The Human Condition in Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"

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Bryan Smith (or your name English 111 Dr. Charles Courtney October 1, 1998 Human Condition and Character in Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" Ernest Hemingway's short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place presents three views of the human condition-¬Ěthat of a young man, that of a middle-aged man, and that of an old man. The two younger men, both waiters at a cafe, show their different views of life based on their feelings about an old man's intentions. Hemingway does not distinguish explicitly between the two waiters; one later learns that one is young and that the other is middle-aged. The first paragraph describes an old, deaf man and how he likes going to the cafe at night in solitude and getting drunk. The old man likes the quietness and feels comfortable in the cafe, a "clean, well-lighted place." One can infer from the first paragraph that this old man does not fit in with the rest of society. He comes at night, a time at which he feels he is most provided for, and he drinks to get drunk and feel a sense of contentment. This paragraph prepares the reader for the first remark, that the old man attempted suicide the last week, by giving the reader the knowledge that the old man was in despair. One learns that the younger waiter stated the first remark. The younger waiter is flat and static. He is somewhat intolerant and self-centered, for he has his own social life and does not need the bar to seek refuge. Apparently, the younger waiter took the trouble to find out the details about the life condition and attempted suicide of the old customer. After the man orders several brandies one night, the younger waiter says that the cafe is closed and then closes the cafe. This younger waiter, who serves the eighty-year-old man, does not allow the old man to stay and drink. This shows the young man's view of life-¬Ěthat one is worthless if one does not work and that a worker should not have to work for or help an old man. The younger waiter is tired and in a hurry to go home and see his wife. The young man views the old man as a nuisance and feels that the old man is preventing him from going home, or seeking refuge. Interestingly, though, the young man is doing the same to the old man; the young waiter is preventing the old man from seeking his refuge, the cafe. The older, middle-aged waiter, in contrast, is round and dynamic; he shows more sympathy and compassion towards the old man. This waiter is unhurried and feels that the younger waiter should have permitted the eighty-year-old man to stay. The older waiter is inquisitive when the younger waiter starts talking about the old man's attempted suicide. The older waiter even questions the younger waiter when the younger waiter says that the old man was in despair about nothing. The old waiter supports the old man by mentioning the conditions of the old man's life in a positive manner. This waiter feels that the eighty-year-old man's cafe is a necessity to the old man, a place where he can escape the world and seek refuge that is, to him, sufficiently luxurious because it is clean and well-lighted. In this short story, a "clean, well-lighted place" is a symbol for all the institutions and relationships in the world that give meaning to people's lives. The reader further learns of the older waiter's view of life, which is similar to that of the old man. The older waiter, who is depressed and lonely, reveals to the other waiter that he, too, like the eighty-year-old man, likes to stay up late at night and is different from the younger waiter. He feels that buying a drink elsewhere is not the same as ordering a drink and sitting in a comfortable environment. The older waiter remarks that he prefers to keep the cafe open late at night for someone who might need it. This suggests that he is lonely himself and enjoys the thought of subtle companionship. He is older and wiser than the younger waiter, showing compassion for the old customer as well as pride in his work. After dismissing the younger waiter, the older waiter turns off the light and contemplates. He has a nihilistic view of life; he feels that both before life and after life, there is nothing. Also, the older waiter shows a sense of insecurity, for he himself visits a bar, which is well-lighted but supposedly not as suitable as a "clean, well-lighted place," to see if there really is a difference. He discovers that there is a difference. The bartender in this scene regards the older waiter as a crazy man when the older waiter tells him about a flaw of the bar. This means that more people share the beliefs of the younger waiter. Hemingway, though, likely had an attitude closer to that of the older waiter and old man, for Hemingway places greater emphasis on the old man's feelings and actions, which implies a sympathetic attitude towards the old man. The three views of the human condition that Hemingway presents show how human nature differs. Humans often view others without fully knowing the experiences and life conditions of others. The younger waiter does not feel lonely in life. He is energetic because he is younger, and he has a wife. The older waiter tends to view life as the old customer does, probably because he has lived longer than the younger waiter. Comparatively lifeless, the old customer lives eccentrically. He drinks often because he knows he is old, deaf, and feels he does not have a purpose in life.

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