A Clean Well-Lighted Place: Exploring Despair and Salvation

Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" delves into various themes, with despair emerging as a central motif. Despair, defined by Merriam-Webster as the loss of all hope or confidence, weaves through the narrative, connecting the older waiter and the old deaf man in a shared sense of hopelessness. The story not only explores individual despair but also uses its setting to magnify and articulate the theme.

The Role of Setting in Shaping Mood

The setting plays a pivotal role in shaping the mood of the story, influencing both the characters and the readers.

As the narrative unfolds, the cafe becomes a symbol of salvation from despair. The late-night setting, depicted in the quote, "It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light" (107), evokes a somber atmosphere, accentuating the character's sense of sadness.

The visualized scene, coupled with the emotions embedded in the setting, portrays the old man's preference for a peaceful environment.

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Despite his deafness, the quietude of the night intensifies the mood of serenity as expressed in the line, "but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference" (107).

Comparatively, when the older waiter seeks solace in a bar/bodega later in the story, the contrast in mood becomes apparent. The waiter's reflection on the importance of a clean and pleasant place, devoid of music, highlights the significance of the setting in influencing the story's emotional tone (109).

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Contribution of Setting to Structural Elements

The cafe, acting as a workplace and a site for socialization, becomes a structural element in the narrative. The choice of setting at a quiet cafe where the old man finds solace helps define the story as neither entirely depressing nor overtly cheerful. The two waiters' gossip about the old man's suicide attempt, saved in the end, adds complexity to the narrative structure.

Individual responses to despair vary, and the setting at the cafe suggests a place for introspection and temporary respite. The old man, rather than attempting to cure his despair, seeks to subdue it. The story's structure could have unfolded differently if set elsewhere, as evidenced by the older waiter's unfulfilling experience in a noisy bar during his struggle with insomnia.

Lesson Conveyed Through Setting

The setting significantly contributes to the lesson embedded in the narrative: patience in the face of despair. Despite the cafe being open until 2:30 in the morning, the young waiter's impatience to close early disrupts the solace of the old deaf man. The contrast between the comfortable cafe and the young waiter's eagerness to leave underscores the theme of patience.

Had the setting been a bar, the interpretation of the old man's actions might have shifted, emphasizing a search for enjoyment rather than tranquility. The lesson, akin to a lecture in a book, is delivered through the setting, reinforcing the idea that the environment shapes perceptions and responses to despair.

Ultimately, the clean well-lighted cafe symbolizes salvation from despair. As the older waiter contemplates the nothingness of life, he articulates, "It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order" (109). The undefined "it" suggests that despite life's inherent nothingness, light, cleanliness, and order can serve as a counterforce to despair, offering a temporary reprieve.

In conclusion, the setting of "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" contributes significantly to the theme of despair. The mood, structure, and lesson of the story are intricately shaped by the choice of a clean and well-lighted cafe as the central setting. It becomes a refuge for characters grappling with the awareness of life's nothingness, showcasing how environment influences the human experience of despair.

Written by Emily Wilson
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
Keep in mind: this is only a sample!
Updated: Jan 18, 2024
Cite this page

A Clean Well-Lighted Place: Exploring Despair and Salvation. (2017, Jan 16). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-clean-well-lighted-place-theme-and-setting-essay

A Clean Well-Lighted Place: Exploring Despair and Salvation essay
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