The café symbolizes the small pleasures that, in spite of life’s meaninglessness, make living feel dignified and comfortable. The old waiter and the old drunk both love to sit and drink at the café because it is quiet, and the shadow of its electric lights provides a nice haven under which to relax. In contrast, the young waiter cannot wait to leave the café and head home to his wife; he finds his meaning not in enjoying the present, but rather from external sources of validation, such as his wife. The waiter cannot appreciate the atmosphere of the café—he suggests that the old drunk could leave the café for a dirty bar or bodega, since he could also get drunk in those places, but this misunderstands the pleasure and dignity of the café itself. The young waiter’s goal-oriented outlook is shown to be out of step with the way of life that the café symbolizes, a worldview that recognizes that everything is meaningless except dignity and comfort.
The A Clean, Well-Lighted Place quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Café . 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: 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.).
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Café appears in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.