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In the short story A Clean Well-Lighted Place written by Ernest Hemingway in 1933, there are three characters that are defined by light. First there is the elderly gentleman who is a customer in the bar. He regularly comes to the bar to get drunk while he sits in the shadows of the leaves of a tree. This man has lived a long life and has known much pain. In fact he has known enough pain that he has tried to commit suicide.
The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.
“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said. (Hemingway)
He drinks to dull his pain of loss and pain. The shadows are symbolic of all of his bead memories clumped together and the leaves that through tiny shadows to hide him are specific memories.
Even though he wraps himself in the darkness, he must be close to the light in order to survive. The light, or goodness, gives him hope to carry on in a life that he cannot even successfully leave.
The next character is the young waiter who must have the light. He has not lived long, has a wife, and children. Because his life seems to be exactly where it should be things are good and that is represented by the clean light of the bar.
Because of his youth, there has not been time for messes or losses. He fears the shadows that shroud the elderly man because he sees them as foreshadows of his own life that he does not want to face.
“He’ll stay all night,” he said to his colleague. “I’m sleepy now. I never get into bed before three o’clock. He should have killed himself last week.” (Hemingway)
The last is the older waiter. This man has experienced enough life that he, like the elderly gentleman, prefers the dark. He sees the light as only something to illuminate the defects in life. The light is very bright and pleasant but the bar is unpolished,” the waiter. said. (Hemingway) This way feels that understands that he has more in common with the elderly man in the shadows, but he longs to be back in the light.
“I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe,” the older waiter said.
“With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.” (Hemingway)
Hemingway uses A Clean Well-Lighted Place to ponder the meaning of life. Life is lived and through the journey, individuals know the joy which leave them with a lack of understanding of others like the young waiter and the elderly man. “You should have killed yourself last week,” he said to the deaf man. The old man motioned with his finger. (Hemingway) Only those who are satisfied with life should be around him. Money is not what makes people happy.
The elderly man has money, but still he tries unsuccessfully to committee suicide. Hemingway was well into his career at this time and had plenty of money yet he was not happy. He adds the quick glimpse of the girl and the soldier who brave the fear of getting caught for the sake of love or the physical part of love to show that there are things that are meaningful in life that are worth the risk. Yet in the end people are left with their shadows of memories that are so painful that they either desire for nothing but to turn back to the light part of their lives or to desire to leave life.
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