In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”
What’s your favorite place to hang out? Is it a café, a coffee shop, or a corner bar? Regardless of your libation of choice it is important to have a place that you feel comfortable spending time at. Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” stresses the importance of having a place to spend your personal time.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a study of the three stages of life through an existential lens. You’ll get no argument or questions from me regarding that analysis of the story. But Hemingway also presents the reader with an explicit message regarding the importance of having a place one can feel comfortable spending time at that is not his home. One of the characters, an older waiter says, “…there may be someone who needs the café.” This comment follows an exchange between two waiters who agree that drinking a bottle of alcohol at home is not the same as drinking at a café. There is some special quality the cafe can offer that home cannot. The story ends with the older waiter heading home after failing to find a place that that meets his requirements of clean and pleasant.
Hemingway’s story shows us the importance of these special places in our lives (mine is a local bar). The implication is that sometimes a home away from home, a special place or hang out, is necessary for any number of personal reasons. We may outgrow security blankets but we still look for comfort, and that comfort can come in finding a special place to hang out, to call our own (even if we share it with others).
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an existential study of growing old if you use Hemingway’s iceberg theory. Sometimes you just need forget about what’s under the water and look at the iceberg itself and see what is explicitly conveyed in a story. Whether it is a café, a coffee shop, or a corner bar there is something comforting about having your own place to hang out. When you are drinking that next cup of coffee or pint of stout think about Hemingway’s idea of the importance of a clean and pleasant place.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway