- Hardcover: 30 pages
- Publisher: Creative Education (June 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0886823455
- ISBN-13: 978-0886823450
- Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,970,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Clean Well Lighted Place
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Much-anthologized short story by Ernest Hemingway, first published in Scribner's Magazine in March 1933 and later that year in the collection Winner Take Nothing. Late one night two waiters in a cafe wait for their last customer, an old man who has recently attempted suicide, to leave. The younger waiter, eager to get home to his wife, turns the old man out, but the older waiter is sympathetic to the human need for a clean, well-lighted place, an outpost in the darkness. The story is a powerful existential statement about the insufficiency of religion as a source of comfort, and it contains an often cited version of the Lord's Prayer that substitutes the Spanish word nada ("nothing") for most of the prayer's nouns. -- The Merriam-Webster Encylopedia of Literature
Top customer reviews
My instructor had a point, one that is unfortunately denied by the slumped over, ostentatiously disconsolate figure on the cover os this version of the story. Nevertheless, the most compelling theme for me was not apparent until the very end, when the old man repeats what my instructor characterized as an "appalling parody" of the Lord's prayer: "Our nada which are in nada, nada be thy name ..." Repetition of the Spanish word for nothing in this profoundly Christian context struck me as exactly right. I was surrounded by people who, for the most part, seemed to be enjoying their lives, looking toward the future with confidence and hope, but I was pretty miserable. I couldn't see the point. Now, forty-eight years later, I still can't seen the point.
I'm fortunate, though, I have a loving wife, a treasure the old man had lost, and friends and relatives whom I know care about me. The old man had none of this. Only loneliness, a determined dignity, and alcohol. That's not enough, but at the end, it's more than some of us will have
In her own existential masterpiece, The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone DeBeauvoir offers not a purpose for life, since for her it has none, but an account of what we inveitably do just by staying alive. We "disclose being in the world," each of us in ways that are unique have experiences which tell us still something else, whether for good or ill, about what it is to be. That's a brilliant insight, or so it seems to me, but it offers no solace to an old man, alone in the world, drinking brandy all evening, and maintaining a modicum of dignity by frequenting a clean, well-lighted place.
There is truth in Hemingway's story, but it's a hard, unforgiving truth that gives the lie to the notion that truth is beauty. There's nothing beautiful about desolation no matter how hard we try to construe it as dignity.
There are some things in this story that could use explaining, but even without it, this is a haunting story that even after 20 years of reading can still cause me to shed a tear.
This is Hemingway at his finest hour. There is simply none better.