised Version:

“His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.” [Younger waiter]


“I know.” [Older waiter]3

Frank L. Hoskins, Jr., the editor of Studies in Short Fiction, published the following comment in summer 1964:

Mr. L. H. Brague, Editor at Charles Scribner's Sons … has written Dr. John V. Hagopian that when Scribner reprints Hemingway's short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” it will emend the text as suggested by Dr. Hagopian in an article in Studies in Short Fiction. … The transposition in speech attribution must have occurred, reported Mr. Brague, during setting of the story for its first appearance, which was in Scribner's Magazine, XCIII (March 1933). Scribner decided to change the text after conferring with Professor Carlos Baker and with Mrs. Mary Hemingway.4

In the process of elaborating on Hagopian's argument, Warren Bennett in 1970 records that he has been in correspondence not only with L. H. Brague, Jr., but with Philip Young. The result: “Scribner's claims” he tells us, “that the dialogue inconsistency occurred when a slug of type was evidently misplaced in the first printing of the story. …”5 Thus it can be seen that an impressive array of Hemingway luminaries has lent itself to this speculative enterprise culminating in a slug of type.

Shortly thereafter, in 1971, Scott MacDonald succeeded in wringing from Charles Scribner, Jr., the admission that the textual change to the story had been made—to quote MacDonald's summary—“not on the basis of manuscript evidence or at the suggestion of Hemingway himself, but solely on the basis of the advice of critics and ‘common sense.’”6 Of course this had been obvious from the beginning, but outright speculation had been lent a specious probability by the casual simplicity of a “typographical error” and the apparent solidity of a “slug of type.” How a typed phrase or a “slug” comprising six words got so inconveniently shuffled about poses logistical problems nowhere confronted by Hagopian, Brague, Bennett, or anyone else.

Against this background three explanations of the state of Hemingway's 1933 text will be evaluated.

1. The text is confused and needs emending.

Since 1964, when the proposal to emend the text was first made, three pieces of evidence have come to light. The first and second provide new information; the third, discussed under (2) below, impugns Hagopian's scholarship. As a result the “slug of type” theory is rendered untenable but the essential difficulty remains.

The first piece of evidence is as follows: On 31 November 1956, Judson Jerome, an Assistant Professor of English at Antioch College, wrote Hemingway a breezy letter saying in effect: why should I sweat over this problem in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” when you can tell me the answer. Jerome clearly sets out the difficulty. Hemingway, in his thirteen word autograph reply, neatly inserted at the bottom of the letter, says that he has read the story again and that it continues to make perfect sense to him.7 Unless one assumes that Hemingway is here being mischievous, one has no choice but to conclude that the original text is authoritative.

The second piece of evidence is a MS [manuscript], long thought lost, but in fact in the possession of Mrs. Mary Hemingway. This MS, described in detail by Bennett in 1979, is now housed in the Hemingway Collection of the John F. Kennedy Library.8 It is not easy to discuss Bennett's analysis of the MS, for to do so thoroughly would require almost as much space as he himself takes to present the evidence and then almost as much space again to show to what degree his presentation is a tissue of speculation and assumption. I must be content to highlight only the most important issues.

Of course, the crux must be the speech “I know. You said she cut him down.” And indeed the MS has a good deal to tell us here. The MS originally read:

“His niece looks after him.”


“I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”

The comment about the niece—because of the clear statement-and-response pattern of the four preceding speeches—must be made by the younger waiter. The next speech is also made by him, for it is specifically replied to by the older waiter. Hemingway presumably noticed this inconsistency and—as the spacing of MS page 4 makes obvious (it is reproduced by Bennett)—inserted the additional speech “I know.” Later in the writing of the story, Hemingway came back and, slightly higher on the same inserted line, added with a blunter pencil: “You said she cut him down.” Thus after two stages of revision the MS read:

“His niece looks after him.” [Younger Waiter]


“I know. You said she cut him down.” [Older Waiter]


“I wouldn't want to be that old. …” [Younger Waiter]

(pp. 620-21)

Only one thing is certain from this evidence. It was not a misplaced slug of type but an afterthought—whether misplaced or not—by Hemingway himself that caused this now-famous sentence to be inserted after “I know.”

Bennett conjectures that Hemingway first became confused in writing “His niece looks after him.” He was then going to add how the niece, etc. (“they”) looked after the old man, but, realizing the younger waiter would not possess this knowledge, struck “They treat.” When he came back to add “You said she cut him down,” he knew that it was the older waiter who spoke of the niece and assumed mistakenly that the first speech was by the older waiter. Hence the inserted statement was intended as the younger waiter's but got attached to “I know” and so became the older waiter's (p. 620). It is notable that Bennett entertains only casually the possibility, which one imagines would be the first to cross Hagopian's mind, that Hemingway might have carelessly misplaced the second insertion, intending the dialogue to read “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down,” thereby providing the younger waiter with a justification for what might otherwise be regarded as a rather curious statement on his part. But it is equally notable that neither interpretation acknowledges Hemingway's reply to Judson Jerome. When that evidence is taken into account, Hemingway appears not only confused at the time of writing but irresponsible after the event.

To be fair to Bennett's position, it is necessary to set out the assumptions on which it is based and the evidence for those assumptions.

The story was, by all appearances, written at one sitting, with surprisingly little revision after an initial “false start.” The insertions and revisions, judging from the thickness and texture of the pencil lead, were evidently made at three different stages: almost immediately after the first phrasing; relatively late or as the story neared completion; and much later, perhaps another day, with a sharp pencil.

(p. 616)

What all of these particular insertions and revisions suggest is that at the beginning of the story Hemingway had not preconceived any significant distinction between the two main characters—with the exception, perhaps, that he intended one of them to have a “wife,” for the reference to the younger waiter's wife is not an insertion but appears in the first phrasing on page four.

(p. 618)

If the characters did develop as they spoke and as the story itself developed, that might explain the origins of the obscurities which have produced so much debate.

(p. 618)

All the pieces of evidence for these assumptions cannot be rehearsed. Among the most important: the story begins with a false start, followed by an erased title; the handwriting is consistent, vigorous, flowing; there are relatively few revisions; in paragraph one the characters are originally “The two boys,” they become waiters only on page 2 in the episode with the soldier and the girl; no age difference is specified until two-thirds of the way through the story when the “older waiter” says to his younger colleague, “You have youth, confidence, and a job”; at this point—to judge from the bluntness of the pencil and Bennett's elaborate assumptions—Hemingway went back to page 2 and, in the scene in which “One of the waiters” went over to the old man, he revised the text to read “The younger waiter went over to him.”9

If this evidence is adequate, then it proves that we possess the MS of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” But what if the evidence is not adequate? What if a different set of circumstances prevailed? Consider the following. Hemingway had already a MS draft of this story. He sat down to make some final revisions and a fair copy. He began to copy: “In Zaragossa the,” instantly grew dissatisfied with such specificness, and struck the phrase. Next he copied out the opening sentences, grew dissatisfied and struck them. (Alternatively, his opening paragraph was not yet fully formed.) He now wrote the title. Then or later he erased it and inserted the title we now know. The original is illegible except for the word “Nothing” (p. 616). Clearly Hemingway knew what the theme of his story was to be. He now began with his opening sentences, practically the same as those he had just struck. He planned to call his characters boys, then waiters, and only after that would he distinguish between them. Though one of the two waiters was from the beginning intended to carry the theme of nada, Hemingway had in the first draft made no distinction of age between them. He had, however, made other descriptive distinctions (contrary to Bennett's statement, p. 617). The “sleepy” waiter, who turns out to have a wife, is complaining and impatient in serving the old man. The older waiter, as we see a little later, is patient and considerate. As Hemingway worked his way through Dialogue 3b something went wrong. Adding “They treat” to a speech by the younger waiter was clearly a mistake. He corrected that. Maybe this distraction caused him to overlook the next line of dialogue in his draft and instead he copied out the younger waiter's next speech. He then had to go back and insert the overlooked line. Here one could invent a dozen different possibilities. For instance, Kerner argues that “His niece looks after him” and “I wouldn't want to be that old” were at first intended to be consecutive indented speeches by the younger waiter; “You said she cut him down” was added later as a concession to help the reader identify the speakers in Dialogues 1 and 3a (pp. 288-89). As Hemingway copied the final dialogue between the two waiters in which the distinction between them is made more decisive, it struck him that a difference in age would reinforce his theme and further separate the two waiters. He went back and inserted “younger” on page 2. (Alternatively, he had always had the age difference in mind but had worked at first on the principle of letting the reader know as little as possible—compare the boy-waiter case above; on reflection, however, he decided it wise to give the reader a few more props.) As Hemingway approached the last part of the story he wrote with increasing speed and vigor because this part of the narrative was most fully and completely developed in his preliminary draft.

I do not for a moment propose that this reconstruction is true, only that it has something like the same degree of probability as Bennett's reconstruction. All that can be said with certainty is that the extant MS is fair, that it is closely related to the printed text, and that Hemingway is responsible for Dialogue 3b in its original published form. Since Bennett is driven to support Hagopian's revision on the ground that Hemingway was confused (p. 622), the MS cannot be said to have improved our ability to interpret this part of the text. Whether it can help to resolve other problems will become apparent in what follows.

2. The text violates normal conventions for presenting dialogue.

This proposal was first offered by Otto Reinert (1959), and later supported by Charles May (1971).10 At the beginning of Dialogue 3—so the argument runs—the younger waiter returns from serving the old man and says “He's drunk now.” Then he adds in a newly indented speech “He's drunk every night.” The typographical set-up is intended to indicate a reflective pause between the two speeches and, of course, silence on the part of the older waiter. Similarly at the beginning of Dialogue 3b the older waiter says, “He must be eighty years old.” After a pause he adds, “Anyway I would say he was eighty.”11 As a result of this arrangement, the older waiter asks the questions and the younger waiter knows all about the old man's attempted suicide. It then becomes entirely appropriate in Dialogue 3b for the older waiter to say to the younger concerning the old man's niece, “You said she cut him down.” From this theory it follows also that Dialogue 1 is opened by the younger waiter. The question to be asked at this point is a technical one. Is such an arrangement of dialogue at all probable?

Hagopian objected that Hemingway nowhere violated the convention that indented speeches are always alternating, unless of course the contrary is explicitly indicated (p. 141). There the matter rested until 1973 when MacDonald pointed to four instances from the short stories and three or possibly five from the novels in which Hemingway had assigned two consecutive indented speeches to one character without any other indication than the logic of the context. In 1980 Kerner went further, finding at least twenty-five examples of this innovative technique in five novels and seven stories.12 In face of such evidence, Hagopian's position is demolished. It is not at all improbable that Hemingway, in writing “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” might have violated normal conventions of dialogue.

At this juncture the MS appears to come to our aid. It reads, in Bennett's transcription, as follows [square brackets indicate insertions]:

The waiter took the bottle back into the café. He sat down at the table with the other waiter [his colleague] again [“He's drunk now,” he said.]


“He's stewed [drunk] every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”


“Christ “How should I know?”

(MS p. 3) (p. 618)

The inserted sentence at line three was originally introduced as a new paragraph, which is the way it has always appeared in print. But, as Bennett explains,

a run-on line drawn in the pencil manuscript indicates that the dialogue, “‘He's drunk now,’ he said,” should be the last line of the preceding paragraph, which negates the “reflective pause” argument.

(p. 619)

Kerner has subjected Bennett's interpretation and the MS evidence to minute analysis which I will not elaborate upon here. His conclusion is this: it is reasonable to suppose that at some point between MS and final typeset Hemingway realized he had miscalculated; as a result he restored “‘He's drunk now,’ he said” to its original position as a separate paragraph. The “reflective pause” argument is not negated by the MS. Kerner adds—devastatingly, one may feel: “In any case, why should Bennett find the run-on line sacred when he goes so far as to take ‘You said she cut him down’ away from the speaker Hemingway never stopped assigning it to, from 1933 to 1956?” (p. 290)

A further conclusion could also be drawn from the MS. With the single exception of Kann, every specific comment I have seen on the printed version of this scene either assumes or asserts that because the younger waiter is the subject (He) of the last sentence of the long paragraph, he must also be the author of the following speech, “‘He's drunk now,’ he said.”13 If that argument is so widely acceptable, it must follow that before Hemingway inserted that very sentence, the next one “He's stewed every night” was spoken by the younger waiter. Unless the insertion was then made immediately, a further consequence is that the older waiter asks the question “What did he want to kill himself for?” The MS, then, far from demolishing the “reflective pause” theory of Reinert and May, can effectively be used to support it, and in supporting it confirm the view that it is the younger waiter who knows about the old man's wish to die.

3. The text is correct but has not been correctly interpreted.

By correct, I mean that no violation of conventions is needed to make sense of the text as it was originally published. What is needed, rather, is an interpretive strategy that can sweep the difficulty away. Such a strategy begins with the assumption that the older waiter is thoughtful, disillusioned, and has an ironic attitude toward the confidence and callow worldliness of the younger waiter. The older waiter tells his colleague that the old man hanged himself with a rope, after which the dialogue continues.

“Who cut him down?” [Younger Waiter]


“His niece.” [Older Waiter]


“Why did they do it?” [Younger Waiter]

Though told it was the niece, the younger waiter goes on to use “they,” typical of the impersonal and thoughtless speech so common in social discourse. Alternatively, the younger waiter assumes without any evidence that “his niece” is short for “his niece and her family.” The casual use of “they” is not the only way in which the younger man's mind is shown to be cliche-ridden. He has no knowledge of the suicide attempt except what the older waiter tells him, yet he unthinkingly assumes that the old man was rescued by being cut down, by popular presumption the commonest mode of deposition in cases of hanging by rope. But in certain circumstances it might be easier to untie a knot around a beam or to stand on a chair or table and lift up a frail old man so that the noose could be loosened and pulled over his head. These, of course, are idle speculations. But so are the assumptions of the younger waiter. As we look back on this exchange, we may conclude that the older waiter in his cynicism lets the “cut him down” cliche pass. Later, however, when the younger man jumps to a further conclusion, “His niece looks after him”—something he cannot know; the niece could accidentally have come by at the moment of the suicide—the older waiter quietly chastises his colleague's propensity to jump to conclusions: “I know [which is more than you do]. You said she cut him down [but you don't know at all what happened].” (The italics here are my suggested rhetorical emphasis.) The younger waiter, entirely missing the point of this barb, goes on to expound his conventional attitude to age.14

On this interpretation it is the mature waiter who from the beginning knows about the old man and answers the younger waiter's questions. The contrast between the two speakers is sharpened, no paragraphing convention is violated, and no confusion on Hemingway's part need be invoked.

III. INTERPRETATIONS OF THE TEXT

Of the three explanations of the textual problem, the first—that the text is corrupt—may be judged untenable; the second—that normal conventions for presenting dialogue are violated—may be judged distinctly possible and sufficient to justify the interpretation that it is the younger waiter who is aware of the old man's history; and the third—that the text is correct but has not been correctly interpreted—may also be judged distinctly possible and sufficient to justify the interpretation that it is the older waiter who is aware of the old man's history.15

Before attempting to choose between these interpretations, it is appropriate to introduce the one piece of textual evidence so far neglected, namely Dialogue 2. The soldier with a girl, her head uncovered, hurries by. One waiter says the guard will catch the soldier; the other says, “What does it matter if he gets what he's after.” Unlike Dialogues 1 and 3 which are logically connected, Dialogue 2 is independent; the only way to determine the speakers is through the character revealed in their words. As one might expect, disagreement has resulted. Colburn (1959), Hurley (1976), and Kerner (1980) insist that the older waiter is the opening speaker; Dolch (1962), Hagopian (1964), Bennett (1970), and Lodge (1971) argue that the younger waiter begins the exchange.16

Gabriel presents a convincing case for both views. He quotes Colburn: “No doubt most readers will agree that the older waiter should be the one … to be concerned that the soldier with the streetwalker will get into trouble. And most readers probably will agree that the younger waiter should be the one with the completely materialistic attitude towards life.” Gabriel adds that the younger waiter has already shown his interest in sex and the older waiter solicitude about the old man (p. 543). An equally good argument can be made for precisely the opposite attribution. Now it is the younger waiter who begins the exchange and the older waiter who says, “What does it matter if he gets what he's after.” Gabriel writes: “In a virtually meaningless world, one takes one's desperate chances … and one makes one's little meaningful moments as one can.” The younger waiter, untouched by such insights, is concerned rather with prudential and practical considerations (p. 543).

