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Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it's probably only insomnia. Many must have it.
This shows that the older waiter also needs a place to get himself through the night and experiences similar feelings as the old man. It is more though, than just the loneliness of not having a wife and someone to go home to. It is something deeper that bothers both the old man and the older waiter.
This something that bothers both the old man and the older waiter is explained by the concept of nada. As Hoffman (91) explains, "Although the old waiter is the only one to articulate the fact, all three figures actually confront nothingness in the course of the tale." The concept of nada essentially refers to nothingness, but especially in a spiritual sense. Hemingway narrates this as he describes the older waiter,
What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too... Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y pues nada (Hemingway).
This expresses the problem for both the old man and the old waiter. They both have an awareness of nada, which means that they both understand the nothingness of their lives. Hemingway also links this to spirituality or God where he describes the older waiter saying his version of the Lord's Prayer,
Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee (Hemingway).
This shows that the nothing they sense is related to spirituality. While some people find the meaning of life in God, for them there is no meaning of life. Nada then is an ultimate form of emptiness. Hoffman also notes that all three characters in the story experience nada, though only the older waiter seems aware of what he is experiencing. The other characters function "by establishing for themselves a clean, well-lighted place from which to withstand the enveloping darkness" (Hoffman 94). In this way then, the cafe of the story is a means of avoiding what cannot be avoided. As suggested earlier, even the young waiter experiences nada, with his response being to want to hate and avoid the old man who reminds him that what he is clinging to may not last forever. In the end, all three characters are avoiding a defining sense of nothing. The old man is avoiding by visiting the cafe and drinking. The older waiter has work as his form of avoidance. And the young man has "youth, confidence, and a job" (Hemingway). Considering the different ages of the characters, this can be considered as showing how nobody can avoid nada. It can be covered up and avoided in earlier life, but whatever is used to cover it up will eventually fade, leaving people with nothing but the truth. In the end then, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is far from being a story offering hope. Instead, it is a story suggesting that there is no meaning in life to be found and that in one way or another, everyone is already aware of this. The only thing that differs is how well people are able to cover up and avoid this truth at any given time.
As has been seen, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" offers a strong, complex, and disturbing message. It is illustrating and commenting on issues about human life and the search for meaning and showing that there is no meaning to be found. In the end, it is suggesting that the best anyone can hope for is to find a well-lighted place that will allow them to ignore their emptiness, even though this emptiness will never truly go away.
Hemingway, E. "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." Retrieved May 1, 2005. Web site: http://home.eol.ca/~command/hem.htm
Hoffman, S.K. "Nada' and the Clean Well-Lighted Place." Essays in Literature 6.1 (1979):…[continue]
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