A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Old Drunk Character Analysis

The old drunk is a dignified, elderly deaf man who spends his late nights in the quiet, pleasant café at which the two waiters work. He likes to sit underneath the shadow of the tree in the electric light because the atmosphere is pleasant for drinking and relaxing. The week prior, the old drunk attempted suicide because, as the older waiter notes, he is in despair about life’s meaninglessness. When the old drunk speaks, it is only to ask for more brandy from the young waiter. Otherwise, he drinks with the purpose of getting drunk. More importantly, as the old waiter also notes, the old man chooses not to get drunk in a wild or undignified manner. In fact, though he gets drunk enough to walk “unsteadily,” he never loses his composure, which reflects that—in spite of his despair over the meaninglessness of life—he is committed to an existence of pleasure and dignity.

Old Drunk Quotes in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

The A Clean, Well-Lighted Place quotes below are all either spoken by Old Drunk or refer to Old Drunk. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon and Schuster edition of A Clean, Well-Lighted Place published in 1987.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Quotes

Everyone had left the café except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light.

Related Characters: Old Drunk
Related Symbols: The Café
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

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“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.
“Why?”
“Because he was in despair.”
“About what?”
“Nothing.”

Related Characters: Old Waiter (speaker), Young Waiter (speaker), Old Drunk
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o’clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?”
“He stays up because he likes it.”
“He’s lonely. I’m not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.”
“He had a wife once too.”
“A wife would be no good to him now.”
“You can’t tell. He might be better with a wife.”

Related Characters: Old Waiter (speaker), Young Waiter (speaker), Old Drunk
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“I wouldn’t want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”
“Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him."

Related Characters: Old Waiter (speaker), Young Waiter (speaker), Old Drunk
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.

Related Characters: Old Waiter, Old Drunk
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“What is an hour?”
“More to me than to him.”
“An hour is the same.”

Related Characters: Old Waiter (speaker), Young Waiter (speaker), Old Drunk
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Old Drunk Character Timeline in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

The timeline below shows where the character Old Drunk appears in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Despair Theme Icon
Late in the night, everyone has left the café except for an old drunk man sitting in the shadows cast by an electric light shining on tree leaves. The... (full context)
Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
Despair Theme Icon
The old waiter tells the young waiter that the old drunk tried to kill himself last week. When the young waiter asks why, the old waiter... (full context)
Youth and Age Theme Icon
Despair Theme Icon
The old drunk waves the young waiter over and asks for another glass of brandy. The young waiter... (full context)
Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
When the young waiter returns to his colleague, he asks again why the old drunk tried to kill himself. The old waiter says, “how should I know.” Then, in response... (full context)
Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...man must be eighty years-old, and then he complains again about the late hour. The old drunk “stays up because he likes it,” the old waiter responds, and the young waiter calls... (full context)
Youth and Age Theme Icon
The old drunk looks up from his glass in the direction of the young waiter and asks for... (full context)
Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...old waiter continues the conversation with himself, wondering why he feels fear when contemplating the old drunk’s behavior. After realizing it wasn’t dread, he concludes that what made him afraid was the... (full context)