My own view is distressingly simple: the evidence is not sufficient to make a conclusive determination. It is possible, however, to entertain a preference based on one's general interpretation of the story. If the younger waiter is the one who recounts the history of the old man, his greater authority in the early part of the story increase the likelihood that it is he who makes the rather conclusive statement: “What does it matter if he gets what he's after.” Even so, that likelihood scarcely balances the factors to be mentioned below. Conclusion: on this interpretation, the assigning of speeches in Dialogue 2 is a toss up. If, on the other hand, the older waiter is the one who recounts the history of the old man, his greater authority prevails throughout the story. For him to wish that the soldier get what he's after is consonant with his philosophy that there is little to be got in a world of nada. Likewise, for the younger waiter in the following speech to be concerned about guards and regulations is consonant with his conventional attitude towards things worldly. The style of the concluding speech is also conventional and may therefore point to the younger waiter: “He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.” Such choppy rhetoric lacks the dignity and eloquence typical of the older waiter. Conclusion: on this interpretation, the assigning of speeches in Dialogue 2 is tentatively possible. The younger waiter opens the exchange and the older replies: “What does it matter. …”

The text, however, does not stand alone; we have the evidence of the MS. Though Bennett considers it to be decisive, in fact it is not so. The key MS variant in the dialogue about the soldier is in the second speech, which reads: “What does it matter if he gets his tail.” The change to “what he's after” can be related to the emendations at the beginning of Dialogue 3a where the second speech is changed from “stewed” to “drunk” and the fourth speech drops “Christ.” Bennett considers that in all three cases tough “realism” is being toned down to better accord with the more philosophical character of the older waiter to whom he assigns all three statements (pp. 622-23). But since the line “He's stewed every night” must originally have been assigned to the younger waiter, there is no way of knowing whether Hemingway carried out the revision of this line with the younger or the older waiter in mind. Certainly “tail” is not right for the tone of the older waiter. But then, neither “tail” nor “stewed” seems right for the tone of the story as a whole. In sum, the MS does not resolve the difficulty of assigning the speeches in Dialogue 2, even if one adopts Bennett's view that it is the older waiter who tells about the attempted suicide.

If one adopts Kerner's view, however, the MS takes on new significance. Kerner's argument, granted his primary assumption, is relentlessly logical. We can be certain it is the older waiter who says “I know. You said she cut him down.” Therefore it is the younger waiter who tells about the suicide attempt (primary assumption). Therefore it is our obligation to adjust our reading of the rest of the dialogue to this primary assumption (p. 289). Since we know Hemingway with some frequency consigned consecutive indented speeches to the same character, we must assume that “He's drunk now” and “He's drunk every night” are both spoken by the younger waiter and that the two statements about the old man being eighty years old are both spoken by the older waiter. (Alternatively, the last statement about age and the next “I wish he would go home” could both be spoken by the younger waiter.) (pp. 286-87, 297). Given such an arrangement, the dialogue is consistent.

Further, the MS offers supporting evidence. On Kerner's primary assumption, the speeches “He's stewed every night” and “Christ How should I know” belong to the younger waiter and accord with the MS speech in the soldier dialogue: “What does it matter if he gets his tail” (pp. 290-91). Since on almost any assumption, as I have already argued above, the MS speech “He's stewed every night” must originally have been assigned to the younger waiter, it follows that the MS evidence can be used to support the view that all three of the above speeches belong to the younger waiter and that it is he who tells his colleague about the old man.

Were Kerner's primary assumption indisputable, the matter would be settled. Since it is not indisputable, we have still the possibility of an alternative interpretation for the statement “You said she cut him down.” Both interpretations require ingenuity on the reader's part. In the one case he must assign two consecutive speeches to the same speaker and must do this not once but twice. In the other, he must notice the assumptions the younger waiter makes about hanging, assumptions not easily perceived for the very reason of their conventionality; for only then is it possible to appreciate the ironic value of the older waiter's “You said she cut him down.”

Of these two interpretations of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” which is most compatible with the evidence of the text? One further resource is available to help us make that decision, a careful look at the characters of the two waiters. Such an inspection, to be successful, must begin by concentrating on those portions of the text where no doubt exists as to who is speaking.

The younger waiter. After serving the old man, he complains that he never gets to bed before three o'clock. His serious annoyance is indicated by his adding that the old man should have killed himself last week. His tendency to complain is confirmed in Dialogue 3b and in his further conversation. Of his twenty speeches before saying goodnight, five return directly to the theme of wanting to go to bed, two are refusals to serve the old man any more brandy, and one—in reply to the older waiter's question “What is an hour?”—is the complaint “More to me than to him.”

The young waiter is also rather argumentative. “An old man is a nasty thing.” he says. “I don't want to look at him.” When the older waiter says of himself that he lacks everything but work, the younger denies it, saying “You have everything I have.” Then he returns for the last time to his persistent theme of wanting to go home. The younger waiter appears complaining, argumentative, and superficial. The latter quality shows in his attitude to old age, and in such things as his inability to appreciate what a wife might mean to an old man. “A wife would be no good to him now,” he says. The failure of understanding is accentuated by the contrast with the older waiter who, though he seems to be alone in the world, knows that the old man might be better with a wife.

The older waiter. His character begins to shape itself in our minds near the beginning of Dialogue 3b when, for the first time, a statement can unquestionably be attributed to him. He replies to the younger waiter's complaints about the old man by asserting: “He stays up because he likes it.” Here the older waiter's tone is one of quiet authority and judgment. Later, in the final dialogue between the two, he politely but firmly lectures his colleague about closing early, about confidence, and about the difference between them. He is the authority figure: ironic, thoughtful, laconic, and compassionate. He insists to his complaining colleague: “This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him.” Such simple appreciation suggests that the older waiter identifies with the old man, who is also described as “walking unsteadily but with dignity.” The waiter shares this dignity. It is reflected in the finality both of his thought and rhetoric.

“I am of those who like to stay late at the café,” the older waiter said. “With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.”

(“I want to go home and into bed” replies the younger waiter, like a complaining child in face of this eloquent utterance.) This distinction of the older waiter's character is sustained when the narrator enters his consciousness. For the remainder of the story he becomes the focus of insight and authority in the narrative.

The analysis of character offers, in my judgment, the most conclusive evidence for interpreting “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” It seems more appropriate that the older waiter, rather than the younger, know the history of the old man. But to so interpret the story, it is essential that the older waiter's crucial statement—“I know. You said she cut him down”—be read as an ironic jibe at his presumptuous colleague. Otherwise, assuming it to be a straightforward reply, there seems no alternative but to conclude that the younger waiter is the one who knows of the old man's attempted suicide. Either interpretation is possible. Either requires some ingenuity of reading. But that is not unfair, for either interpretation can lead us to confront the desolation of Hemingway's narrative with its bare bright place and its fragment of light, in a night of enclosing nothingness.

Notes

  1. Ernest Hemingway, Winner Take Nothing (New York: Scribner's, 1933). This text was revised in the June 1965 printing of the uniform edition of The Collected Short Stories and in the subsequent paperback edition of the same. See Andre Hanneman, Supplement to Ernest Hemingway: A Comprehensive Bibliography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 10. However, the original text was retained in the paperback edition of Winner Take Nothing in the Scribner Library of Contemporary Classics (SL 155), first issued in 1968. This edition is identical in pagination with the first edition of 1933.

  2. William E. Colburn, “Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English 20 (Feb. 1959), 241-42; F. P. Kroeger, “The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English 20 (Feb. 1959), 240-41.

  3. John V. Hagopian, “Tidying Up Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Studies in Short Fiction 1 (Winter 1964), 146.

  4. “Editor's Comment,” Studies in Short Fiction 1, No. 4 (Summer 1964), ii.

  5. Warren Bennett, “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature 50 (March 1970), 70.

  6. Scott MacDonald, “The Confusing Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?” Studies in American Fiction 1 (Spring 1973), 99.

  7. Jerome's letter is housed in Special Collections, Mugar Library, Boston University, and is paraphrased with the generous consent of Dr. Howard Gottlieb. It was first brought to public attention by George Monteiro, “Hemingway on Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1974, p. 243.

  8. Warren Bennett, “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature 50 (Jan. 1979), 613-24. For other discussions of the manuscript see Hans-Joachim Kann, “Perpetual Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: The Manuscript Evidence,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1977, pp. 115-18; and David Kerner, “The Foundation of the True Text of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1979, pp. 279-80, 286-92.

  9. Bennett (1979), p. 617. Speculations on the degrees of bluntness of Hemingway's pencil(s) are of dubious value. How can one know when Hemingway picked up a sharp or blunt pencil?

  10. Otto Reinert, “Hemingway's Waiters Once More,” College English 20 (May 1959), 417-18; Charles E. May, “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Studies in Short Fiction 8 (Spring 1971), 326-30.

  11. For another possibility see Edward Stone, “Hemingway's Waiters Yet Once More,” American Speech 37 (Oct. 1962), 239-40, who argues that “Anyway” translates a colloquial Spanish affirmative. Kann supports this proposal by noting that in the MS “Anyway” is followed by a period (p. 116).

  12. MacDonald, 93-101; Colburn, p. 242; Kerner, pp. 279-300.

  13. See Kann, p. 116; and Bennett (1979), p. 619; Hagopian, p. 145; Kerner, pp. 286-87; Kroeger, p. 240; David Lodge, “Hemingway's Clean, Well-Lighted, Puzzling Place,” The Novelist at the Crossroads. … (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press [1971]), pp. 190, 199; MacDonald, p. 94; May, p. 328; Reinert, p. 418.

  14. Bennett (1979) used the same evidence concerning “they” and the niece to argue that both waiters seem to know a good deal about the old man. “If such mutual knowledge was envisioned in Hemingway's imagination, it may have caused Hemingway himself to become confused. …” (p. 623). Such may be the case, but since it is an unnecessary assumption, I prefer not to make it.

    For a different view, see Joseph F. Gabriel, “A Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” College English 22 (May 1961), 539-46. He proposed that the story is itself an existentialist document (p. 545) and that the “inconsistency in the dialogue is deliberate, an integral part of the pattern of meaning actualized in the story” (p. 540). “In so far as the dialogue fails to conform to the norms of logic, the reader himself is, like the older waiter, plunged into the existentialist predicament and made to confront the absurd” (p. 546). This argument is more ingenious than convincing. Moreover, as Lodge has persuasively argued, it has implications respecting the reliability of the narrator which are unacceptable (pp. 191-92).

  15. The position that the younger waiter is the knowledgeable one has been implied or asserted on a variety of grounds by Robert Penn Warren, “Introduction,” A Farewell to Arms (New York: Scribner's, 1949) p. xv; Robert B. Heilman, Modern Short Stories (New York: Harcourt, Brace [1950]), p. 391; Mark Schorer, The Story: A Critical Anthology (New York: Prentice, Hall, 1950), p. 427; Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), p. 124; Bernard Oldsey, “Hemingway's Old Men,” Modern Fiction Studies 1 (Aug. 1955), 32; Reinert (1959), p. 418; Thomas E. Saunders, The Discovery of Fiction (Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1967), p. 359; May (1971), pp. 327-28; MacDonald (1973), pp. 93-94; and Kerner (1979), pp. 286-87. The contrary position that the older waiter is the knowledgeable one has been entertained by Kroeger (1959), p. 241; Martin Dolch, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” in Insight I: Analyses of American Literature, eds. John V. Hagopian and Martin Dolch (Frankfurt: Hirschgraben, 1962), pp. 107-08; Hagopian (1964), pp. 144-46; Hoskins (1964), p. ii; Bennett (1970), pp. 71-74; Bennett (1979), pp. 619-23; Ewell (1971), p. 306; Lodge (1971), pp. 191-93, 198-200; Sheldon N. Grebstein, Hemingway's Craft (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973), p. 228; Annette Benert, “Survival through Irony: Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Studies in Short Fiction 11 (Spring 1974), 184-85; C. Harold Hurley, “The Attribution of the Waiters' Second Speech in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Studies in Short Fiction 13 (Winter 1976), 81-82; and Kann (1977), pp. 115-16.

  16. Colburn, p. 242; Hurley, pp. 83-84; Kerner, p. 291; and Dolch, pp. 106, 110; Hagopian, p. 144; Bennett (1970), p. 77; Lodge, p. 199. Dolch thinks that the speech “They went by five minutes ago,” is one that “would best fit into the younger waiter's mouth: he is impatient and therefore keeps looking at his watch and counting the minutes” (110). But is not the older waiter the kind of man who could gauge five minutes without even looking at a clock? One might as convincingly make an argument based on continuity of action. The younger waiter speaks, concluding: “They went by five minutes ago”; the old man raps for service; the younger waiter goes over to him.

Robert E. Fleming (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: “Wallace Stevens' ‘The Snow Man’ and Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 2, No. 2, April, 1989, pp. 61-3.

[In the following essay, Fleming speculates on the possible influence of the poet Wallace Stevens and his concept of nothingness on Hemingway's short story.]

The relationship between Wallace Stevens and Ernest Hemingway is best remembered for the one-sided fist fight between the two in February of 1936. According to a letter Hemingway wrote on 27 February 1936, Hemingway knocked Stevens down several times because he had insulted Hemingway's sister Ursula at a party. According to Hemingway, Stevens spent several days in the hospital, but an impartial witness said that the poet was seen in public the day after the fight, wearing sunglasses to conceal bruises.1

It is possible, however, that there is a more meaningful connection between the two. In “The Snow Man,” first published in Poetry in 1921, Stevens uses the same existential image that Hemingway was to use in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933.2 The image is that of nothing; not nothing as one normally uses the word, but what Carlos Baker describes as “Something—a Something called Nothing which is so huge, terrible, overbearing, inevitable, and omni-present that, once experienced, it can never be forgotten.”3

No external evidence that Hemingway had read “The Snow Man” exists. Both Michael Reynolds in Hemingway's Reading, 1910-1940 and Brasch and Sigman in Hemingway's Library: A Composite Record indicate that the only Stevens work owned by Hemingway was The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), and that the only copy of Poetry in his personal library was the January 1923 issue which contained six of his own poems.4 Nevertheless, Hemingway borrowed books regularly during his Paris years and could easily have seen “The Snow Man” either in Poetry or in Harmonium (1923).

After detailing a barren, snowy landscape observed by a “mind of winter,” suggestive of modern life as perceived by modern existential man, Stevens concludes his fifteen-line poem by stating that his protagonist, “nothing himself,” sees “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (my emphasis).5 The distinction is exactly the same as that paraphrased by Baker, writing of Hemingway's depiction of nada or nothing: the second nothing in Stevens' last line is not the mere absence of something, but an entity in itself, a force so powerful that only the strongest mind can perceive it and survive.

In his five-page story, Hemingway explores the theme more fully and goes a step beyond Stevens. After closing the café where an elderly customer has been lingering, trying to forget his loneliness and his suicidal thoughts, one of Hemingway's two waiters discloses that he shares the old man's sense of horror at the nothingness that pervades the universe: “It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada.”6

To modern man, nothingness is such a powerful force that only the strongest can bear to perceive it; furthermore, since it is the only force in the universe, the wise man will worship it, however ironically.

Whatever their personal differences, Stevens and Hemingway shared a bleak view of the universe. It seems quite possible that Hemingway, reading the last line of “The Snow Man,” felt moved to write his own artistic response to the plight of modern humanity.

Notes

  1. Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961, ed. Carlos Baker (New York: Scribner's, 1981), pp. 438-39. See also Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (New York: Scribner's, 1969), p. 285, and Jeffrey Meyers, Hemingway: A Biography (New York: Harper & Row, 1985), pp. 273-75.

  2. Poetry, 19 (Oct. 1921), 4-5. Scribner's Magazine, 93 (March 1933), 149-50.

  3. Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1963), p. 124.

  4. Michael S. Reynolds, Hemingway's Reading: 1910-1940 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 85, 188; James Brasch and Joseph Sigman, Hemingway's Library: A Composite Record (New York: Garland, 1981), p. 356.

  5. Wallace Stevens, Poems (New York: Vintage Books, 1959), p. 23.

  6. Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Scribner's, 1961), p. 383.

Paul Smith (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: “A Note on a New Manuscript of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 36-9.

[In the following essay, Smith heralds a typescript version of Hemingway's story, known as the “Delaware typescript.”]

Some three years have passed since the last article on the controversy over the two waiters' dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” In March 1985 David Kerner returned to the argument he had entered in 1979, bringing further evidence—almost an anthology—of instances of “anti-metronomic dialogue,” including several from Hemingway himself, to argue that the text of the story should be restored to its original form. From its first publication in Scribner's Magazine (March 1933) to 1965, the crucial lines of dialogue read:

[Younger Waiter] “His niece looks after him.”


[Older Waiter] “I know. You said she cut him down.”

The inconsistency in that dialogue—earlier the Older Waiter has said “His niece [had cut him down]”—was resolved when Scribner's printed the lines in the 1965 edition of The Short Stories with this revision:

[Younger Waiter] “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”


[Older Waiter] “I know.”

The dialogue's inconsistency may have been resolved with that revision, but not so the controversy among the competing “authorities” on the true text: the publisher of the 1933 version (Scribner's Magazine in March and Winner Take Nothing in October); Hemingway scholars who, after a quarter century of stony sleep, noticed in 1959 that seeming inconsistency; or Hemingway with the evidence of the story's one surviving manuscript and the tear-sheets from Scribner's Magazine used as setting copy for the Winner Take Nothing version (Items 337 and 222 in the Hemingway Collection, Kennedy Library. For three differing summaries of the controversy, see Kerner, Lodge, and Thomson.)

