A Clean, Well-Lighted Place


Ernest Hemingway

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Themes and Colors
Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
Despair Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Meaning and Meaninglessness

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” depicts three men—a young waiter, an older waiter, and an old, deaf drunk—trying to determine how to spend their night. Each character reveals their posture toward the meaning of their existence through their attitude towards spending time in the café in which the story is set. The young waiter is eager to go home to his wife, which reflects his feeling that meaning comes from keeping busy and maintaining…

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Youth and Age

The older waiter and the old drunk man share the perspective that, since life is meaningless, people should seek comfort, dignity, and enjoyment. The younger waiter, by contrast, is always too hurried to enjoy the present moment—he seems to think that he can impose meaning on his life through work or family. Hemingway depicts this difference in perspective not as an innate feature of their personalities or values, but rather as a difference based…

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Hemingway thinks that he has an answer, or at least a partial answer, to despair. The older characters in the story neither ignore their lives’ meaninglessness nor succumb to pure indifference. Instead, they come to terms with the fact of despair by deliberately countering its effects—namely, by finding comfortable places in which they can enjoy themselves and by prioritizing finding dignity. While this offers none of the comforting measures of, say, the Catholic faith of…

read analysis of Despair
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