He briefly outlines the argument: at one point in the story, the older waiter says "She cut him down," referring to the old man's (a customer) niece. The disputed but of dialogue is a later line that according to convention would be attributed to the older waiter: "I know. You said she cut him down." In the one existing copy of the manuscript, this line appears to be a late addition, and some scholars believe that the publishers made an error in attribution. Smith counters this by claiming that "Hemingway read carefully whatever proofs he received of the publications in 1933" (Smith, 36). Smith then reveals that a typescript had recently surfaced which bridged the gap between penciled manuscript and published page, and that this typescript also attributes the line to the older waiter, exonerating the publishers (Smith, 38). He becomes embroiled in a reflection on who could possibly have typed the typescript, as evidence indicates it was not Hemingway, but he ultimately concludes that it was Hemingway who attributed the dialogue either by design or accident, and that no error was committed by anyone else (Smith, 38). Of course, this still leaves the question of the intended attribution wide open.
C. Harold Hurley and David Kerner each attempt to resolve this issue, both largely by responding to the work of critic Warren Bennett. Hurley makes this response almost an attack starting with his title, "The Manuscript and the Dialogue of 'A Clean, Well-Lighted Place': A Response to Warren Bennett." He starts out, however, by agreeing with some of Bennett's attributions based on the manuscript. He takes issue with Bennett's interpretation of the dialogue and its attribution at another point in the story, though, where the two waiters are discussing a soldier with a prostitute (Hurley, 17). The lines at issue involve a warning that the soldier will get picked up -- that is, arrested -- and the other waiter--presumably -- saying it wouldn't matter if he (the soldier) gets what he's after. The most common interpretation, and the one of which Hurley is in favor, attaches the cautionary lines to the older waiter, and the lusty justification to the younger. Hurley notes, however, that John Hagopian reversed this attribution, calling it Schadenfreude on the part of the young waiter and nihilism on the part of the older one (Hurley, 18). Bennett, Hurley notes, agrees with Hagopian's attribution scheme, ignoring earlier work Hurley has published that Hurley believes conclusively proves that the standard interpretation is the correct one (Hurley, 19). His evidence is the differentiation between Hemingway's use of "the one waiter" versus "the waiter." Which he claims can readily identify older and younger based on their usage in other passages where attribution is not questioned.
Kerner takes the opposite approach t the same end, attempting to disprove Bennett from evidence outside the text rather than inside as Hurley did. He discusses several other known instances of errors in Hemingway's works; errors Hemingway often caught himself even when publishers were blind to them. He uses such evidence to argue that Bennett's claim that Hemingway made a mistake and simply missed it in copy after copy of his work is simply unfounded (Kerner, 53). He also mentions the possibility, first raised by others, that consecutive lines of dialogue might actually emanate from the same speaker, and that the break merely indicates a dramatic pause or "pause for reflection" rather than a shift in speaker. His most damning argument against Bennett, however, is his refutation of Bennett's insistence on Hemingway's eye problems by showing that there are other instances in Hemingway's later works where the dialogue is similarly confused, demonstrating that it was an unconventional choice rather than an inconsistent medical problem (Kerner, 56).
The controversy surrounding the dialogue in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" will never be fully cleared up; the one man who could have given a definitive answer dies without feeling the need. It is unlikely he would clear up the issue now if alive, however; beyond simply being against his character, it is this type of debate that keeps literature alive…