When the manuscript was made available in the mid-1970s, Warren Bennett followed the lead of Hans-Joachin Kann to argue that the crucial sentence, “You said she cut him down,” was a late insert and should be added to the Younger Waiter's line above it, not the Older Waiter's below it. That argument might have been conclusive but for the supposition that Hemingway read carefully whatever proofs he received of the publications in 1933 and the fact that, when the inconsistency was called to his attention in 1956, he noted that the story still made “perfect sense to him” (paraphrase of Hemingway's note on a letter sent to him by Judson Jerome, 30 November 1956 [Monteiro 243]). Although, by now we should suspect the presumption of Hemingway's or his editors' concern or skill reading proofs of his fiction as well as his latter-day recollections of that work.

But the argument over the attribution of that crucial line to either of the two waiters was weakened on both sides by the fact that there was no version between the earliest extant pencil manuscript and the magazine tear-sheets. For most of Hemingway's stories there is at least an original manuscript, one of his typescripts, and another typed by someone else and submitted for publication. So, for those on either side of the question of whether Hemingway took pains or nodded over his manuscripts, the appearance of an intermediate version of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” would be of some critical moment. A typescript, for example, by him or someone else, might reveal his intention or confirm a copy editor's mistake that Hemingway had overlooked.

Now one has come to light, but whether it enlightens the crucial issue of the two waiters' dialogue is still arguable.

In the summer of 1987 it was announced that the University of Delaware Library had acquired, among several other Hemingway manuscripts, “the only recorded copies of a draft of ‘A Clean, Well-Light Place’” (College and Research Libraries News 411). It is a five-page typescript and carbon, titled, on 8 1/2 x 14” pages, with a few minor typed corrections and one marginal typed insertion (enclosed here in slashes): “he said / speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners / ‘No more tonight’” (see SS 381). And it bears one editorial transposition mark over the incorrectly typed line: “‘No,’ the waiter said who was in a hurry” (SS 382). It is neither a Hemingway typescript, bearing none of his typing idiosyncracies, nor, with its typed corrections and insertion, does it seem the work of a professional typist.

It is likely that this “Delaware typescript” was one of those Hemingway referred to in a letter to Maxwell Perkins of 7 December 1932: “Pauline had 3 of the last stories copied when she had to go to St. Louis. Will send 3 and you can pick what you want.” Carlos Baker suggests that Hemingway was referring to the last three stories submitted for publication in Scribner's Magazine: “Homage to Switzerland,” “Give Us a Prescription, Doctor” (later titled “The Gambler, The Nun, and The Radio,”) and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (Selected Letters 380). Pauline left for St. Louis in late October 1932, the probable date for this typescript.

Hemingway's note to Perkins, however, leaves in doubt whether Pauline typed this version or had it typed by someone else. That question is of interest for it bears on another: Is there a lost Hemingway typescript of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”? In the fall of 1932, Hemingway was working apace on the stories that would complete his 1933 collection—“have so damned much vitality now that I cannot sleep and only knock off writing when my damned eyes get too bad” (Selected Letters 377). If Pauline typed the Delaware version, then Hemingway might have trusted her familiarity with his handwriting enough to let her copy his original manuscript. If someone else typed it, Hemingway probably would have typed a copy of his manuscript himself.

That second question bears, of course, on a third: Who was initially responsible for assigning the line, “You said she cut him down,” to the Older rather than to the Younger Waiter? That question might be answered with the discovery of a Hemingway typescript, if one exists. For now, however, the Delaware typescript may well relieve Scribner's typesetters from some of the onus of the typographical crime some critics have placed on them. If this typescript was submitted to Scribner's Magazine as setting copy for the March 1933 publication, they set the type properly. The typescript assigns the crucial sentence—“You said she cut him down”—to the Older Waiter. So, if that line was misplaced, it occurred at some time between the writing of the original manuscript and the Delaware typescript.

Finally, there is some equally inconclusive evidence on the matter of Hemingway's use of anti-metronomic dialogue. Those who have been following this controversy will recall that Mr. Kerner's argument depends in part on evidence that Hemingway departed from the convention of “metronomic” dialogue, successive indented lines indicating a change of speakers (let us say, the “tick-tock” convention), to adopt the “anti-metronomic” liberty, assigning successive lines to one speaker (perhaps the “tick-tick” variant). In the Delaware typescript, immediately following that crucial passage, there are two indented lines obviously spoken by the Younger Waiter:

“I don't want to look at him.”


“I wish he would go home. He has no regard for those who must work.”

In the original manuscript Hemingway wrote the first line of dialogue here at the same time he wrote the crucial line confusing the waiters' dialogue five lines above. With this one, however, he added a mark of insertion to indicate that the two lines (printed above) should be joined. If whoever typed the Delaware typescript was working from the manuscript, that editorial mark was ignored, leaving another instance of anti-metronomic dialogue. But by the time copy was set for the Scribner's Magazine version, the two lines were combined in one indented speech (SS 381).

This began as a “note” and would have ended sooner had the Delaware typescript not presented some seemingly simple questions that resurrected important issues of interpretation of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” That typescript seems to narrow the time when Hemingway, deliberately or not, confused the dialogue of the two waiters to sometime in October of 1932. By December a clean typescript was ready to send to Perkins, who at most would have scanned it for a lurking obscenity and sent it to the Scribner's Magazine editor and on to the typesetter, both of whom did their jobs, no questions asked.

But from the moment Hemingway received this typescript in the fall of 1932 until a quizzical college teacher raised the question in 1956, the confusion of the waiters' dialogue never crossed his mind. And the question, in spite of all the answers, still abides—Why not?

Works Cited

Bennett, Warren. “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” American Literature, 50 (1979): 613-24.

College and Research Libraries News (July/August 1987): 411.

Hemingway, Ernest. Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1919-1961. Ed. Carlos Baker. New York: Scribner's, 1981.

———. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner's, 1966.

Kann, Hans-Joachim. “Perpetual Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: The Manuscript Evidence,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual (1977): 115-118.

Kerner, David. “Counterfeit Hemingway: A Small Scandal in Quotation Marks,” Journal of Modern Literature 12 (November 1985): 91-108.

———. “The Foundation of the True Text of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual (1979): 279-300.

Lodge, David. The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981.

Monteiro, George. “Hemingway on Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual (1974): 243.

Thomson, George H. “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: Interpreting the Original Text,” The Hemingway Review 2.2 (Spring 1983): 32-43.

Warren Bennett (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: “The Characterization and the Dialogue Problem in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. IX, No. 2, Spring, 1990, pp. 122-23.

[In the following essay, Bennett compares Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio.”]

I

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” although long recognized as one of Hemingway's best short stories, has nevertheless been plagued by controversy because of Hemingway's proclivity for writing dialogue without identifying the speakers. The story was first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933 and then republished the same year in Hemingway's collection of stories Winner Take Nothing. In this 1933 text, Hemingway's failure to identify the speakers created a contradictory dialogue sequence which resulted in a confusion as to which waiter knew about the deaf old man's attempted suicide. No one, however, seemed to have noticed the contradictory sequence and its resulting confusion until 1956—twenty-three years later—at which time Judson Jerome wrote Hemingway about the “‘messy’ dialogue” (Monteiro 243) in the story. Hemingway replied, “oh so sorry to disappoint” (Monteiro 243); the dialogue, he said, “made perfect sense to him” (Monteiro 243). Jerome evidently did not pursue the matter, but the contradictory sequence eventually sparked a serious scholarly debate and in 1959 three articles were published on the subject: F. P. Kroeger's “The Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” William E. Colburn's “Confusion in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” and Otto Reinert's “Hemingway's Waiters Once More.” Then, in 1964, three years after Hemingway's death, John V. Hagopian, “Tidying Up Hemingway's ‘Clean, Well-Lighted Place’,” suggested that the confusing text was flawed by a typographical error and should be emended. He suggested that the line, “I know. You said she cut him down,” should be split and the second sentence reassigned to the previous speaker who says, “His niece looks after him.” Finally, when Scribner's was preparing to published The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway in 1965, they decided to follow Hagopian's suggestion. The old 1933 text which read,

Older waiter: “You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.”


“His niece looks after him.”


“I know. You said she cut him down.”


“I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”

(WTN [Winner Take Nothing] 20)

was changed to read,

Older waiter: “You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.”


Younger waiter: “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”


Older waiter: “I know.”


Younger waiter: “I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”

(SS [The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway] 381)

The 1965 emendation solved the dialogue contradiction and resolved the confusion as to which waiter knows about the deaf old man's attempted suicide, but the becomes even more exasperated and more irritated: the more the brandy the longer the old man will stay. Caught between his training as a waiter and his urge to go home, he pours angrily into the glass so that the brandy does not just spill over the rim but slops over the rim (the younger waiter later “wipes the edge of the table” (21). The old man, of course, has no idea that the waiter is so angry—and that he wishes he had killed himself last week. The old man thinks the waiter has shown him a real generosity and he politely says, “Thank you” for the gratuity. A superb little irony of the mean-spirited and the innocent.

It is of some importance to a complete understanding of the significance of the younger waiter and the younger waiter's wife to point out that Cayetano Ruiz, in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio,” tells Mr. Frazer,

“No gambler has luck with women. … He works nights. When he should be with the woman. No man who works nights can hold a woman if the woman is worth anything.

(SS 484)

Since “Give Us a Prescription, Doctor” (later titled “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio”) and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” were written during approximately the same period—and were both accepted by Scribner's at the same time—it is not unlikely that Cayetano's philosophy that “No man who works nights can hold a woman if the woman is worth anything,” was in Hemingway's mind (and by authorial extension in the older waiter's mind) when he had the older waiter ask the younger waiter, “You have no fear of going home before your usual hour?” Cayetano's philosophy, however, does not change the character of the younger waiter nor does it justify the younger waiter's attitude toward his wife.

David Kerner (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: “The Ambiguity of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall, 1992, pp. 561-74.

[In the following essay, Kerner offers a “comprehensive demonstration of the accuracy of Hemingway's text.”]

Since Warren Bennett's 13,000-word defense—concluding, “All printings of [“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”] should, therefore—in fairness … most of all, to Hemingway—follow the 1965 emended text” (120)—has passed muster with Paul Smith,1 the earlier cries of “Enough!” were premature:2 a comprehensive demonstration of the accuracy of Hemingway's text is needed, lest we wake up one day to find the emendation enshrined in the Library of America. The need is evident too when Gerry Brenner can write: “must we know which waiter answers the question ‘How do you know it was nothing?’ with ‘He has plenty of money.’? I think not” (252-53). One cannot take this answer away from the younger waiter without redistributing 19 other speeches; and to think that this can be done without damaging the intention in a story that so sharply differentiates the two waiters is to reveal once again that the story being read is not yet the one Hemingway wrote.3

Anyone drawn to the notion that in Hemingway's text, whether by accident or design, there is an inconsistency that cannot be resolved has failed either to consider or to study the context of the crucial disputed line. No one, when first reading the story, can know which waiter is saying, as the dialogue opens, “Last week he tried to commit suicide.” The deliberateness of the uninformative “one waiter said” is undeniable, for in the second short dialogue (about the soldier), critics will never agree that it is possible to know which waiter is saying what. The third dialogue continues the challenge, as the younger waiter begins:

“He's drunk now,” he said.


“He's drunk every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”

By habit we assign this question and the succeeding ones to the younger waiter, so we are surprised, some lines later, to find the older waiter saying, “You said she cut him down,” for he, it would seem, has been answering the questions. But since this apparent inconsistency complements the riddling “one waiter said”s, the context of controlled ambiguity assures us that when Hemingway decided to insert “You said she cut him down,” he knew that his assignment of this indispensable line was decisive, and consequently he knew which waiter he was giving it to.4 The function of this dual ambiguity is clear even before we know it is dual: once we have heard about “nada,” the withholding of identification throws a spotlight on the opening “Nothing”:

“What [was he in despair] about?”


“Nothing.”

Then, after we have detected the apparent inconsistency, we realize that without the disputed insertion, we might decide that this “Nothing” (whose overtones Hemingway must have been aware of before he began) is the older waiter's “nada,” and the insertion is there to tell us we would be mistaken. But it tells us ambiguously, not immediately ending the puzzle of the “one waiter said”s, prodding us to see why “Nothing” cannot be the older waiter's “nada” and must be the younger waiter's line. If the opening “Nothing” were the older waiter's line, there would be no reason for the web Hemingway took pains to weave. In pulling that web apart without studying it, the emenders, like surgeons cutting blindly, destroyed its function and lopped off an organic part of the story's meaning, for the younger waiter's “Nothing” opens up a kind of flanking attack that turns out to be the central location of the battle.5

Bennett argues that the reply to “Why [did the old man try to commit suicide]?”—“He was in despair”—indicates the speaker's familiarity with “nada,” and therefore the older waiter must be the one answering the questions. True, in the whole story this “despair” is the one word that can make us hesitate, but what follows it only supports our seeing the younger waiter throw up his hands mockingly as he replies, “He was in despair”; for, coming from him, these words are a vacuous formula, forcing the questioner to repeat his question, and the mockery is confirmed when we see that the proffered answer “Nothing” is a set-up for a joke:

“How do you know it was nothing?”


“He has plenty of money.”

Because the older waiter could not think that anyone with “plenty of money” can have no reason to kill himself, Bennett is forced to construe “Nothing” as the later “nada.” But a premature, ambiguous “Nada” here, followed by an equally unenlightening, mocking deflection of the appeal for an explanation, would make the whole passage a pointless, as well as a misleading, anticipation, and it would also make the older waiter uncharacteristically glib and smug:6 it would be inconsistent with his patience as a teacher (“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant café”), with his feeling for the old man, and with the fact that, as he begins his interior monologue, he is not out to explain the old man's suicide attempt—he is asking, rather, why he himself has “never had confidence,” why does he “need a light for the night,” “What did he fear?,” as though he is only now, for the first time, naming his trouble (see May 328-29).7 If “Nothing” were the older waiter's reply and meant what Bennett claims, this waiter's next reply would make sense—for example:

“How do you know it was [nada]?”


“He has a loving wife.”

That is, what but “nada” can explain the suicide attempt when even such affection fails?8 The hypothetical answer helps us see the actual answer as a coarse joke; but that it is such a joke and stays a joke, Hemingway makes clear when the persistent questioner asks, “What did he want to kill himself for?” The new answer is not an explanation of “nada” but a callous dismissal—“How should I know”—which shows us again that behind the answer “Nothing” there was no idea the speaker might expand on; he now openly shrugs the question off, as though saying, “What are you asking foolish questions for? What difference does it make? Who cares?” Three times the older waiter has asked “Why?” and three times there has been no genuine answer. This persistent rebuff of a serious question is not the way of the older waiter. Bennett is insensitive to the tone of “How should I know” when he hears in it the older waiter's “existential uncertainty” (119), not the crude impatience that Hemingway helpfully suggested by removing the question mark and restoring the period with which he had originally ended the line (MS 3). And since the opening “Nothing” was meant as a set-up for a wise-guy answer, the older waiter cannot be said, in his monologue, to be expounding already, with stunning eloquence, on the “‘despair’” he had just “‘learned’ about from” his insensitive colleague (116).

The principal argument, however, against attributing “Nothing” to the older waiter is in what Hemingway meant by contriving this line for the younger waiter. Bennett asserts that since the older waiter “knows and understands the ‘nothingness’ behind suicidal thoughts,” he “could not ‘stupidly’ ask ‘Why [did the old man try to commit suicide]?’” (115; see also 117). This distortion makes us think immediately of Hemingway's suicide. We are still asking “Why?”—as Hemingway himself asked, more than once, about his father (Winner 228; Bell 339). In Darkness Visible William Styron concludes that clinical depression, even when it does not end in suicide, is an “all but impenetrable mystery” (77).9 The older waiter's persistent return to the question “Why?”—an effort to learn what may be known—reflects the compassionate, intelligent involvement behind his pursuit of the subject—“How did he do it?,” “Why did they do it [cut him down]?” (emphasis added). But the more important mistake in Bennett's distortion here is his failure to realize that the older waiter neither says nor implies that “nada,” as he defines it, causes suicide. His monologue laments the loss of the traditional image of a fatherly God; what it says is what Freud says in The Future of an Illusion (had Hemingway read it?), though Freud, arguing, like the waiter, “light was all it needed,” exhibits rather more confidence in the café he had opened. In this context, “a man was nothing too” has two meanings, which Hemingway, with grim humor, had recently explained in “A Natural History of the Dead,” puncturing the rhetoric of Mungo Park: our individual survival means nothing to the universe, and what happens to an untended corpse ridicules our exalting ourselves above natural law. No more than Hemingway there does the waiter here connect this atheism with suicide. Rather, he is raising the question, What are we (the human race), now that the God who marks the sparrow's fall is gone and we are no longer immortal? The answer, “a man was nothing too,” means we are only another kind of animal, so that our “place” now is merely a refuge, a sort of wildlife sanctuary, like the café for the old man. The symbolic meaning of this refuge is not the older waiter's—he is too modest (“it is probably only insomnia”); behind him, it is Hemingway who is suggesting that religion—and every other kind of home we carve for ourselves out of this harsh cosmos that doesn't know we are here—is no more than such a refuge.

