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Shared Desolation


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Shared Desolation in Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” Common among sensitive individuals, despair is overwhelming and challenging to deal with. Many people deal with their anguish through the assurance of religion, but how do others deal with these devastating feelings once their faith has vanished? Both the dignified old man and the older waiter in Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” share despair and have found methods to cope with their unhappiness. Both characters feel alone and in order to cope, they stay up late at the café. In addition, their unhappiness is caused by the loss of devotion in a country that is inspired by its religion. The older waiter and the timeworn man feel alone in a country consumed by people and religion. In the short story the younger waiters says, “He’s lonely. I’m not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.” (97) while the older waiter responds, “He had a wife once too.”(97). These lines cause me to believe that the old man once had a lover to go home to, and now that she’s gone, he only looks forward to staying up late at the café. The older waiter similarly feels the same solitude as the old man does. Hemingway states, “… he would go home to his room. He would lie in bed…” (99), this sentence indicates to me that the waiter also has no partner because it never states that he lies in bed with someone else. Thus causing the older waiter to be desolate as well as the old man. The two characters also share another trait that causes them to feel lonely: no faith. In a country that relies heavily on religion I believe that these two characters would tend to feel disconnected because they do not share a commonality with those people. I believe that the two characters are confused by everyone’s devotion because they no longer can find its meaning anymore. This causes them to feel loneliness because everyone sees something they can no longer find significance in. Both characters share feelings of isolation and confusion that consequently causes their solitude. Furthermore, the old man and older waiter cope with their seclusion by staying in the café late at night to gain clarity. This line of the story, “…while he was a good client…” (96) indicates to me that the old man is a regular. I believe he goes to the café often as a coping method because a quiet, well lit café, can provide clearness to those who have no one. In addition, intoxication is also another coping method for the old man. Drinking makes the old man feel dignified and as he walks out of the café the waiters state he doesn’t stumble, but walks with dignity. Thus causing me to believe that alcohol gives the old man pride. The older waiter also copes with his isolation in the same way the old man does but by keeping the café open for others. He declares”… Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the café.”(98). I believe that keeping the café open helps distract his mind and it helps him find peace within his services. As long as the café stays open, the mature waiter is able to cope with his unhappiness. The old man and older waiter both find clarity within the café because it provides a distraction in a world that is going to war, and it delivers order to their muddled feelings about religion. I believe that as long as the two characters are in the café they will be able to cope with their difficult feelings. The older waiter and old man also share desolation that is caused by a loss of faith. I know the old man has lost his devotion because the waiters state that he had tried to commit suicide. I believe this because in Catholicism suicide is considered a major sin, and someone who has assurance in their religion would not want to commit an immorality. On the other hand, if an individual has no assurance then they would not worry about committing an atrocity. The older waiter similarly has lost his faith in religion too. As he rambles in his head after the younger waiter has closed up, he mumbles “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is nada…"(98) which essentially means he is mocking the Lord’s Prayer. This evidence leads me to assume that the waiter is an atheist and has lost his devotion some time ago. I believe that losing one’s faith is a distressing situation because something that once had meaning now means nothing, which would cause the two characters anguish. The old man and old waiter in Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” equally share despair and finally find clarity within the café. Their unhappiness is caused by their loss of faith in a country that is sure of its devotion. While everyone is sure of their religion, they question it. These two characters feel as if they can’t escape their feelings, but they find out that the café is a great coping method that deals with their sorrows. The old man deals with his despair through alcohol, while the older waiters copes with his unhappiness through his services to others that provide hope and peace to his mind. I believe that these two characters can never rid themselves of their unhappiness, but they will always find clarity within the café. Despair is puzzling, and if one cannot find a method to deal with its pain-like the old man and older waiter did-then they will forever be challenged by its madness.

Work Cited Abcarian, Richard and Klotz, Marvin. Literature: The Human Experience: Reading and Writing. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

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