A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

by Ernest Hemingway

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What sentences in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" establish Hemingway's distinctive style?

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The style of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Hemingway is established by the opening paragraphs, which include narration and dialogue. The style is minimalistic with few adjectives and adverbs; characters' actions and dialogue reveal their character traits; there are symbolic motifs of leaves and light to help set the themes.

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It is always the opening sentences that set the style of well written literature. In this case, the opening sentences include the narration and dialogue as in this excerpt from the opening narration and dialogue:

The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk,...

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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."

The distinctive diction techniques here are Hemingway's trademarks found in all his major works. The story is written in the style of minimalism in which only the most essential story and diction elements are given or used: Hemingway routinely left more untold than told in his stories. One distinction in vocabulary choice to note is there are few adjectives or adverbs used (adjectives modify nouns, adverbs modify verbs and adjectives). Those that are used are simple ones derived from Old English like "little" or "good" in the quote above. Another distinctive point of style is that Hemingway lets characters' actions and dialogue reveal their character traits. For example, the old man is drunk and the waiters keep watch. Without reading any further, this tells you that the old man is unhappy and the waiters work well together and are attentive to both the customer and the integrity of the business.

Another distinctive technique of Heminway's is symbolic narrative description. He introduces into his brief descriptions symbolism that helps lay the themes, the relationships between characters, the conflict, the tone of the narrator and mood of the story. In the first sentence, Hemingway introduces the symbolic motif of "the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light." This will occur again and symbolizes the theme of how to avoid existential nihilism's despair and destruction: how to find order and meaning without living in despair.

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Which are the sentences that establish the style of Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place"?

It stands to reason that the opening sentences, particularly the first sentence, must be the ones to establish the style of a story. And this maxim is true for hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place." Yet, since so much of this story is told as dialogue, then later as the old waiter's soliloquy (speeches in which speakers addresses themselves), a sentence written after the opening is also instrumental in establishing style.

The first sentence Hemingway writes sets up the style, as it rightly should and must do. In it, he incorporates and establishes the tone, instructive symbolism, foreshadowing, and theme. He also establishes his terse, concise, information-packed sentence style.

It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light.

The tone is distanced and objective but not unemotional: "very late and everyone had left" has an emotional, lonely quality to it. The symbolism in "an old man who sat in the shadow" is instructive of the existential despair and suggests the theme. Foreshadowing in the "old man," the "leaves," and the "electric light," leads to and prepares for the old waiter's soliloquy and delivery of the full theme.

The full thesis of existential despair that overwhelms after the full blush of youth is gone is established in the first sentence of dialogue spoken by an unnamed "one waiter":

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

In these two sentences, Hemingway's style is fully and firmly established, from style of establishing tone to establishing sentence style to establishing his style for revealing his thesis and themes.

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