But the story does not stop with the monologue: having shown us how different the waiters are, Hemingway has maneuvered us into going back to see what he is up to with those “one waiter said”s—a challenge that is reinforced when, as we puzzle over it, we detect the apparent inconsistency; and now we discover that the younger waiter's role is to dramatize how “a man was nothing too,” in the way his behavior answers “What are we?” with the complementary question “Who am I?” His bristling when his colleague teases, “You have no fear of going home before your usual hour?,” implies that under the boast “I am all confidence” is a man who does not know himself, and who is fated, like Oedipus, to find out who he is, disastrously. This ominous ignorance is equally noticeable when he tells the deaf old man, “You should have killed yourself last week”: such self-satisfied callousness is excessive, a gratuitous display of this waiter's assurance that he has nothing in common with the despairing old man; and the excess, like a neurotic symptom, is a measure of the strength of the anxiety the waiter is hiding from himself. Our understanding of this defensiveness is enlarged by Mr. Frazer's interior monologue at the end of “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio,” which Hemingway was finishing around the time he wrote “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”: life, Frazer thinks, is surgery without anesthesia—what Dr. Adams does in “Indian Camp” is how the universe operates—and we block the pain openly, with alcohol or other drugs, or covertly, with the protective coloration or identity we assume. Frazer's catalogue of such identities includes the macho facade—the anxiety-pacifying use of “sexual intercourse”—that is the younger waiter's “opium.” Hemingway leaves it to us to figure out that the incident of the soldier hurrying with the girl is meant to give this waiter the rope to hang himself, when he says, in a display of his own sexual powers, “What does it matter if he gets what he's after?”10 We hear the choral commentary on this line when Frazer, learning that the nun wants to be a saint, tells her, “You'll be one. Everybody gets what they want. That's what they always tell me.” Behind the restrained, good-humored irony of this speech is Frazer's knowledge of how we disappoint ourselves (the rodeo rider “now, with a broken back, was going to learn to work in leather and to cane chairs”). The younger waiter needs to delude himself that he is “of those” who get “what they want,” he “gets what he's after.”

So when the old man's “despair” is said to be about “Nothing”—and we listen carefully, rereading, because the ambiguity has forced us to wonder what this means (Is it a contemptuous dismissal? Is it the older waiter's “nada”?)—the conjunction of these alternatives, now that we have seen what thin ice the younger waiter is on, suddenly makes him the concealed subject of the inquiry when his unwitting “Nothing” explodes into a revelation of a second kind of “nada”: since he is “of those” who “lived in it and never felt it,” we realize that the cause of his eventual despair, when his macho conception of himself collapses, will not be the older waiter's metaphysical, outer “nada,” but a psychological, inner “nada”—the younger waiter's own nothingness that, unconsciously, he is anesthetizing with his sexual persona—which we are being asked to hear in the resonance of that spotlighted “Nothing,” as though Hemingway, whose symbolism looms behind the older waiter's monologue, could here be heard murmuring in the wings, like Bugs in “The Battler,” “‘Nothing,’ eh? Ah, Buster! You've ‘got a lot coming to’ you.” With this, we have discovered the initial purpose of the ambiguity: we have been driven to see that the story is a tale of two “nadas.” The conclusion “a man was nothing too,” which is contestable when the older waiter infers it from the silence of the cosmos, is reached unarguably from below, in the human condition the younger waiter's insubstantial identity reveals; for it is this inner “nada” that turns out to be fundamental, since it still takes its toll when the outer “nada” is vigorously denied (as in Hemingway's view of his father's suicide, for Dr. Hemingway was a lifelong devout Christian).

The initial purpose of the ambiguity is joined by a corollary purpose when we realize the relation between the two “nada”s. The young waiter's “bogus self-assurance,” as Steven Hoffman has observed (177), is matched in “Indian Camp” when little Nick Adams, with “willed ignorance” (178), feels “quite sure he would never die.” Hoffman does not explore where this leads. In “Three Shots,” the discarded original opening of “Indian Camp,” three times we are told that “Nickie” (like Mr. Frazer) tries to avoid thinking, about either his shame or his fear. A few weeks before, the hymn “Some day the silver cord must break” had made him realize for the first time “that he himself would have to die sometime,” and he had sat up all night in the hall, reading. That is no small feat for a little boy—it expresses intolerable anxiety, which returns now when he is alone in the tent, where no “silver cord” ties him to his source. “Nickie” here—can he be more than 10?—knows nothing of “the death of God”; the absence frightening him is that of his earthly father, for his fear goes away, and he falls asleep, as soon as he fires the signaling shots, since he has complete faith his father will return at once, and the firing itself identifies him with his father—which shows that the threat facing the boy was not death but separation, the inescapable demand that he be himself, with an identity of his own to protect him. So his concluding denial of how he must end expresses his unwillingness to relinquish the Nirvana of his “silver cord” beginnings.

In little Nick this childish denial is healthy; in the younger waiter it has become a sick denial that exposes his whole character structure as a defense against the reactivation of an intolerable indelible infantile threat. Hemingway's appreciation of this threat is clear in Frazer's belief that we are being operated on without anesthesia when we are stripped of the illusory identity that is all we have. And since, from the older waiter's mock prayer and “A Natural History of the Dead,” we see that for Hemingway, as for Freud, the God who marks the sparrow's fall can be nothing but a projection of the infant's experience of omnipotent parental protection, then the older waiter's sense of cosmic desolation is a recapitulation of the primal psychological loss the younger waiter has unsuccessfully buried. Astonishingly, we now gather that the ambiguity, by leading us to entertain the possibility that either waiter might be saying certain significant lines, has as a corollary purpose a dreamlike blurring of the explicit difference between the waiters: though the older one says, “We are of two different kinds,” we are meant to see that the younger one's overpowering need to deny the residue of his smoldering infantile helplessness makes his blustering “confidence”—his assurance that the old man's despair is “a way [he'll] never be” (see Winner 76)—an illusion, which may well be identified before long as the mask of the first stage of the depression that, when catastrophe strikes, may overwhelm him with the older waiter's insomnia, and may in the end bring him too to suicide (just as little Nick's confidence “he would never die” presages that he too will one day suffer the Indian husband's unanesthetized anguish). (This psychological relation between the waiters does not, of course, make their speeches interchangeable.) The older waiter himself—with his protesting “What did he want to kill himself for?”—does not yet realize where he is heading. The three characters in the story are an allegory for the stages of our encounter with our inner “nada”—a post-theological pilgrim's progress that Hemingway's life has mapped for us.

The “clean, well-lighted place,” then, insofar as it symbolizes a refuge one can achieve for oneself, is only a resting place, a holding action, as Hemingway intimates by the sly echo when Frazer attributes his climactic discovery (“Bread is the opium of the people”) to “that well-lighted part of his mind that was there after two or more drinks in the evening; … (it was not really there of course).” In “Big Two-Hearted River” Nick Adams builds “the good place” of his own tent and camp, his “home where he had made it”—he has learned how fishing can control his anxiety, whatever its roots;11 but when Frazer concludes, “He was thinking well, a little too well,” it is not fellow-traveling book reviewers he is afraid of, if he lets them read, in 1933, his judgment on the Russian revolution12—he is afraid that in another minute he will be asking himself why he has omitted fishing and hunting from his catalogue of opiums (for the story is autobiographical), and his next question would be, Why did he omit art—his stories? Does the “clean, well-lighted place” his talent makes available certify his salvation? Hemingway does not have to identify for us the personal failings implied in “Usually [Frazer] avoided thinking all he could, except when he was writing”—such failings are universal, and Hemingway could be a merciless judge of his own, as in “Hills Like White Elephants.”13 In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” which too is autobiographical, Hurry's dream of heavenward flight as he dies—a remorse-inspired illusion rising from his betrayal of his talent—is only one of the story's echoes of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, perhaps the most devastating story ever written about inauthentic identity as a defense against the anxiety radiating from the buried soul. For though the loss of the parental God has again brought our professed identity into question, the unique willingness of the human animal to submit to judgment survives. “Fear for his soul” on the lips of the younger waiter is part of the Sophoclean irony.14 He does not know what danger his own soul is in, since he has not permitted himself to learn that the soul is no imaginary religious atavism—it is still, as it always was, inescapably, the self we create by our choices (insofar as we have them). That Hemingway, after his affair with Jane Mason (following his choice of Pauline Pfeiffer), could make the younger waiter a withering caricature of his own macho bristling,15 and then imagine for himself an inauthenticity that evoked for him The Death of Ivan Ilych, reinforces the allegory revealing the “clean, well-lighted place” as hardly more secure than the heaven that has dissolved like a mirage.16

But we have yet to see the range of Hemingway's insight into the younger waiter's insubstantial identity as representative of the human condition. The younger waiter unwittingly betrays himself by overeagerly proclaiming that he is something (he is not “nothing too”), while Hemingway, behind the older waiter, is telling us that our need to establish a “clean, well-lighted place” of our own is due to the failure of our social institutions to live up to their claims that we are something (they have provided us such well-lighted mansions of meaning as the one that sustained Mungo Park in the desert); and this parallel between the younger waiter and civilization—a bristling “confidence” in the solidity of a shaky identity—is what gives the story its fundamental unity, climaxing the significance our attention to the ambiguity has found in the younger waiter. The range of the parallel is immense—it takes us immeasurably back and forward. For the older waiter's “What are we now?” is not new—it goes back to the emergence of the human race, when there was no question of “the death of God” or the “meaninglessness” of life: we alone among animals had to ask ourselves what we were, now that we'd been ejected from the closed programming of our animal Eden; we were already bristling, like the younger waiter, the first time a tribesman shrouded his head and trunk in an animal hide to reassure himself (and all others concerned) who his ancestors were; and the problem is permanent, as Hemingway learned from the collision of Oak Park with the twentieth century, which we see in “Soldier's Home.” In Winner Take Nothing Frazer's monologue is followed immediately by the first paragraph of “Fathers and Sons,” where “the traffic lights” “would be gone next year when the payments on the system were not met.” As an allusion to Prohibition (the story before “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” is “Wine of Wyoming”), this introduces a bristling theocratic eagerness to overregulate; for Dr. Adams's contribution to the sexual education of his son advises us that a system of rules telling us when to stop and when to go, permitting us to go about our business without slaughtering each other, must be inspired by a mistaken image of ourselves when it comes at a price we cannot afford (Dr. Adams will pay with his life).

In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” Hemingway faces us with such a system in the injunction against suicide, the dereliction the girl's uncovered head represents, the hurry of this couple, the curfew, and the patrolling police. As “Fathers and Sons” opens, a detour sign has not been removed, though “cars had obviously gone through,” so Nick Adams does not detour; but the soldier's graceless infraction classes him with the drunks the Fontans turn away in “Wine of Wyoming.” What his hurry exposes (emphasized by the contrast with the “very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity”) is less a self than a sexual urgency that we are invited to see as an inner uniform—a biological herding that pacifies us with an illusion of identity; and this implicit metaphor explains why “walked out to the old man's table” in the holograph (3) was changed to “marched” in the typescript (2).17 We are not told precisely how the younger waiter's macho uniform will one day explode, but the strength his behavior leads us to attribute to the unresolved threat he has buried urges us to realize that when a man murders his estranged wife and her lover and then kills himself (a news item we've seen often), he has found that losing her robs him of his identity—without her he is nothing—and this is a danger that makes death preferable. In “The Battler” Bugs says of Ad Francis's wife, “one day she just went off and never come back.” “… He just went crazy.” But whether or not the crazy violence with which the punch-drunk ex-fighter hallucinates his old identity in the ring may be expected, in one form or another, from the similarly dependent younger waiter, his double, the soldier, is there so that we may ponder the possible imminent collision with the police, which adumbrates the younger waiter's problem in its broadest, tragic significance; for the state or culture, when its uniform—its bristling profession of a deep-rooted illusory identity (like the primitive animal hide)—is seriously threatened, knows no restraint, and lesser groups often claim such juggernaut authority. In this way, the younger waiter's desperate flailing when he feels his identity escaping him becomes a microcosmic suggestion of the suicidal extremes that erupt in all racial, religious, ethnic, and political hostilities where persecution of a scapegoat is needed to shore up a precarious identity.

This is what Frazer is thinking in 1933 when he sees patriotism as “the opium of the people in Italy and Germany”: the “doctor,” it would turn out (in Scribner's Magazine the story was called “Give Us a Prescription, Doctor”), was prescribing, for those people's tranquility, 50 million deaths. Every culture struggles, with its back to the wall, against the realities threatening the identity it claims. For Socrates, wisdom begins when we admit we do not know; but society, denying to the end what its professed identity will not permit it to admit, must bristle like the younger waiter, and self-destruct. From the older waiter's rejection of the bodega, with its “shining steam-pressure coffee machine,” we gather that Hemingway foresees no salvation in the identity technological civilization offers. Our effort to discover what the human race is turns out to be back-breaking Sisyphean labor—a cruel joke—if our vaunted openness to cultural development is an endless, savage turmoil of one self-deception after another. But Hemingway does not believe it endless. Whether justifiably, or only reflecting his own depression, he gives us, in his next book, Green Hills of Africa, his opinion of our ability to solve our problem. He compares what the human race will leave behind—after “the systems of governments, the richness, the poverty, the martyrdom, the sacrifice and the venality and the cruelty are all gone”—to the five loads of garbage dumped on a good day outside Havana, turning the Gulf Stream to “a pale green to a depth of four or five fathoms”: “in ten miles along the coast it is as clear and blue and unimpressed as it was ever before the tug hauled out the scow” (149-50). There, for Hemingway—after the floating debris is gone (“the worn light bulbs of our discoveries and the empty condoms of our great loves”) and as long as the sun rises—is the lasting “clean, well-lighted place.”

Notes

  1. Smith finds Bennett's defense a “persuasive counterstatement, that—is it too much to hope?—may settle the issue” (385).

  2. Reviewing Joseph Flora's Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction, James R. Frakes expostulates at once: “Would you believe that … [he] offers us here, without grimacing, still another effort to straighten out the two waiters' dialogue …?” (275-76). And Hershel Parker says: “Everyone wants to know the right assignment of speakers in” the story, “but the attention paid to this problem has been excessive” (19-20). But if we haven't determined how to read what James Joyce, who knew only the unemended text, reportedly called “one of the best short stories ever written” (Power 107), can the “attention paid” have been sufficient?

  3. Are we to suppose that Hemingway, when he wished Hotchner would adapt “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” for television (Hotchner 164), expected him to provide the audience with two versions, distributing the lines both ways? The reasonable inference is that Hemingway believed that a careful reading resolves the ambiguity. After a work was published, “no explanations or dissertations [from the author] should be necessary” (Writers at Work 230; see Kerner, “Manuscripts” 394-95).

  4. In addition, the holograph shows that Hemingway, from the beginning, meant to obscure identification of the two waiters. After the second short patch of dialogue, about the soldier, Hemingway originally wrote, “One of the waiters went over to [the old man]” (2); and even after the third dialogue, when the old man asks for “Another brandy,” Hemingway originally wrote, “One of the waiters came over” (4). In the first instance, the waiter says, “What do you want?,” “You'll be drunk,” and “You should have killed yourself last week” (2-3); in the second, “Finished. Close now” and “No. Finished” (5). Clearly, in both instances it's the same waiter who goes over to the old man, and Hemingway knew this—it wasn't something he still had to decide; yet he chose, originally, not to say it's the same waiter, and not to tell us it's the younger waiter. This was no casual omission of attribution; it was a challenge. Later Hemingway realized that since these speeches were transparent, the withholding of identification here was superfluous and could be damaging—it might arouse an impatient mistrust of the serious ambiguity he had in mind.

  5. Strangely ignoring the context of deliberate (and therefore presumably purposeful) ambiguity, Dolch and Hagopian conjectured that there had been a printing error—“You said she cut him down” belonged at the end of the preceding speech, spoken by the younger waiter; and Scribner's put it there. In 1965 no one seemed to know that Hemingway was fond of juxtaposing two separate speeches for a single speaker, even without attribution, and that he had learned this from writers he had read and admired in his youth, like O. Henry and Marryat (Kerner, “Origins” and “Hemingway's Trail”). (Few of us, apparently, realized that in English the typographical convention for dialogue includes the possibility of an anti-metronomic disruption. Since we omit end quotes when a speech continues in a new paragraph, the inclusion of those end quotes when the speaker does not change can imply [among other things] a pause or gap—the speaker does not continue to speak, but speaks again [Kerner, “Counterfeit” 91-100]; and identation alone, after unspoken words [like “he said”], can serve the same purpose [“Hemingway's Trail” 189-92].) Yet Otto Reinert, suspecting this, had proposed in 1959 that it is the younger waiter who, after a “reflective pause,” adds, “He's drunk every night” (in a reiteration that we soon learn is characteristic of this waiter). The thoughtful older waiter sees no need to respond to “He's drunk now” (our own silent response might be, “So what else is new?”); nor would he think that “He's drunk every night” needed saying after he has just heard that the old man tried to kill himself last week. We see what this waiter is thinking about when he asks, “What did he want to kill himself for?” So the younger waiter is the one answering the questions; there is no discrepancy. When the holograph turned up and confirmed Hemingway's placement of the troubling line, Hagopian and Dolch were silent. But Mr. Scribner, undeterred, continued to print the line where “common sense” told him it belonged (MacDonald 99). Echoing Hagopian's exclamation of incredulity (141), Bennett, in objecting to “the conclusion that Hemingway … used anti-metronomic dialogue in” the story “not only once but twice” (98), fails to see that the doubling simplifies the problem: the second instance—the older waiter's

    “He must be eighty years old.”

