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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Author: Hemingway, Ernest

Genre: Short Story

Year: 1933

Characters: The Young Waiter, The Old Waiter, The Old Man


The main focus of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is on the pain of old age suffered by a man that we meet in a cafe late one night. Hemingway contrasts light and dark to show the difference between this man and the young people around him, and uses his deafness as an image if his separation from the rest of the world.

This story is filled with images of despair. The contrasts between light and dark, youth and age are harsh and well defined. The reader leaves the story with a feeling that there is no escape from the doldrums of the winter years of life. Perhaps it is Hemingway's own terror of old age and infirmity that he is trying to communicate to the reader.

For supporters of Hemingway’s talent, the story’s emotional and philosophical austerity and bleakness amounts to profound and true tragedy. For detractors of Hemingway, it is Hemingway as a parody of himself, in which a purported thematics of stoic endurance only poorly covers an underlying self-indulgent masochism. This masochism, his detractors argue, blinds Hemingway to the variety and complexity of life

A short story as glaringly brief and simplified as this one is rightly called “minimalist” in its aesthetics (the word aesthetics refers to how the author tells his or her story). It uses the minimum building blocks necessary to accomplish the job of telling a story. Hemingway uses simple diction, usually monosyllabic words of Anglo-Saxon, as opposed to Latin, origin. Grammatically, he uses simple as opposed to complex sentences. There is little figurative language — no metaphor or simile, for example. Character and plot are minimized. These three characters do not even have names.

However, most consider "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" as the best of the stories in the 1933 collection of Hemmingway, "Winner Take Nothing".

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