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“What do you want,” asks the younger waiter. “Another brandy,” replies the old man. “You’ll be drunk,” scoffs the younger waiter at the old man. Reluctantly, the younger waiter serves the old man and he tells him “You should have killed yourself last week.” This clearly shows that the younger waiter has judged the old man without having consideration as to why the old man is out, alone, drinking. The two waiters continue to discuss the incident of the old man’s suicide attempt while waiting on the old man to finish. The older waiter says that the old man is lonely. In keeping with the theme of selfishness and lack of regard, the younger waiter turns the focus back onto himself when he says, “He’s lonely. I’m not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.” The younger waiter shows that his mentality is limited to “I, I, I.” Another example of selfishness on the younger waiter’s part is when he says, “I don’t want to look at him. I wish he would go home. He has no regard for those who must work.” The older waiter offers justification for the old man being out at this hour several times throughout their conversation. The old man finally finishes, pays, and leaves the café. This leads in to how we learn about the source of the older waiter’s sympathy for the old man.
After closing the café, the older waiter continues the conversation he was having with the younger waiter with himself as he walked to a bar. He thinks about the importance of the lighting in a place for refuge. It should be clean and pleasant. No music is preferred. The older waiter feels that one can’t stand at a bar or at a night club with dignity at this hour. Happiness isn’t found at bars or clubs. They aren’t as clean or tidy as a well-lighted café. The older waiter focuses on his personal despair and shows a lack of faith when he says a prayer and replaces most of the words with “nada.” This is him showing that he believes that there is no higher power that is “good.” The waiter arrives at the bar and orders a drink. “The light is very
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bright and pleasant, but the bar is unpolished,” said the waiter. The bartender didn’t respond. The conversation was limited to the bartender asking if the waiter wanted another drink. The waiter passed and went home, again, confirming to himself that bars are very different that clean, well-lighted cafes. The old waiter and the old man at the café had something in common. They were lonely and they both attempted to pass time and avoid loneliness by staying in public. The last thing the old waiter does to rationalize his being out so late is that he has insomnia. He makes himself feel better by saying that many people have insomnia.
Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted Place illustrates how older people, with more life experience to draw from, are better at giving others a “pass” in life because at one time or another they have experienced the very same emotion that another is feeling in the present. This also shows how younger people, with a lack of life experience, are primarily thinking of themselves. They don’t quite see the “big picture” until later on in life. This story also taught me to enjoy life now while I am young, healthy, and surrounded by friends, family, and happiness. This may make it easier to remain happy in my older years if I truly relished the good in my life.
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Hemingway, E. (2010). A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. In Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing (pp. 142, Paragraph 3). X.J. Kennedy, Dana Gioia.