    “Anyway I should say he was eighty.”

    —is meant to confirm the deliberateness of the first instance (as in The Sun Also Rises and elsewhere: see Kerner, “Foundation” 284-85; “Manuscripts” 385n; “Counterfeit” 104-05). Bennett argues that Hemingway wrote anti-metronomic dialogue only “inadvertently,” when he “lost track” of the speakers in unattributed dialogue (100-04), and that comparison of the holograph and the typescript shows there is no anti-metronomic dialogue in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (107-12). For my detailed refutation, see “Hemingway's Attention.”

  6. Launching his artillery at the first opportunity, the older waiter would be something of a soapbox orator, which he is not—he is not the Mexican whom Mr. Frazer mocks in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio”:

    “I was acolyte,” the thin one said proudly. “Now I believe in nothing. Neither do I go to mass.”

    “Why? Does it mount to your head?”

    (Winner 206)

  7. What can Bennett mean when he writes that “‘plenty of money’ symbolizes all that it is possible for a person to have and it is the polar opposite of nothingness” (117; also “Character, Irony” 75)? “In Another Country” teaches us that there is nothing we cannot lose, and money of course is one of the easiest things to lose, as Hemingway's father learned; nor does “having” it keep it out of the “black hole” of nothingness (117). Hemingway's title identifies the possible “opposite” of “nada” available.

  8. The change in plot would not affect the theme. Like the older waiter, who suggests that the old man “might be better with a wife,” William Styron tells us, “I would hazard the opinion that many disastrous sequels to depression might be averted if the victims received support such as [my wife] gave me” (57); but her devotion did not keep Styron's depression from taking him to the brink of suicide.

  9. The obscurity of the causes of suicidal depression is darkened further by Carol Iannone's review of Styron's book and the letters her review provoked.

  10. Hemingway's manuscript revision of “He better get off the street now” to “He had better …” is a refinement of grammar expectable from the older waiter, while “What does it matter if he gets

  11. Writing in the third person, Hemingway says: “Since he was a young boy he has cared greatly for fishing and shooting. If he had not spent so much time at them, at ski-ing, at the bull ring, and in a boat, he might have written much more. On the other hand, he might have shot himself” (Schreiber 57).

  12. John Dos Passos reportedly said that when he told Hemingway in 1937 “he was going back to the United States to tell the truth about what was going on” in Spain, “Hemingway responded, ‘You do that and the New York reviewers will kill you. They will demolish you forever’” (Ludington 496).

  13. As with the suppressed causes of Thomas Hudson's suicidal depression in Islands in the Stream (Hovey), the omission of what Frazer tries not to think about signals the presence of autobiography.

  14. Bennett believes that when the younger waiter asks, “How much money has he got?,” he is merely changing the subject, the preceding answer, “Fear for his soul,” having made him nervous (“Character, Irony” 74). Besides turning “How much money …?” in itself into a meaningless question, this interpretation gives the younger waiter a religious sensitivity inconsistent with his telling the old man, “You should have killed yourself last week,” and saddles the older waiter with the uncharacteristically crude dismissal “He's got plenty.” In Hemingway's version, when the older waiter moves directly from “Why did they [cut him down]?” to “How much money has he got?,” skepticism (as in the “joke” about the risk the younger waiter may run by coming home early) has made this waiter wonder how much of a temptation the old man's heirs faced.

  15. For the inveterate insistence on his prowesses that associates Hemingway with the younger waiter, see Tavernier-Courbin and Brenner.

  16. Hemingway in 1949: “Only suckers worry about saving their souls. Who the hell should care about saving his soul when it is a man's duty to lose it intelligently, the way you would sell a position you were defending, if you could not hold it, as expensively as possible. …” (Ross 48). If you could not hold it is not a reference to death. In 1926 he'd written Fitzgerald, “… I'm now all through with the general bumping off phase. … Am continuing my life in original role of son of a bitch sans peur et sans reproche” (Letters 232); and in 1945 he wrote Mary Welsh, “Half the time, too, if they had real justice we'd all be shot” (599). In 1954, reportedly: “I would be tempted to say … fattening of the soul, but I don't know anything about the soul” (Manning 176).

  17. Had Hemingway in November or December 1932 already read Light in August and seen what Faulkner finds lurking under the uniform that means so much to Percy Grimm?

Works Cited

Bennett, Warren. “Character, Irony, and Resolution in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” American Literature 42 (1970): 70-79.

———. “The Characterization and the Dialogue Problem in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Hemingway Review 9 (Spring 1990): 94-123.

Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1990.

Brenner, Gerry. “A Lamp on the Anxiety in Hemingway's ‘Vital Light.’” Scafella 246-55.

Dolch, Martin. “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Insight I: Analyses of American Literature. Ed. John V. Hagopian and Martin Dolch. Frankfurt am Main: Hirschgraben, 1962. 105-11.

Frakes, James R. Rev. of Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction, by Joseph M. Flora. Studies in Short Fiction 27 (1990): 275-77.

Hagopian, John V. “Tidying Up Hemingway's ‘Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Studies in Short Fiction 1 (1964): 140-46.

Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” pencil ms. Item 337. John F. Kennedy Library, Boston. © The Ernest Hemingway Foundation.

———. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” ts, ribbon copy and carbon. Items SS381, 382. U of Delaware Library, Newark. © The Ernest Hemingway Foundation.

———. “Ernest Hemingway.” Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, Second Series. Ed. George Plimpton. New York: Viking, 1963. 215-39.

———. For Whom the Bell Tolls. New York: Scribner's, 1939.

———. Green Hills of Africa. New York: Scribner's, 1935.

———. Winner Take Nothing. New York: Scribner's, 1933.

Hoffman, Steven K. “Nada and the Clean, Well-Lighted Place: The Unity of Hemingway's Short Fiction.” Benson 172-91.

Hotchner, A. E. Papa Hemingway. New York: Random, 1966.

Hovey, Richard. “Islands in the Stream: Death and the Artist.” Hemingway: A Revaluation. Ed. Donald R. Noble. Troy, NY: Whitston, 1983. 241-62.

Iannone, Carol. “Depression-as-Disease.” Commentary 90 (November 1990): 54, 56-57.

———.et al. Letters. Commentary 91 (March 1991): 10-13.

Kerner, David. “Counterfeit Hemingway: A Small Scandal in Quotation Marks.” Journal of Modern Literature 12 (1985): 91-108.

———. “The Foundation of the True Text of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1979: 279-300.

———. “Hemingway's Attention to ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Hemingway Review 12 (1993), forthcoming.

———. “Hemingway's Trail to British Anti-Metronomic Dialogue.” Literary Research 12 (1987 [1990]): 187-214.

———. “The Manuscripts Establishing Hemingway's Anti-Metronomic Dialogue.” American Literature 54 (1982): 385-96.

———. “The Origins of Hemingway's Anti-Metronomic Dialogue.” Analytical & Enumerative Bibliography ns 2.1 (1988): 12-28.

Ludington, Townsend, ed. The Fourteenth Chronicle: Letters and Diaries of John Dos Passos. Boston: Gambit, 1973.

MacDonald, Scott. “The Confusing Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?” Studies in American Fiction 1 (Spring 1973): 93-101.

Manning, Robert. “Hemingway in Cuba.” Conversations with Ernest Hemingway. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986. 172-89.

May, Charles E. “Is Hemingway's ‘Well-Lighted Place’ Really Clean Now?” Studies in Short Fiction 8 (1971): 326-30.

Parker, Hershel. “Textual Criticism and Hemingway.” Scafella 17-31.

Power, Arthur. Conversations with James Joyce. Ed. Clive Hart. New York: Barnes, 1974.

Reinert, Otto. “Hemingway's Waiters Once More.” College English 20 (1959): 417-18.

Ross, Lillian. Portrait of Hemingway. New York: Simon, 1961.

Scafella, Frank, ed. Hemingway: Essays of Reassessment. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.

Schreiber, Georges. Portraits and Self-Portraits. New York: Houghton, 1936. Rpt. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries, 1968.

Smith, Paul. “A Partial Review: Critical Essays on the Short Stories, 1976-1989.” Benson 375-91.

Styron, William. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. New York: Random, 1990.

Tavernier-Courbin, Jacqueline. “‘Striving for Power’: Hemingway's Classical Neurosis and Creative Force.” MidAmerica V. Ed. David D. Anderson. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1978. 76-95.

David Kerner (essay date 1993)

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SOURCE: “Hemingway's Attention to ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. 13, No. 1, Fall, 1993, pp. 48-62.

[In the following essay, Kerner rejects Warren Bennett's position regarding the dialogue controversy and interprets the questionable passages in the story as Hemingway's deliberate use of anti-metronomic dialogue.]

If our professed boredom with the controversy over the emendation in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is how we deny our evasion of Hemingway's challenge—for no one has explained the purpose of the clearly deliberate ambiguity in the dialogue—two new pieces of evidence may soften our reluctance to trust the unemended text. We haven't forgotten that in 1956 the poet Judson Jerome wrote Hemingway that since the third patch of dialogue opens as follows—

“He's drunk now,” he said.


“He's drunk every night.”


“What did he want to kill himself for?”

—and the first speech here is the younger waiter's, it “does not make sense” for the older waiter, in speech 22, to be found saying, “‘You said she cut him down,’” since this waiter has been answering the questions that begin with speech 3. Hemingway replied, “Dear Asst Professor Jerome: I just read the story over and it makes sense to me. Sorry.”1We are sorry he did not explain. In 1965, knowing nothing of this exchange, Scribner's accepted the Dolch/Hagopian conjecture that a printer had misplaced the apparently inconsistent line, and the line was tacked onto speech 21, spoken by the younger waiter. We seem to have been able to live with this wholesale alteration, which, without further tampering, redistributes 19 other unattributed speeches. The most intelligent discussion of the story (still Steven K. Hoffman's) deftly sidesteps the problem, as though we understand well enough what Hemingway was up to, whether the speeches are distributed his way or Hagopian's. In thirty-four years, only Joseph F. Gabriel has ventured to decipher what the ambiguity does for the story. He, unfortunately, like Hagopian, failed to weigh his hypothesis, for either credibility or usefulness, against an interpretation based on the suggestion Otto Reinert had made. In the second line of dialogue above, the younger waiter (Reinert suggested) unexpectedly speaks again after a “reflective pause”—an attribution that makes dramatic sense (the younger waiter needs to hear himself talk—he says things twice); and Reinert inferred a second such juxtaposition, this time for the older waiter, in speeches 13-14.2 Since then, in the other work Hemingway proofread, we have found 40 such deviations from the typographical convention for dialogue, 10 of them without attribution in either line. We know too where he learned the practise.3

Before examining the new evidence, one must realize that the case for the emendation rests on the supposition that Hemingway, after writing the story at white heat, never reread it attentively, either in typescript or proof or when Jerome questioned the confusing line. What makes this supposition necessary can be demonstrated by a simple experiment: visualizing Hemingway rereading the third patch of dialogue. Warren Bennett, in his latest defense of the emendation, argues that “Hemingway was not writing anti-metronomic dialogue” in this story (110). Let us follow where this leads. The question in speech 3 above is the first in a series of five questions—all, according to Bennett, asked by the younger waiter; and each time, the answer is given by the older waiter. Hemingway, rereading, swings back and forth, and does so again in lines 13-14. Line 15 begins a six-speech set of protests and defenses—the younger waiter complains about the old man, and the older waiter counters the complaint: here, no reader, let alone Hemingway, could have any question who is speaking. And when the older waiter, in speech 18, says, “‘He had a wife once too,’” this line, according to Bennett (115), reaffirms in Hemingway's mind that this waiter is the one who knows about the old man's life and therefore is the one who has been telling about the suicide attempt.4 Then come speeches 19-22:

“A wife would be no good to him now.”


“You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.”


“His niece looks after him.”


“I know. You said she cut him down.”

In lines 19-20, which complete the six-speech set of complaint and defense, Hemingway knows, obviously, that 19 is the younger waiter's complaint, and 20 the older waiter's defense. Line 21, therefore, by its resistance to line 20, is just as obviously the younger waiter's. Well, after swinging metronomically, without deviation, from younger waiter to older, younger waiter to older, for 20 very short speeches—during which Hemingway, from the start, has the great advantage over us of knowing (according to Bennett) that it is the younger waiter who is asking the questions—nevertheless, when Hemingway comes to the eleventh consecutive metronomic swing from younger waiter to older, he does not notice that “‘I know’” precedes “‘You said she cut him down.’” This reversal of his alleged intention does not jar him (though it would mean that in his own mind he had misassigned 19 other speeches), he does not say to himself, “Wait a minute. That's not where I put the line.” Try it. The conjectured oversight is not possible when you “know” that the older waiter is the one telling of the suicide attempt, and that all the speeches are metronomic. Overlooking the alleged inconsistency is possible only for someone without prior knowledge of which waiter is saying what, someone with no notion that it matters which waiter is telling of the suicide attempt—someone who can read the third dialogue without noticing the problem. And as Scott MacDonald pointed out in 1973, if speeches 21-22 “are correct as they are printed” in the original version, “then it is clear that Hemingway does ignore dialogue conventions” in this story (101n). There is no alternative.

To prove, then, that “‘You said she cut him down’” belongs where Hemingway put it, we need do no more than establish that he reread the story attentively at least once.5 And this is what the typescript that surfaced in 1987 establishes, in conjunction with the following unpublished handwritten note, which Hemingway, in Key West, sent Alfred Dashiell, managing editor of Scribner's Magazine, on 26 January 1933:

Thursday


Jan


Dear Dashiell,


Here is the proof—Am sending it air-mail—Hope you get it in time. The corrections wont be difficut [sic] to make! Two semi-colons to go in and one word—(the word) (not) to come out.


Just got here last night—send this off—air mail—Special Delivery today.


Yours always—


Ernest Hemingway6

The corrections identify “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” now that we have the typescript: there are only two semi-colons in the story as it appeared in Scribner's Magazine in March, and neither of them is in the typescript, so the deletion must have been of the duplicate “not” in “nada us not not into nada” (4).7 The identification is confirmed by Dashiell's reply on the 30th:

Thanks for your promptness in returning the proofs. They got under the wire and the changes are made.


We expect to use “Homage to Switzerland” in the April number, and hope very much that we may have the third story for the May Scribner's. If it can be longer than the first two, so much the better.

Since Hemingway had mailed the corrected proof of “Homage to Switzerland” on 28 September 1932, and “the third story” had not been submitted, the “proofs” Dashiell had been in a hurry to have were the two pages “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” filled in the March issue.8

Now, if Hemingway could twice be stopped by what struck him as a defective rhythm—for neither of the semi-colons he inserted is conventional, and at least one of them would never have been suggested by a copy editor or proofreader (it was removed in Winner Take Nothing)9—then Hemingway, reading the page proof, was hearing what he read. Nothing, then, authorizes a conjecture that when he came to the line “‘You said she cut him down,’” he did not hear the older waiter say it; and since its meaning was inescapable and crucial, we must infer that Hemingway wanted the line where it was.

In a less obvious way, his deletion of the “not” leads to the same conclusion. Though the possibility that a proofreader or copy editor had queried the two “not”s cannot be dismissed, nothing in Hemingway's letter warrants that conjecture. The exclamation point gives his announcement the air of a news bulletin meant to reassure an apprehensive audience: Dashiell, with the March issue locked up, was concerned what troublesome changes Hemingway might want to make, and Hemingway was happily reporting how simply the corrections could be made. Moreover, if the extra “not” had come with a query, Dashiell, with his concern, would have noticed it, and Hemingway then should have felt no need for the caution that impelled him, despite his hurry, to take a moment, in his letter, to identify what word he had deleted—a caution doubly evident in his finding the identification incomplete until, in the grip of an afterthought, he had squeezed “the word” above the “not.

