A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a 1933 short story written by Ernest Hemingway. The main characters in the short story are two waiters and an old deaf man. The story is set at late night in a cafe where the two waiters are watching the old man who is lingering on his drink. As the two waiters wait for the man to finish his drink, they engage in a conversation that brings out their views on old age and loneliness.
Through the conversation, it becomes clear that the two waiters who have a big age gap between them have a differing view on various topics. In the story, the young waiter seems to be pessimistic while the older one is full of optimism. On top of this, the young waiter lacks respect for the aged while the older one treats the aged with pure reverence.
As the story opens, both waiters are discussing an occasion where the old deaf man wanted to commit suicide. While both of them do not know the reason why the old man wanted to commit suicide, the young waiter seems to think that he had no reason to do so. Asked how he knew that the man had no reason to do so he replies that, “he has plenty of money”.
This tells us that to the young man money is the source of happiness. Later on in their discussion, the older waiter reminds the younger one that work and money alone should not be used as a basis for gauging one’s happiness. He tells him that youth and confidence are also required to bring about happiness.
Another difference that comes out between the young and older people is their respect for the elderly. In the discussion between the two waiters, the young one claims that the old man should go home because he, the young waiter, has a wife waiting at home. The young waiter is at loss as to why the old man and the older waiter have to insist on staying at the cafe until late.
When the young waiter is reminded that the old man can also have a wife whom to go home to, he quips that “A wife would be no good to him now.” This shows the level of disrespect that the young have toward old people. As though to drive his point home, the young waiter adds that old age is “a nasty thing.” Due to the respect and regard that the older waiter has for the aged, he explains to him that not all aged people are nasty.
Earlier on when the old man asked for a brandy, the older waiter had served it to him even though knew that the man was already drunk. When it is the turn for the young waiter to serve the old man, he dismisses him rather rudely. This shows the difference in character between the two men. (Hemingway)
The short story A Clean, Well-Lighted Place gives a detailed account of how young and older people behave in a different manner. In the story, the younger generation is seen to value money and disregard the important things, which are supposed to make a person truly happy.
The young people are also presented as lacking regard for the older generation. In the story, the author presents an argument about the different mindsets that people acquire as they grow up. While the young people tend to think only of themselves, the older give more thought to the welfare and happiness of other people.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, n.d. Web. Oct 27. 2010.