Introduction the story, that is, the old man,

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A Clean and Well-Lighted place is a short story written by Ernest Hemingway. The thesis statement for this story is “The meaning of life.” This short story is an investigation geared towards finding life’s meaning.

The story involves a deaf old man, and an older and a younger waiter. The paper is an endeavor to analyze characters in the story. Further, the paper shall attempt to compare and contrast the main characters of the story, that is, the old man, the younger and the older waiter. The paper also analyzes the meaning of life in relation to the views of the three characters.


The two waiters are inquisitive; they seem to be so much interested with whatever is happening in the old man’s life. They try to find out the reason why the old man opted to commit suicide.

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One of the waiters for instance asks; “What did he want to kill himself for?” they are also observant as they kept an eye on the old man in order to ensure that he does not leave without paying. The older waiter is sympathetic. This is due to the fact that he seems to care about the unhappiness and loneliness of the old desperate man. His musings seem to reflect an understanding of the old man’s needs. He empathizes with the old man who is lonely as he sits in the shadows of the cafe’s leaves. The older waiter is pretentious as he seems to hold a different view point while in the company of the young waiter. He pretends that his intention of staying longer at the cafe is with a view to providing services to anyone who needs the cafe, yet in the real sense he was trying to evade the loneliness that he encounters at his house. He has a perception that the clean and well lighted place is vital in avoiding dark thoughts.

He dismisses the loneliness and dissatisfaction as insomnia and concludes that many people suffer from the same. The old man can be said to be cowardly. This is due to the fact that he had tried to commit suicide yet he had enough for himself. He can also be termed as careless. This is because he opts to drink late into the night without even worrying about being arrested. He also seems to be drunk most of the time.

In their discussion, the two waiters bring out the character of the old man as being cowardly as from the conversation we derive that he attempted to commit suicide. It also brings to the reader the situation in which the old man is in. The conversation also enables the reader to derive that the older waiter is pretentious as he speaks in contrary to the situation in which he is in. he pretends to be of a different opinion yet he is in the same desperate situation as the old man.


The older waiter is a representation of people who do not know/understand their purpose in life. In the real sense, life without purpose is something meaningless. The purpose of anyone in life usually diminishes once there is nothing in life for that person to look forward to. This is revealed in the book as the old man is left with nothing to look forward to.

No wonder he had tried to terminate his life earlier on. In the book, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” the author endeavors to bring out the theme of loneliness as he focuses on the older waiter, one who tries to ponder on the real meaning of life. The waiter observes the old man and his conclusion; one is left wandering in nothingness if there is no motivation in his/her life. The word ‘nada’: nothing’ has been twisted to bring out different meanings as pertaining the meaning of life. It tries to bring out the fact that, god doesn’t exist, wrongs do not exist and that no there is no point. The writer argues that once someone dies, nothing is left as there is neither an afterlife nor rebirth. The author brings out the fact that life is without meaning. The three characters in the book try to find life’s meaning in different things.

The younger waiter in his naivety believes that the life he lives is with purpose owing to his job and marriage. The old man however has nothing worth living for. The older waiter on the other hand stands for an observer who is not biased as he can relate to the two extreme sides. As the story continues, the older waiter begins to identify with that old man. He starts to comprehend the reason as to why the old man has despaired and it comes to his realization that he is by no means different from that old man himself. The older realizes that the man had absolutely nothing to look forward to. The older waiter begins to fear the nothingness that the other man is experiencing, though to his realization, he finds that his experience is the same as he feels the emptiness himself.

The waiter’s conclusion is that life has no meaning if really God does not exist. According to his view, if one’s aim to be closer to his/her God isn’t possible, then there would be no purpose in his/her life. In Spanisg, “nada” means nothing , and has also found use in the Lord’s Prayer. This brings out the nothingness in life, a life with no hope, no purpose and no meaning at all. The older waiter for instance stays longer with the sole reason being to cater for those individuals who would need a lighted cafe at night as opposed to a bar or bodegas which could be without light or unclean and hence increase the loneliness (Hemingway 1-2).


The story examines the way in which man sets out to search for life’s meaning and proves that the search is vain as no meaning exists and hence cannot be found.

The story seems to offer no hope to the reader due to its conclusion of the fact that life lacks meaning and that each one is aware of this fact in a way. All the three characters seem to be making efforts to avoid some definite sense of nothing. Even those who try to find meaning in life have just devised a way of evading the emptiness in life.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. A clean, well lighted place. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926.


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