Whatever doubt these inferences may fail to dispel loses its significance when we realize that the letter proves Hemingway had been attentive to the typescript, where he had missed the duplicate “not” because the first “not” ends the line—the eye cannot take in the two “not”s in a single glance. Since the “not not” was in the page proof—whether with or without the query the typescript's placement of these two “not”s should have prompted—we cannot reasonably doubt that the “y y” in “It all was nada y pues nada y y pues nada” (4) would also have been in the page proof if this error had been uncorrected in the typescript Hemingway had sent Maxwell Perkins. That the “y y” was not in the page proof, we know from Hemingway's letter: the duplicate “not” was the only substantive error transmitted from typescript to proof. Therefore Hemingway himself must have restored the “nada” omitted between the two “y”s: we know a “nada” is missing from the surviving typescript, because we know the published story; the typesetter, copy editor, and proofreader who kept the “not not” (probably without querying it) allow us no grounds for conjecturing that they, without the holograph, could have seen through the “y y” and inserted the missing “nada.” One concludes that Hemingway had restored this “nada” on the lost carbon that became the setting copy,10 since neither of the surviving copies of the typescript carries a single printer's mark, and there is no date. On receiving a typescript, the Scribner Press would stamp the date in an upper corner of the first page.11

Of the other serious mistakes in the surviving typescript, the one we might expect a copy editor or proofreader to have noticed (if Hemingway had not already corrected it) is the missing comma in “The old man stood up slowly counted the saucers” (3; see JFK 337:5). But if Hemingway was queried here—as he would have had to be—where was the query made? It was not in the proof he corrected in Key West, and the evidence indicates he had not seen earlier proof when he was in New York. In any case, nothing permits us to assume that anyone but Hemingway initiated the three remaining significant changes. Where the holograph has a period followed by a capital “W” beginning “‘With all those who do not want to go to bed’” (7), the typescript has a comma and lower-case “w” (4). Since the comma was mechanically correct, and the possibility of a faulty rhythm was not the sort of thing the Press was invited to look for in Hemingway's work, one must doubt that the people who let the “not not” through would have paused here. At best—a remote best—there would have been a query. The letter of 26 January shows there was no such query. Even more clearly, where the typescript reads “It was no fear or dread” (4), Scribner's Magazine substitutes “not” for the “no,” because Hemingway (one must assume) had repaired the typescript's omission of the immediately preceding sentence in the holograph (“He did not fear.”[9]). This was a revision, not a correction. With Hemingway, the mission of the Press was to correct routine errors, not volunteer “improvements.” The last mistake was here:

“I don't want to look at him.”


“I wish he would go home. He has no regard for those who must work.”

(3)

In the holograph the first of these speeches is only an insertion (4) inside the opening quotation mark of what the typist set off as a second speech. The reasonable inference here is that Hemingway, in the setting copy, restored the single speech he had written. No one at the Press knew what Hemingway had written, so it is unlikely that anyone there would have made this correction, since the Press left unchanged the two anti-metronomic juxtapositions in “Homage to Switzerland” in April and the one in “Give Us a Prescription, Doctor” in May.12

The other new piece of evidence may not, at first, seem particularly relevant. The emendation, we must remember, asks us to believe that Hemingway, reading page proof for Winner Take Nothing, again was inattentive. Yet there was a single obvious substantive mistake in the book, and no one at the Press noticed it—Hemingway is the one who caught it. The untold story of this incident must be reported in enough detail to leave the reader no doubt of its bearing here.

On 2 August 1933, writing Hemingway that the Winner Take Nothing galleys would be going out to Havana that afternoon, Perkins advised him not to keep “The Light of the World” first, and added, “I have underlined the words and phrases I think you ought to get around.” The galleys did not reach Hemingway before he sailed for Spain. In an undated handwritten letter, probably sent when a second set of galleys went out, now to Madrid, on 14 August, Perkins said again: “I'm enclosing the places marked that seem to me to be especially questionable.” This gave Hemingway an extra copy of the first galley of “The Light of the World”; and here, in pencil, he crossed out what Perkins had underlined in ink—“‘Up your ass’” and two “‘bugger’”s—and substituted “‘You know where’” and two “‘interfere with’”s that he found questionable, for in the left margin he posted two question marks (JFK 222a). But on the galley he returned he crossed out one word too many:

“Ever interfere with a cook?” he said to me.


“No.”


“You interfere with this one,” he looked at the cook. “He likes it.”13

The mistake is Hemingway's: the handwriting in the substituted words is the same as that on the galley he kept.14

On 22 September, the day after Scribner's mailed Hemingway the page proof, Perkins wrote him, “If you strike anything wrong, and can wire it, do that.” On 25 September Perkins assured Hemingway that “a few … obvious little typographical errors have been corrected. Don't bother about them. The proof has been very carefully read, minutely.” On 5 October: “We are going right ahead with the book. … And if there are any small things you want to change that won't upset the re-paging, we can do it even in the first edition in unbound copies. … But I do not think anything will be wrong.” Perkins never mentions the mistake. On 20 October Hemingway cabled: “PROOF OK PAGE THIRTY SHOULD READ YOU CAN INTERFERE WITH THIS ONE.” But I have yet to find the “can” in a copy of the first edition, and later printings too leave the mistake uncorrected, indicating that neither Perkins nor the Press found it anything to get excited about, so we have no reason to imagine that Hemingway's correction may have been a response to a lost query.15 Consequently—since the page proof, according to Perkins, had been read at the Press “very carefully … minutely,” and the correction was not made even when Hemingway's cable came in—the incident lends no support to a conjecture that anyone at the Press would have stopped or even queried the “not not,” “y y,” and at least three of the four other serious errors in the Delaware typescript. The reasonable inference, once more, is that it was Hemingway who caught those errors, just as he caught the missing “can.”

The indications that Hemingway went over “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” attentively at least four times—in the setting copy, the Scribner's Magazine proof, and the Winner Take Nothing galleys16 and page proof—permit a thorough reappraisal of Warren Bennett's conjecture in 1979 that Hemingway was confused when he inserted “‘You said she cut him down.’”

First: In the holograph, precisely at the point of the alleged inconsistency (see Bennett's reproduction, 621), Hemingway, at first, again juxtaposed two speeches for the younger waiter:

“His niece looks after him.”


“I wouldnt want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”

(4)

Between these speeches, there is silence—the older waiter keeps his comment to himself, as at the opening of the third dialogue. The silence invites the younger waiter to speak again: he has been thinking of the unpleasantness the niece must endure—she must have to clean up, for example, where the old man, shaky, misses the toilet. The coherence linking these two speeches makes it impossible for Hemingway to have been unaware that the speech he later inserted between them—“‘I know’”—was the older waiter's response to the younger waiter's “‘His niece looks after him,’” which had expressed this waiter's resistance to the older waiter's immediately preceding “‘He might be better with a wife.’” For Bennett, however, the coherent juxtaposition of those two speeches by the younger waiter was a “confusion in the dialogue sequence” that “must have still lingered in Hemingway's mind” when Hemingway returned again to the passage (620), since now, Bennett conjectured, Hemingway added “‘You said she cut him down’” to “‘I know’” because “he probably thought” “‘His niece looks after him’” was the older waiter's line, and “‘I know’” the younger waiter's.

Second: The mechanics of the insertion indicate Hemingway's care in placing “‘You said she cut him down.’” He added it on the same line-level as “‘I know’”; writing the “‘Y’” over the quotation mark closing “‘I know,’” he obliterated the first of the inverted commas and left the second a meaningless speck (see the reproduction), and he did nothing to the quotation mark closing “‘His niece looks after him.’”17 Clearly, Hemingway wanted the second insertion to follow and join the first—and there are no grounds for imagining he could not remember he had given “‘I know’” to the older waiter. Yet Bennett asks us to believe that at the very moment Hemingway was adding the indispensable line informing us that the younger waiter is the one who has been telling of the suicide attempt, Hemingway could have thought “‘His niece looks after him’” was the older waiter's line because this waiter (according to Bennett) has been telling about the suicide attempt.

Third: Since “‘I know’” was inserted first (meaning “‘[Yes,] I know [his niece looks after him (though I hadn't heard he tried to kill himself)—but a niece is not a wife].’”), how can this insertion have been meant as a response to the second insertion, which had not yet been written? The second insertion makes sense only as a continuation of the first: “‘I know [how the niece ‘looks after him’:] You said she cut him down [—she was not doing him a favor].’” Moreover, when we switch the second insertion, making it precede the first, the direct response of “‘I know’” to “‘His niece looks after him’” is clumsily deflected—the older waiter can seem to be saying, incongruously and fatuously, “‘I know [I said she cut him down].’” And the switch presumes that the dialogue has been metronomic throughout, which means we already know who said the niece “‘cut him down,’” so the second insertion, which was crucial where Hemingway put it, becomes pointless when it is given to the younger waiter, since “‘His niece looks after him.’” in itself needs no explanation.18

Fourth: The assurance with which Bennett attributes to Hemingway a manifestly impossible misreading and reverses the intention of the two insertions, dismantling their coherence, was based on the assumption that the typographical convention of alternating speakers is inviolate. Yet by 1973 Scott MacDonald had identified, in Hemingway's other work, 9 abrogations of this convention. One must ask why Bennett—instead of investigating what this resolution of the problem might do for our understanding of the story—preferred to see, in the two originally juxtaposed speeches of the younger waiter here, a “confusion” inviting a cluster of untenable conjectures.

Fifth: The insertion of “‘I know’” was not a mechanical restoration of metronomic rhythm. Though the anti-metronomic juxtaposition Hemingway had written here (a third one) was obvious, he saw that this clarity would not stop us from reading speeches 1-2 and 13-14 metronomically; we would still think the older waiter is telling of the suicide attempt, and the far-reaching purpose of the ambiguity in the first and second dialogues would be lost. (The emendation blithely disregards this context of the alleged inconsistency.) The third anti-metronomic passage, serving no purpose, offered Hemingway an opening for the information we needed. But after inserting “‘I know,’” he decided we could easily miss the implied “‘[though I hadn't heard he tried to kill himself].’” The disputed insertion itself, then, establishes Hemingway's awareness of the two anti-metronomic passages he was keeping: we infer their presence because he would not otherwise have found it necessary to surprise us with “‘You said she cut him down,’” which, by forcing us to wrestle with the apparent inconsistency, underscores the opening ambiguity, warning us that its purpose is not to be shrugged off.

So the argument that the passage shows confusion is as gratuitous as it is groundless. The notion that Hemingway was confused here is a projection of the uninitiated reader's own initial confusion, when there seems to be no way out of the apparent inconsistency.

In 1990, in lieu of the conjectured confusion, Bennett “documents” the “particularly serious trouble [Hemingway was having with his eyes] in 1932, from April through November”; for “difficulty with blurred vision … can cause lines on a page to appear to be where they are not” (104). That is, what Hemingway actually saw on page 4 of the holograph (and saw again in the typescript, galleys, and page proof) was what he (according to Bennett) had meant to write:

“His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”


“I know.”

By limiting this fantasy to 1932, does Bennett spare himself the need to search for 40 other such recurring hallucinations in the work Hemingway proofread?

The two holograph details Bennett relied on in 1979, he again depends on in 1990, without considering the objections that undermine his use of them. (See Appendix A.) He can now admit “it is possible to find instances of anti-metronomic dialogue in Hemingway's published work” (98); but when he runs across such a passage (as in “Fathers and Sons,” WTN 238.9-10), he calls it “inadvertent” and a “lapse” (100) and asks, “Why did Hemingway [do this]? Did he himself become confused?” (103), for Hemingway “preferred, if he caught it, that the dialogue be metronomic” (100), but “on numerous occasions he lost track of who was speaking” (104). Bennett fails to establish either part of this linkage. Only three of the “numerous occasions” are offered, and not one of them supports the charge. (See Appendix B.) When we include some of the posthumously published books, there are at least 55 instances of anti-metronomic dialogue in Hemingway's work; but, except for the passage in “Fathers and Sons,” which Bennett tries, unsuccessfully, to dispute, he doesn't mention them, not even the fourteen-line exchange in Across the River and Into the Trees that matches the dual instance in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (Kerner, “Counterfeit” 104-105). Moreover, when Hemingway was questioned point-blank about the troubling line, he stood firm and made no change. This alone should prove that the emendation has no authority; for Bennett, however, the rebuff to Jerome means, somehow, that Hemingway was tacitly admitting his “mistake” (107).19 Yet the emendation distorts the characterization and hamstrings Hemingway's achievement, cutting off what the ambiguity does to enlarge our understanding of the story.

APPENDIX A. SPEECHES 1-2 AND 13-14

1. Bennett argues (108-09) that since a run-on line on page 3 of the holograph attaches speech 1, “‘He's drunk now,’ he said,” to the end of the preceding paragraph, this canceled indentation (left uncanceled by the typist) shows that Hemingway meant speech 2, “‘He's drunk every night,’” to be the older waiter's—an inference Bennett thinks is confirmed by the original shift from “‘tanked’” in speech 1 to “‘stewed’” in speech 2. The canceled pejorative slang, however, indicates that the younger waiter had both speeches—an inference confirmed by the repeated substitution “‘drunk’”; and since the run-on line was drawn before the two “‘drunk’”s were substituted (the line was partly erased when Hemingway erased the word superseded by the first “‘drunk’”), the line could not have been meant to indicate that the younger waiter does not have speech 2.20 (To buttress his argument here, Bennett calls Hemingway's pencil line inserting “‘I don't want to look at him’” another “run-on line” “the typist did not understand” [109]. But that insertion-line is no different from seven other such lines, of varying length, all of which the typist followed, beginning with one on page 2.) Bennett again relies on the surface of diction, rather than its substance, when he argues that the waiter who says, “‘You should have killed yourself last week’” must be the one who says “‘What did he want to kill himself for?,’” and could not be the one saying, “‘Last week he tried to commit suicide.’” Both these expressions are in the public domain, without power to characterize the speaker. And the plaintiveness of the protest “‘What did he want to kill himself for?’”—a plaintiveness echoing “‘How do you know it was nothing?’”—is inconsistent with “‘You should have killed yourself last week.’”

2. In the holograph an “x” (Hemingway's period) follows “Anyway” when the older waiter modifies his assurance in speech 13:

“He must be eighty years old.”


“Anyway I should say he was eighty.”

Bennett argues that the typist's omission of the period destroys Hemingway's use of “‘Anyway’” as a rendition of a Spanish expression that shows the older waiter agreeing with the younger waiter. But if speech 13 is the younger waiter's, then speech 2 (“‘He's drunk every night.’”) has to be the older waiter's—the entire passage would be metronomic. This puts us back where we started: if Hemingway could misassign “‘You said she cut him down’” when he knew the entire passage was metronomic and the younger waiter was asking the questions, then Hemingway never reread the passage attentively—and the evidence makes this supposition untenable. Just as with the run-on line, Bennett assigns the “x” a significance it did not have for Hemingway. Also, how is it logical for Bennett to find the holograph sacrosanct in the case of the “x” but without authority in the placement of “‘You said she cut him down’”? For one thing, we should not dismiss the possibility that the “x” may be a comma: in the holograph of “Homage to Switzerland” we find “‘Hmx’ said the gentlemanx” (JFK 476-3:8). And while the alleged period disappears, the disputed line stays in one place, from holograph through typescript to magazine and book. Since Hemingway, in the magazine proof, took the trouble to insert two insignificant semi-colons, it is reasonable to infer that he did not want a period after “‘Anyway.’” (Similarly, he preserved the typescript “marched,” which he could not have failed to know was not the “walked” he had written [in “walked out to the old man's table” (3)]. Who the typist was is a mystery of some importance. One is at a loss to explain how a careless typist could have turned the clear “walked” into the highly significant “marched” [2], and on page 3 dropped “opened it, chose coins from among the silver,” which had been made redundant by the holograph revision “leaving and restored the meaningful “too” [4] that Hemingway had buried under a scribble, inserting a new period before it [9]. Moreover, from the bottom of page 3 to the end, skipped spaces appear before closing quotation marks, as well as after opening quotation marks—a characteristic of Hemingway's typing.) Finally, Bennett argues that since speech 13 is the last line on page 3, and “‘Anyway’” begins page 4, this separation is “visual evidence … that the two lines are not anti-metronomic” (110). This is a non sequitur. The second anti-metronomic juxtaposition in “Homage to Switzerland” (WTN [Winner Take Nothing] 126.9-10) is similarly divided between two pages of the holograph (3:11-12), and so is the first such passage Hemingway published (Kerner, “Manuscripts” 387).

APPENDIX B. HEMINGWAY'S OTHER ANTI-METRONOMIC DIALOGUE

1. First, Bennett quotes Hemingway on an early draft of “My Old Man”: “When I finished it it was stinko. Had gotten all mixed up with the people” (99). “My Old Man,” however, has almost no dialogue—where can Hemingway have “lost track” of who was saying what? The phrase “mixed up with the people” criticizes a maudlin identification with the characters (see Hemingway on Sherwood Anderson, in connection with “My Old Man” [“Art” 12]). Then:

(a) Bennett does not deny the juxtaposition of Trudy's “‘All right’” and “‘Give me kiss on the face’” (WTN 238.9-10)—he is merely puzzled. The preceding lines of dialogue are no less deliberate—only less clear. The gun and shells, however, are Nick's, so Billy can't assume the squirrel he has shot belongs to him; the right to make the offer “‘You can have the squirrel’” is Nick's—and the line's syntax, as well as the authority, matches Nick's “‘You can take the gun’” in the preceding scene. Nick is not asking Trudy if she “‘want[s] to hunt tomorrow’”—she doesn't need the euphemism, nor does he need to question her availability. Billy too—not only Trudy—says “‘All right.’”

(b) In the rejected passage from “Fathers and Sons” (unfinished and therefore inadmissible) Bennett again attributes to Trudy two clearly juxtaposed speeches, so there is no basis for a claim that Hemingway had “lost track”; nor may Bennett claim that “Hemingway cut the entire scene” because “he was not interested in anti-metronomic dialogue” (102), since there is no escaping Trudy's two speeches at 238.9-10.

(c) Bennett quotes as follows a passage from Fiesta:

“Let us rejoice in our blessings. Let us utilize the product of the vine. Will you utilize a little Brother <?”=


“After you.”


Jake Bill took a long drink.

