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'A Clean Well-Lighted Place' place is a short story from the literary icon Ernest Hemingway that explores some aspects of life as portrayed by the three main characters from the story. Set in a cafe, the short story traces a scenario where there is a deaf man who is sat quietly and ordering brandy drinks that he drinks at his own pace. There are two waiters at the cafe with one who is young and another one that is much older. The older waiter is understanding and tolerant to the old man when he keeps ordering brandy drinks to enjoy in his quiet; which is unlike the young waiter who is impatient with the deaf customer as it is late and he is eager to rush home to his wife. The author of this short story uses symbolism to show different themes through the characters of the three individuals and this essay aims at exploring the different symbols from the text.
One symbol that stands out in the short story is absence which is prevalent in more ways than meets the eye. The cafe setting from which the short story is told bears the testament of this absence because it is late at night where there are no other clients save for the deaf man who cannot hear a word. The lack of other customers creates an absence that is conspicuous as the young waiter gets agitated to leave and depart for home to his wife because he does not see the need of staying put when there are 'no other' customers at the cafe. The absence that is prevalent at the cafe is symbolic as it represents the nothingness that is captured in the story. As the short story duly states, there is 'nada' in the cafe and it is this nothingness that attracts the old man as it makes him feel contented with the silent surrounding, even though he cannot hear a thing. The old man seems to be having nothing else to do or possess in the world. His beloved wife has already gone and left him leaving him with nothing due to her absence. This pushes him into solitude with the cafe being his only source of solace, something that the older waiter clearly understands.
The older waiter understands the predicament facing their deaf customer, something that is not replicated by the young waiter. The younger waiter is still a novice in life as he is yet to to experience the uncertainties of life and this makes him fail to comprehend what the deaf man is going through. Life is yet to teach him the harsh realities that it brings especially his eagerness to join his wife for the night, a factor that the other older two men lack due to the ups and downs of life. Both the two older men also agree that there may be other bodegas around but none of them offers the same serenity and solace found in this particular cafe. This is symbolic of the loneliness that is prevalent in the location. It is no surprise that the two of them prefer the silence and solitary atmosphere found in the cafe. They come out as people who have had their fair share of life's numerous experiences because they prefer a setting that is isolated from the rest of the society. It is this solitude that has even pushed the deaf customer into previously attempting to commit suicide to escape from the challenges and tribulations of life.
It is the deaf customer's desperation about this symbolic nothingness that sees him attempt to commit suicide. The presence of 'nothing' in his life is also symbolic. One way this is seen is through the deaf man's deafness that allows him to hear nothing. The cafe is also a space with no customers which makes the deaf man to like the place due to the nothingness that can be found in it. The only thing that was present in the cafe was the light which the deaf man found to be more welcoming than in the other bodegas. Amidst the loneliness that the deaf man and older waiter feel, there is the light which seems to be offering them consolation for the way their lives have turned out. It is the only thing illuminating their lives just like the cafe that is surrounded by the darkness of the night. They use the source of light to chase away the dark that surrounds their vicinity and their lives. It is what keeps away the insecurities that they have to deal with in the fate of their lives. The older waiter puts it as 'nada y pues nada y pues nada' to show how much their lives are filled with nothingness (Hemingway).
The other symbol that is conspicuous throughout the short story is the cafe itself. It comprises of a space that gives peace of mind and a sense of calmness not only to the deaf customer, but also to the older waiter working with the younger one. In fact, the older waiter takes the time to explain why it is necessary for him to keep the cafe as clean as possible while ensuring that it is quiet. There is an eerie silence in the setting of the short story because this cafe is devoid of any form of music, a common feature in most public spaces like cafes. In addition to the cleanliness and the silence, the older waiter also ensures that there is plenty of light to illuminate all the corners of the cafe to ensure there is light everywhere. The cafe is clean to accommodate the customers but it is its silence that is attractive to the lonely and despairing people out there. It is representative of an oasis of tranquility whenever troubled people want to have some peace of mind. The importance of the light, as already established, is to ward off the darkness that encompasses the cafe although its symbolic significance is to show the driving out the darkness that is inside the hearts of the older but troubled characters in the short story.
Ernest Hemingway made a point of ensuring that he offers his readers with a self-reflection regarding the issues that people face in life and how they handle them. Life issues are going to happen to some of us, especially the older generation that as gone through some of the most horrible experiences in life. The author's text traces some of the issues that the old characters are dealing with and indicates that their only source of emotional and mental refuge is at the clean, well-lit cafe.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Clean Well-Lighted Place. Mankato, Minnesota: Creative Education, 2000. Print.
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