Bennett comments: “Here, Hemingway momentarily confuses, first himself with Jake, and then Jake with Bill … once he crossed out ‘Ernest,’ he evidently lost track of who says ‘“After you,”’ and who it is who takes ‘a long drink’” (103). But the quotation mark before the deleted “Jake” indicates that Hemingway was thinking of giving Bill a speech here, possibly a toast. And what Hemingway wrote, in ink, and then lined out, was not “Ernest” but “Barnes” (JFK 194, notebook 4, page 10, right leaf).

2. The insertion of Cayetano's “‘Truly’” (WTN 215) is offered as proof that Hemingway “consciously tried to write ‘metronomic’ dialogue … even if he had to insert a dead line to do so” (100). Why, then, does Bennett withhold the following passage in the story?

“I don't know,” Mr. Frazer said. “It is rented.”


“You gentlemen are friends of Cayetano?”

(203)

Only Frazer could speak the second line—Hemingway did not “lose track.” This is equally true of the revised passage:

“Truly?”


“And what is there to do?”

(JFK 417:16)

Hemingway could not have carried these lines from holograph to typescript without being aware that both lines were Frazer's. The later insertion would then be not a correction but a revision, with a dramatic purpose, and this conclusion holds if there was no holograph. Is the “‘Truly’” “a dead line”? Frazer wants to know whether Cayetano's bad luck “‘with everything and with women’” was comic hyperbole, and silence could be misinterpreted. Such an inference is indisputable in the “‘bugger’” passage from “Fathers and Sons” (WTN 229.19-23): Bennett concedes that the answer Hemingway interpolated for Nick is dramatically appropriate, not a mechanical metronomic swing (99-100).

Notes

  1. Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.

  2. The doubling simplifies the difficulty: each passage confirms the other, assuring us that both are deliberate. See Kerner, “Foundation” 284-85; “Manuscripts” 385n; “Counterfeit” 104-05. Warren Bennett argues that Hemingway had no interest in “trying to educate his readers” to recognize anti-metronomic dialogue (“Characterization” 100). Only such an interest, however, can explain why, in the 259 pages of SAR, with perhaps 3000 lines of dialogue, the four anti-metronomic passages appear in two close pairs (on the same page [218] or within a page of each other [85-86]) when only one passage from each pair is found in the holograph.

  3. Kerner, “Counterfeit” 99-104; “Origins” 13-15; “Trail” 189-96.

  4. Nothing prevents our taking “‘He had a wife once too’” as common knowledge. That the account of the suicide attempt is given by the younger waiter is indicated by his having waited until he is eager to close the café—the delay makes the account merely an offshoot of his impatience to go home.

  5. This could have been taken for granted. The revisions in the holograph show close attention; and why should Hemingway have been less careful with this story for the March 1933 Scribner's Magazine than he was with his stories in the April and May issues? In “Homage to Switzerland,” in April, there is a single substantive change—“‘drink’” (206.1.4)—which one naturally attributes to Hemingway, since “‘drinken’” (JFK 477:6) was obviously part of Mr. Johnson's initial “clowning with the language.” In “Give Us a Prescription, Doctor” (later retitled “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio”), there are forty-six substantive deviations from the latest surviving typescript (JFK 420), all of them authorial—they are revisions and additions.

  6. This letter and those quoted later are at Princeton, in the Firestone Library, Manuscript Collection, The Charles Scribner's Sons Archive I, Ernest Hemingway, AM 21984, Boxes 2 and 3. The computer's embrace of “the word not” is the closest the machine could come to Hemingway's single set of plain but roomy parentheses.

  7. University of Delaware Library (SS 381, 382).

  8. Lest anyone be misled by Carlos Baker's note reporting that Hemingway's letter of 26 January included the proofs of “Homage to Switzerland” (606), one must add that there are six semi-colons in the magazine version, and all six are in the setting copy (JFK 477).

  9. The one in “‘No,’ the waiter who was in a hurry said; rising from pulling down the metal shutters.” The other is in “… deliver us from nada; pues nada.”

  10. If Hemingway saw galleys when he was in New York in January, the “not not” could not have been queried there, since it got through to the page proof. One must therefore assume that the printer would have printed the “y y” too if it had been in the typescript; this error would then have reached the copy editor or proofreader, who did their work on foul galleys (see Hinkle 53-54); and their approval of the “not not” without a query gives us no reasonable grounds for conjecturing that they would have queried the “y y.” So since the “y y” was not in the page proof, either Hemingway had caught it himself in the galleys, or it was not in the setting copy. The first of these alternatives requires us to conjecture, arbitrarily, that Hemingway, in New York, while catching the “y y,” not only missed the “not not” in the same passage but also neglected the need for punctuation before the “pues nada” in the same line as the “not not” (though it was he who made both of these corrections in the page proof). Moreover, Perkins visited the Hemingways in Piggott, Arkansas, in mid-December, but Hemingway did not give him the story—it was mailed at the last minute, on 4 January, the day Hemingway drove off. This delay indicates he had not finished going over the typescript. Yet the surviving copies show no authorial attention: the single handwritten correction, a transposition symbol added in ink on the carbon as well as on the ribbon copy (see Smith, “A Note” 37), must have been made by the typist—Hemingway would not have limited himself to this one minor correction, nor would he have entered it on both copies, since he did not bother to record on either copy the corrections that only he could have made on the lost carbon.

  11. Such a date (SEP 10) can be seen on the setting copy of “Homage to Switzerland.” For the Scribner Press—the “separate establishment” at 311 W. 43rd Street that handled Scribner's copy editing, proofreading, and printing (Hinkle 54)—see also Scribner 43-44 and Burlingame 91-93, 111-12. These accounts raise a question about the quality of editorial attention at the Press—Hinkle identifies sixty oversights in the copyediting of The Sun Also Rises (50-51). In addition, the more than one hundred errors in Tender is the Night show that Perkins, as late as 1934, was still protecting Fitzgerald from editors at Scribner's—the typescript went directly from Perkins to the Press; and this was his practice with Hemingway too, who, in offering Perkins three stories for Scribner's Magazine in 1932, warned that he wanted no editorial interference from Dashiell (9 August). See Kerner, “Manuscripts” 392n and “Counterfeit” 106n40.

  12. WTN 121.8-11 up; 126.9-10; 203.1-3 up.

  13. Monroe County Public Library, Key West.

  14. Haste alone, probably, does not account for the mistake: the haste facilitated a Freudian slip, for Hemingway was aware that “interfere with” in this sense applies only when it is used defensively, in protest (as in AMF 18.5 up), but he was too annoyed to care—the mistaken deletion exposes his chagrin that here he was yielding to “interference.”

  15. For the continuing omission of the “can,” see the British first edition (London: Jonathan Cape, 1934) and the Scribner's editions coded D-10.61[MH] and H—9.69 (MC), as well as others. Yet a copy of Perkins's 20 October memo directing the printer to insert the “can” survives. What did the Press do with it?

  16. Here Hemingway seems to have made one last revision: he substituted a period for the Magazine question mark in “‘How should I know?’” We have no reason to attribute this change to anyone at the Press, or to suspect a typo, since the period was Hemingway's original choice in the holograph (3). Reading the galleys, then, Hemingway again heard the waiters' speeches: the period suggests the younger waiter's impatience and indifference.

  17. Paul Smith (Guide 278) follows Bennett (“Manuscript” 620) in describing the second insertion as “slightly above ‘I know’”—a meaningless distinction that is made to seem meaningful by the printer's placement of the new insertion (in Smith's attempt at typographical facsimile) on the line-space between “‘I know’” and the preceding line, “‘His niece looks after him.’” Smith then compounds this misrepresentation by omitting Hemingway's quotation mark closing “‘His niece looks after him’” and keeping the quotation mark Hemingway canceled, that had closed “‘I know.’” These mistakes make Hemingway seem to have meant “‘You said she cut him down’” to go with “‘His niece looks after him’”—an impression reinforced by Smith's asking, “Who was initially responsible for assigning the line, ‘You said she cut him down,’ to the Older rather than to the Younger Waiter?” (“A Note” 37), as though the holograph doesn't show clearly which waiter Hemingway assigned it to.

  18. Bennett himself wonders “why Hemingway felt under the compulsion … to insert a sentence which repeats information which the reader already knows” (“Manuscript” 622n).

  19. George Monteiro, who discovered Jerome's letter, describes Hemingway's reply, at the bottom, as “scrawled” (which Bennett twice embellishes with a “hastily” [106, 107]), though the writing is clear and neat, as George Thomson reports (34). Why didn't Hemingway explain? For two reasons. First: “… it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes … it is not the writer's province to … run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work” (Interview 230). He didn't explain the “Kilimanjaro” leopard: “I know, but I am under no obligation to tell you. Put it down to omertá” (“Art” 8). Second: Since Hemingway had no intention of going into the complex purpose of the ambiguity, mere information about anti-metronomic dialogue would only have made matters worse, as the continuing resistance to recognition of this practice shows (see Kerner, “Foundation” 293n5, “Manuscripts” 394-95, Donaldson 87, and Bier).

  20. For what the run-on line seems to have meant, see Kerner, “Foundation” 290.

Works Cited

Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway, A Life Story. New York: Scribner's, 1969.

Bennett, Warren. “The Manuscript and the Dialogue of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” American Literature 50 (1979): 613-24.

———. “The Characterization and the Dialogue Problem in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Hemingway Review 9 (Spring 1990): 94-123.

Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham: Duke UP, 1990.

Bier, Jesse. “Tornado in a Thimble.” Analytical & Enumerative Bibliography n.s. 2 (1988): 58-60.

Burlingame, Roger. Of Making Many Books. New York: Scribner's, 1946.

Dolch, Martin. “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” In Insight I: Analyses of American Literature. Ed. John V. Hagopian and Martin Dolch. Frankfurt am Main: Hirschgraben, 1962: 105-11.

Donaldson, Scott. “Censorship in A Farewell to Arms.Studies in American Fiction 19 (Spring 1991): 85-93.

Gabriel, Joseph F. “The Logic of Confusion in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” College English 22 (May 1961): 539-46.

Hagopian, John V. “Tidying Up Hemingway's ‘Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Studies in Short Fiction 1 (1964): 140-46.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner's, 1926.

———. Interview. In Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews. Second Series. Ed. George Plimpton. New York: Viking, 1963: 215-39.

———. “The Art of the Short Story” (1959). In Benson: 1-13.

———. A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner's, 1964.

Hinkle, James. “‘Dear Mr. Scribner’—About the Published Text of The Sun Also Rises.Hemingway Review 6 (Fall 1986): 43-64.

Hoffman, Steven K. “Nada and the Clean, Well-Lighted Place: The Unity of Hemingway's Short Fiction” (1979). Rpt. in Benson: 172-91.

Kerner, David. “The Foundation of the True Text of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1979: 279-300.

———. “The Manuscripts Establishing Hemingway's Anti-Metronomic Dialogue.” American Literature 54 (1982): 385-96.

———. “Counterfeit Hemingway: A Small Scandal in Quotation Marks.” Journal of Modern Literature 12 (March 1985): 91-108.

———. “The Origins of Hemingway's Anti-Metronomic Dialogue.” Analytical & Enumerative Bibliography n.s. 2 (1988): 12-28.

———. “Hemingway's Trail to British Anti-Metronomic Dialogue.” Literary Research 12 (1987 [1990]): 187-214.

MacDonald, Scott. “The Confusing Dialogue in Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: A Final Word?” Studies in American Fiction 1 (Spring 1973): 93-101.

Monteiro, George. “Hemingway on Dialogue in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1974: 243.

Reinert, Otto. “Hemingway's Waiters Once More.” College English 20 (1959): 417-18.

Scribner, Charles, Jr. In the Company of Writers: A Life in Publishing. New York: Scribner's, 1990.

Smith, Paul. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989: 277-88.

———. “A Note on a New Manuscript of ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Hemingway Review 8 (Spring 1989): 36-39.

Thomson, George H. “‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’: Interpreting the Original Text.” Hemingway Review 2 (Spring 1983): 32-43.

Ken Ryan (essay date 1998)

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SOURCE: “The Contentious Emendation of Hemingway's ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’” in The Hemingway Review, Vol. 18, Fall, 1998, p. 78.

[In the following essay, Ryan maintains that Scribner's 1965 emendation of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is invalid and should be retracted.]

For nearly forty years, a war of words has been waged, the battlefield being a short passage of dialogue in Hemingway's “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” originally published in Scribner's Magazine in March 1933 and reprinted in the short story collection Winner Take Nothing in October of the same year. The battle has revolved around an apparent inconsistency in dialogue with relation to the identifies of the story's two now-famous waiters. The discrepancy seemed to go unnoticed for nearly twenty-six years, until February 1959, when articles by F. P. Kroeger and William Colburn sparked the conflict. In 1965, Charles Scribner Jr. emended the original text, thus “correcting” the inconsistency, but with the unfortunate side-effect of interchanging the identities of the two waiters. The current situation, as noted by Warren Bennett, is “that there are two different stories by Ernest Hemingway, both titled ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’” (“Characterization” 95).

With the 1965 emendation, the skirmish quickly escalated, pitting those who supported the emendation against those who favored the original text. The battle has been long, and both sides seem to have exhausted their ammunition. Perhaps, then, this temporary lull marks an appropriate opportunity for a review of the history of this conflict, with an eye towards its resolution. In the years since the emendation, a wealth of information and analysis has come to light, and literary responsibility demands that the entire body of evidence be tested against what I consider to be the central question of the controversy: Is the emendation valid?

It is important to recognize from the outset that two conditions must exist before any author's work can rightfully be considered for emendation: 1) substantial evidence that an error has in fact been made, and 2) a substantial lack of evidence that what is perceived as an error is actually a deliberate device of the artist.

Thus, the existence of a “perceived error” is not in and of itself justification for emendation; there is yet another consideration. If the suspected error occurred as an integral part of the act of creation (as opposed to an error of reproduction), one must examine the possibility that it might actually contribute to the art, at least in the eye of the artist. After all, what is creativity if not experimentation? Experimentation implies trial and error, and the line between error and creative genius is not always clearly defined. In other words, a mistake is not always a bad thing; it is possible to have “happy accidents” which actually contribute to the overall effect that the artist is seeking. The artist, while recognizing that his work may be perceived as flawed, sometimes prefers the “imperfection.”

With these guidelines, and in this period of relative calm, let us turn now to the story and its rich history of interpretation. The story takes place in a Spanish café. It is late at night, and two waiters are talking. The subject of their conversation is the only other person in the café, an old man who comes in frequently and stays late, drinking. The reader does not know which waiter speaks first.

“Last week he tried to commit suicide” one waiter said. “Why?” “He was in despair.” “What about?” “Nothing.” “How do you know it was nothing?” “He has plenty of money.”1

A soldier and a girl walk by, evoking a second conversation between the two waiters, again with no indication as to who begins.

“The guard will pick him [the soldier] up,” one waiter said.


“What does it matter if he gets what he's after?”


“He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.”

The old man, who is deaf, signals for another brandy. The younger waiter, clearly perturbed that the old man won't leave, marches out to the old man's table, and hastily serves him his brandy. “You should have killed yourself last week” he says to the deaf man. The younger waiter returns to his colleague. Even here, critics have disagreed over the question of who begins the conversation:

“He's drunk now,” he said. “He's drunk every night.” “What did he want to kill himself for?” “How should I know.” “How did he do it?” “He hung himself with a rope.” “Who cut him down?” “His niece.” “Why did they do it?” “Fear for his soul.” “How much money has he got?” “He's got plenty.” “He must be eighty years old.” “Anyway I should say he was eighty.” “I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o'clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?” “He stays up because he likes it.” “He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.” “He had a wife once too.” “A wife would be no good to him now.” “You can't tell. He might be better with a wife.” “His niece looks after him.” “I know. You said she cut him down.”

At this point in the dialogue, the reader may have noticed a problem in assigning the speeches to the different waiters. With regard to this problem, Colburn notes:

One line … we can assign to the younger waiter, because of information which is brought out later: “‘He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.’” Using this line as a reference point, we can trace backwards in the story the alternate lines and discover that it is … the older waiter who knows the details [about the suicide attempt]. … Counting forward in the story from our reference line, however, we find [that it is the younger waiter who knows]. … Obviously there is an inconsistency here.

(241)

Colburn's analysis does seem to indicate the possible existence of an error, one which Kroeger went so far as to label “an insoluble problem” (240). Before making such a judgment, we are obliged to examine the possibility that the “perceived error” is actually a deliberate device of the artist. When the author is unable to speak for himself, it seems the assumption must be that the text reads correctly, with the onus of proof resting on those who would rewrite his story.

Working from this assumption, Otto Reinert finds:

[The inconsistency] arises from Hemingway's violation of one of the unwritten rules of the art of presenting dialogue visually. The rule is that a new, indented line implies a new speaker. It is a useful rule, but it is not sacrosanct.

(417-8)

Reinert suggests that Hemingway breaks this rule:

[I]t is the young waiter who speaks both “He's drunk now” (because the pronoun reference demands it) and the next speech, “He's drunk every night.” And … it is the old waiter who speaks both “He must be eighty years old” and “Anyway I should say he was eighty.”

(418)

Reinert justifies the original text, saying “Hemingway may have violated the convention in order to suggest a reflective pause” (418) between consecutive speeches by the same speaker. In defense of Reinert's position, David Kerner notes that genuine dialogue is not “uniformly metronomic … [like] a tennis match” (“Origins” 12), and that Hemingway breaks convention not once, but twice, as if to “confirm the deliberateness of the first instance” (“Ambiguity” 563). He also offers a possible explanation for why Hemingway might have turned to such an innovation:

[I]f a speaker pauses between consecutive speeches, why must the novelist throw in a dead expository phrase, breaking the rhythm of the dialogue, merely because [the reader has been conditioned] not to expect a certain perfectly natural irregularity?

(“Foundation” 282)

Kerner's reasoning is particularly applicable to a writer such as Hemingway, who once told his son Gregory, “Never use more words than you have to” (G. Hemingway 105). Scott MacDonald justifies Hemingway's possible departure from the conventional with the following observation:

Literary conventions, after all, are not laws. They are assessments of what authors have done, not of what they must do. It is true that most authors have consistently indented during passages of dialogue in order to indicate that a new speaker is speaking, but this is far from saying either that all writers always adhere to this way of doing things, or that all writers should always adhere to this way of doing things.

(98)

Reinert's reading, combined with Kerner's and MacDonald's defenses, casts grave doubt upon the validity of the emendation, because it supports the hypothesis that the apparent inconsistency results from Hemingway's intentional violation of standard dialogue conventions.

Edward Stone notes that it is possible to view the dialogue as a translation from Spanish to English. Regarding the possibility that “He must be eighty years old” and “Anyway I should say he was eighty” are both spoken by the same speaker, he maintains “this would be truer of conversational idiom in English than in Spanish” (240). But, as Kerner points out, “even if the younger waiter does say ‘Anyway. I should say he was eighty,’ he still has the next line, ‘I wish he would go home,’ so the principle of Reinert's solution still holds” (“Foundation” 297).

Returning to the English language, notice the similarity of the lines in question: “He's drunk now” and “He's drunk every night”; “He must be eighty years old” and “Anyway I should say he was eighty.” In each instance, the second utterance is little more than a reconfirmation of the first. It is also true that all four lines in question can be completely removed from the story without the loss of any important information; we already know that the man is old, and that he is frequently drunk. The similarity of the four lines in question, the fact that they provide the reader with no important new information, and the fact that they occur in a story that is consummately distilled and concise all reinforce the idea that Hemingway chose these lines carefully.

Joseph F. Gabriel, in 1961, offered a different opinion regarding the inconsistency in the long dialogue. His explanation is founded in his observations concerning the ambiguities in the first two dialogues. On first reading the first dialogue, it is impossible to know the respective identities of the two waiters. As Kerner observes, “the deliberateness of the uninformative ‘one waiter said’ is undeniable” (“Ambiguity” 561). The second dialogue is equally unrevealing, using the same uninformative tag line.

A closer study of these first two dialogues reveals far deeper ambiguities. Gabriel reminds us that we have good reason to believe that the waiters may be different types: “We are of two different kinds, the older waiter said.” From here, Gabriel postulates:

Since the story is about … nada … the reasonable inference is that the two waiters differ most … in their divergent interpretations of this word and its English equivalent, nothing

(541)

Gabriel then demonstrates how, in the first dialogue, the reference to “nothing” can be logically attributed to either or both of the waiters. He utilizes the following glosses:

Y.W. “Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.


O.W. “Why?”


Y.W. “He was in despair.”


O.W. “What about?”


Y.W. “Nothing.” (For no reason)


O.W. “How do you know it was nothing?”


Y.W. “He has plenty of money.” (With plenty of money, there is no reason for despair) and:


O.W. “Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.


Y.W. “Why?”


O.W. “He was in despair.”


Y.W. “What about?”


O.W. “Nothing.” (Chaos, meaninglessness)


Y.W. “How do you know it was nothing?” (Misunderstanding the older waiter's use of “‘Nothing.’”)


O.W. “He has plenty of money.” (Inasmuch as he has plenty of money, his despair, does not derive from any merely material want.)

(Gabriel 542)

Next, Gabriel shows how the second dialogue can also be attributed to either or both of the waiters. The line “What does it matter if he gets what he's after,” Gabriel points out, can be attributed to the younger waiter because he is preoccupied with sex; with equal validity, it can be attributed to the older waiter because “from the perspective of despair, what can it matter that the soldier might be picked up by the guard. In a virtually meaningless world … one makes one's little meaningful moments as one can” (543).

Further evidence points toward a purposeful blending of the identities of the two waiters. As David Lodge observes, “the last sentence of the first paragraph presents the two waiters as a single unit of consciousness” (49). Nothing that Hemingway does not give any of the characters a name, William B. Bache finds that this absence implies “that these characters should be regarded not so much as identifiable persons but as symbols … the three characters are actually parts of an implied progression from youth through middle age to old age” (64). Furthermore, the line “An hour is the same” can be seen as uniting all three characters into one, if it is viewed as an assertion of man's mortal nature. An hour is the same insofar as it brings each of them one hour closer to death.

With regard to the actualization of multiple meaning, Gabriel concludes: “Clearly it can only be accounted for as part of a deliberate plan, a function of the author's mode of execution” (544). Gabriel's analysis presents strong evidence pointing toward the apparent likelihood that Hemingway's ambiguity in the first two dialogues is indeed carefully crafted, and therefore purposeful. This observation gives rise to Gabriel's comments with regard to the inconsistency in the long dialogue:

[I]f the word “‘Nothing’” when spoken in the first exchange is to be a complex term … it becomes necessary that the speaker not be identified … [which] in turn demands that the waiter who knows [about the suicide] not be identified. … Indeed, it is only through this inconsistency that the ambiguity of the first exchange can be maintained.

(544)

The inconsistency in the third dialogue does create an undeniable sense of unreliable narration. This troubling quality is heightened by Hemingway's use of the plural pronoun “they” to refer to the singular nouns “the guard” and “his niece” as well as by his use of the period to punctuate the question “How should I know.” Gabriel explains such unreliability, nothing how the dialogue in the story operates on two levels. …

in the conventional manner, discursively … and … symbolically, actually representing through its construction the kind of world … [the older waiter] experiences. … [creating for the reader] a world where meaning is no longer guaranteed by omniscience.

(545)

The third dialogue is not vexed by the same uninformative “one waiter said” that plagues the first two dialogues; rather, this dialogue is introduced with the marginally more revealing “he said.” Regarding this pronoun, John V. Hagopian notes, “All of the critics recognize, with varying degrees of distress, that the speaker must be the young waiter who has returned from serving the old man”(145). At least one critic disagrees: Bennett observes that “he” can justifiably be attributed to either the younger waiter or “his colleague” (“New Text” 119).

Hagopian attacks Reinert's analysis, rejecting the notion of anti-metronomic dialogue:

[T]his solution to the problem would be valid only if (1) by the law of parsimony, it is the simplest solution; (2) an examination of the rest of Hemingway's fiction shows that the author often, or even occasionally, employed such a technique; and (3) the context supported … the notion that the author violates standard conventions without explicit hints or clues to the reader. On none of these grounds can one support Reinert's interpretation.

(141)

Hagopian extends his quarrel to Gabriel, proclaiming that the reading collapses when “submitted to the [same] tests of validity” (142). On the basis of an interpretation by Martin Dolch, Hagopian suggests the dialogue be “tidied up” with the following emendation:

Original dialogue:


Y.W. “His niece looks after him.”


O.W. “I know. You said she cut him down.”


Hagopian's suggested dialogue:


Y.W. “His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”


O.W. “I know.”

Hagopian then glosses the three dialogues, seeming to proceed from the assumption that the burden is on the text to match his interpretation. When it doesn't, he makes the above change, claiming that the text suffers from an “obvious typographical error” (144). Just how Hagopian knows that any typographic error was made, let alone the specific one he proposes to correct, is a mystery. He gives no holograph evidence, no typescript evidence, indeed no evidence at all. Referring to Hagopian's method of inquiry, Bennett calls it “not critical analysis … [but rather] theological persuasion” (“New Text” 16). Astoundingly, Scribner agreed with Hagopian and implemented his suggestion. In reaching his decision, Scribner later admitted that he relied not on manuscript evidence but rather on the advice of critics and “common sense” (MacDonald 99).

Regarding his criticism of Reinert and Gabriel, even by his own criteria, Hagopian's argument fails. Let us first consider Reinert's proposition of anti-metronomic dialogue and Hagopian's assertion that “it is a technique employed nowhere else in the Hemingway canon” (142). With at least thirty recorded examples of Hemingway's use of anti-metronomic dialogue (see MacDonald, Kerner 1979, 1982, 1987, 1988), George H. Thomson notes, “In the face of such evidence, Hagopian's position is demolished” (37). With regard to Hagopian's mandate that the solution be as simple as possible, Charles May writes, “… it seems to me that assuming Hemingway has violated a typographical convention … is ‘simpler’ than presuming the rather drastic measure of rewriting the text of a work” (327), while Paul Smith simply notes that “Hagopian's principle does confuse a simpler editorial solution with a simpler interpretation” (Reader's Guide 282).

As to Hagopian's claim that the context of the story doesn't support Reinert's or Gabriel's interpretations, consider the essential effect of Hagopian's emendation: It positively gives the information of the attempted suicide to the older waiter. Some agree with this interpretation, while many others do not. May, for example, writes:

[I]f it is indeed the young waiter who tells the old waiter about the suicide attempt, then the story is about the old waiter … [who] arrives at his nada prayer at the end as a result of the story. This makes for a simpler, yet more pertinent reading … than if we assume the old waiter has already realized and articulated the significance of nada. … It is the difference between seeing the story as an excuse for a pre-conceived philosophic concept or as a dramatic realization of such a concept.

(328)

Carlos Baker explicitly acknowledges that it is the young waiter who knows of the attempted suicide (124). In addition, in what is an implicit reference to the young waiter's use of the word “nothing” in the first dialogue, Baker maintains that the story is about

the development … of the young waiter's mere nothing into the old waiter's Something—a Something called Nothing which is so huge, terrible, overbearing, inevitable and omnipresent that once experienced it can never be forgotten.

(124)

In 1971, Lodge agreed with Hagopian and Scribner, declaring the implausibility of Hemingway's having deliberately violated a well established typographical convention in a way for which there is no precedent elsewhere in his work … for a purpose that could have been easily accomplished by other means. (41)

As to Lodge's contention that Hemingway never uses anti-metronomic dialogue in his other works, we have already seen this to be patently incorrect. As to his assertion that the same purpose could have been easily accomplished by other means, because he fails to elaborate what “other means” he has in mind, I am at a loss to comment on whether or not they would achieve the “same purpose.”

Lodge does bring to the battlefield a perceptive distinction between the ambiguities in the first two dialogues and the logical inconsistency in the third. He notes how such an inconsistency “can only have the effect in narrative of radically undermining the authority of either the narrator or the characters or both” (42).

Lodge says, “There are no other equivalent inconsistencies which would confirm the radical unreliability of the narrator” (42). He ignores or does not notice the use of the plural pronoun “they” for the singular nouns “the guard” and “his niece,” or the unusual punctuation of the question “How should I know.” While it is true that this last line functions in the story as an answer to a question, it is merely an example of a question being answered with a question. The more conventional punctuation in such a situation would be a question mark. Later, in the same article, Lodge seems to contradict his own argument when he notices that the narrator's description in the second sentence “is interesting for the way in which its appearance of logical explanation dissolves under scrutiny” (48).

Lodge is correct in his observation that the ambiguity of the first two dialogues and the inconsistency of the third are two different beasts. He goes one step too far, however, by suggesting that they cannot possibly be related. He states that it is not “legitimate to assimilate the inconsistency … into the concept of literary ambiguity” (42), but he offers no convincing argument to counter Gabriel's suggestion that Hemingway desires that “the reader, in his attempt to impose order upon the chaos of inconsistency and ambiguity, [be] stripped of his dependence on the objective” (546).

The next major event in the conflict came when Thomson offered an alternative reading, one that made logical sense of the third dialogue without violating any conventions. Thomson's reading proceeds from the prevalent assumption that the younger waiter opens the third dialogue. He further assumes that the dialogue proceeds metronomically with the younger waiter then speaking the line “Who cut him down?”

Thomson notes that the younger waiter “has no knowledge of the suicide attempt … yet he unthinkingly assumes [emphasis added] that the old man was rescued by being cut down [emphasis added]” (38). The older waiter lets this cliche pass, but when the younger waiter jumps to another conclusion, “‘His niece looks after him’—something he cannot know … the older waiter quietly chastises [him]. … ‘I know [which is more than you do]. You said she cut him down’” (38).

With regard to the validity of the emendation, Thomson's reading presents an interesting wrinkle, casting doubt upon the very existence of an inconsistency, much less an error. This doubt, combined with the doubt raised by Reinert's and Gabriel's alternative explanations (and the failure of Hagopian and Lodge to counter them), constitutes a very strong case against the emendation. Before we reach a conclusion, however, we must return to the issue that Hagopian raised but failed to substantiate: that a typographical error resulted in the seemingly illogical inconsistency in the waiters' dialogue.

When Hagopian proclaimed the existence of a typographical error, he was voicing pure speculation, since there was no manuscript or typescript evidence available for inspection. Now there are both. Hemingway's original pencil manuscript was discovered in 1975, and, in 1987, College and Research Libraries News announced that the University of Delaware had acquired “the only recorded copies” of a draft of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (411).

Much has been written about these two documents. Hans-Joachim Kann, Warren Bennett, Paul Smith, and David Kerner have studied the texts and each other's arguments in excruciating detail. In the light of their work, one thing becomes evident: Because the suspected error appears in the original holograph, the Delaware typescript, the magazine story, and the short story collections, and because Hemingway did not see fit to change it in his lifetime, the inconsistency in the long dialogue must be considered Hemingway's responsibility, not the responsibility of some errant typist or typesetter.

Much of the debate concerning the manuscript has focused on speculation concerning at what point and for what reason Hemingway wrote the sentence, “You said she cut him down” I submit that no matter when he wrote it, and regardless of his reason, the more important point is that the inconsistency appears on the original holograph. This does not prove that no error was made; it merely classifies the “possible error” by type: an error of production, not an error of reproduction. There is no reason to believe that a typographical error is responsible for the inconsistency. Because the inconsistency in the long dialogue occurred as an integral part of the creative process, we are obliged to consider whether or not Hemingway may have perceived the “error” as actually strengthening the story. Hemingway himself once gave the inconsistency his direct and open endorsement. In 1956, Judson Jerome wrote to Hemingway specifically inquiring about the inconsistency. Hemingway responded that he had just reread the story, and it “continued to make perfect sense to him” (Monteiro 243). It can also be argued that Hemingway gave his tacit approval of the original text when he said, “I guess the story that tops them all for leave-out was ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’ I left everything out of that one. … May be my favorite story” (Hotchner 164).

The debate since the 1965 emendation has revolved around which of the two waiters knows about the old man's attempted suicide. The assumption has been that a “truthful” answer to this question would determine the validity of the emendation. Ironically, one result of this scholarly debate has been to suggest that the question of which waiter knows about the suicide attempt may be irrelevant to the emendation's validity; for if Hemingway perceived the inconsistency in the third dialogue as improving the story, then there can be no justification for “correcting” it.

Those still intent on seeing “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” published in its emended from have a responsibility to consider whether what they perceive as an error—and others perceive as creative genius—may have been seen by Hemingway as contributing to the story's effect. Given the weight of the evidence, it seems entirely plausible that even if Hemingway did lose track “of which waiter is saying what” (87), as Sheridan Baker suggests, he may well have considered the confusing dialogue to be a “happy accident.” Hemingway may have liked the way the confusion clouds the identities of the two waiters, despite the difficulty it presents to the reader.

After twenty-six years of silence, six years of skirmishing, an emendation, and more than thirty years of sometimes vicious critical warfare, we find ourselves in an ironic position not unlike that of the older waiter—a man, as suggested by Robert Penn Warren, “who hungers for the certainties and meaningfulness of a religious faith but who cannot find in his world a ground for that faith” (6). We find ourselves hungering for a certainty in Hemingway's text, but no such certainties are forthcoming. The inconsistencies and ambiguities of the story create within the reader a discomfort not unlike that which plagues the older waiter.

Whether by accident or design, whether skillfully or instinctively, Hemingway places the reader not only in the position occupied by the older waiter, but indeed by every thoughtful person. Clarence Darrow once said, “I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure—that is all that agnosticism means.” Just as no one can have certain knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of God, neither can the reader of the original text of “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” know with certainty whether or not a new line of dialogue indicates a change in speakers; belief in either option represents an act of faith. The corruption of Hemingway's original text does more than simply impose a clarification of the identities of the two waiters; it serves to deprive all readers of the opportunity to decide for themselves what, if anything, they believe.

Notes

  1. Except where otherwise noted, all quotations from “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” are from the 1933 Scribner's Magazine edition.

Works Cited

Bache, William B. “Craftsmanship in ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’” Personalist 37 (Winter 1956): 60-64.

Baker, Carlos. Hemingway: The Writer as Artist. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1956.

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