Hemingway’s “A Clean Well- Lighted Place” was a short story about two waiters discussing the attempted suicide of an old man, who regularly comes to the bar. After reading over once, the story seems to have no direction or point. The story seems to just be random and just telling about how a man tried to kill himself. When read again, and more meticulously, an underlying meaning and other information can be found in the story. The meaning and information however can only be found by techniques or themes put into the story by the author himself.
In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”, the underlying message can be discovered through dialogue and the reoccurring theme of nada. First, Hemingway uses a strange technique of dialogue throughout his story which helps carry out his main points and also adds a sense of mystery in his writing. Readers can recognize that there seems to be a problem when it comes to assigning characters with their appropriate line. Hemingway intentionally leaves out indication on who says what, which gives the story that sense of mystery referenced earlier. According to Kroeger, an insoluble problem occurs based on what each character knows.
One speaker may seem to know the details, while the other speaker does not, but in a different instance the situation feels reversed (240). The lack of identification causes Hemingway’s work to become very confusing, but at the same time draws in an increased interest in trying to figure out, which character is saying what. Although the story feels as if it is leaving the reader clueless, Hemingway did drop very subtle hints to point the reader to an answer. By using dialogue and rarely addressing the speaker, the character traits of each person in the story were revealed.
With the information given, dialogue can be assigned to each character, more importantly the old waiter and the young waiter. The old waiter can be described as more spiritual, patient and non-materialistic, whereas the young waiter cares deeply about money and material and is less patient. Kroeger agrees when he references the fact that the old waiter, who was attributed these lines, recited the Hail Mary and the Our Father. Due to those lines, the old waiter can also be assigned the line saying that the niece cut the old man down out of “fear for his soul.
Also Kroeger claims that the line “How much money does has he got”, can be attributed to the young waiter because of his concern for money (241). Characteristics given to the reader in sparse labeling of dialogue can help when piecing together which character said what; however Hemingway left just enough out to keep that sense of confusion and mystery. By doing this Hemingway work also gains interest and forces the reader to think deeper about the story. With the general personality of the characters known, the reader can give certain lines to the young and the old waiter.
Colburn states that by using the reference point where the young waiter says that the old man is lonely and that he has a wife, the reader can assign the young waiter to the alternating lines above it (241). The first line would then be given to the old waiter, which would mean that he was the one who knew about the suicide attempt (Kroeger 241). When finally figuring out who said who in the first ten lines of dialogue, a pattern seems to be created in the story, where the young and old waiter alternate lines.
After discovering all the information and feeling as if the reader solved the dialogue problem, Hemingway throws in another twist. He disrupts the pattern that was formed by using characteristics and labels on dialogue. The sense of confusion rises once again in the story when one of the waiters says “I know you said she cut him down (Hemingway 37). ” Previously, if following the pattern the reader would come to the conclusion that the old waiter was the one who had known about the suicide attempt, however when the pattern is continued to the preceding quote, the reader faces an inconsistency.
Now it seems as if the old waiter does not know about the old man’s suicide attempt and that the young waiter does (Colburn 241). Hemingway reignites interest into the story by bringing back that sense of mystery and confusion of dialogue. When a reader thinks they figured out who was saying who, Hemingway changed it up. The inconsistency is a huge problem in the story that Hemingway smartly took to his advantage. Another major aspect that Hemingway uses in the story is the theme of nada. In the writing of Hemingway, the term nada has a double meaning.
The first being the English translation of the Spanish word nada which means “nothing. ” The second being that nada implies that one who experiences nada does not need to search for the meaning of existence any longer (Stock 54). The first connotation is a straight forward definition, whereas the second connotation suggests that when someone finds nada they would not need an explanation as to why people are alive. According to Kroeger, Hemingway also uses the word nada to define chaos (241). With nada comes disaster destruction and distortion.
Hemingway was very creative when using the theme of nada and actually found a way of incorporating it into the dialogue. In one instance, he uses characterization and the understanding of nada of one of the characters to hint at who said the line. An example of that happening is when a waiter says that the old man killed himself out of despair. It would not be reasonable for the young waiter to say this because the old waiter is the one who understands that the old man’s despair comes from the fact that all is nada (Kroeger 241).
The knowledge of nada by the old waiter is present when he says the Hail Mary and our father including the word nada. Then he says “hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee (Hemingway 72). ” The waiter acknowledges that life is meaningless and there is nothing to it or with us. Another clever connection between nada and the dialogue deals with Hemingway not clearly assigning lines to characters. Confusion stirs throughout the story and symbolizes the chaos that goes on in life which is nada. When expressing and using the word nada, Hemingway uses the character of the old waiter to portray the message.
The old waiter is the only one able to use the word nada because he is aware of the importance of non-rational and mystical experience, unlike the voung waiter who is materialistic (Stock 55). As the old waiter tries to explain the word nada, he has a difficult time because it is expressed in terms that normally are not affiliated with religious experience, and can only be understood if the person listening has felt that experience. To compensate the old waiter just says that they don’t understand (55). Cleanliness and order are other ways that nada is introduced and used by the old waiter.
The waiter has a concern for cleanliness and order which also feeds into his sense of importance of place. Along with that is the old waiter’s gratefulness for light and shadows. All of the things recently stated show a religious awareness that values the nature of things, and that awareness is changed by the dangers of religious excess that can be seen in the nada concept (Stock 55). Using the theme of nada and the use of dialogue Hemingway was able to portray an underlying message and also make the story almost as if it were a puzzle.
The theme of nada expressed the message of chaos in our world along with people who experience the religious feeling of nada will not have to search for the meaning of life. The dialogue played a major factor in characterization and made the reader have to piece which character said what. The dialogue was helpful in gathering information from the story while also creating a more interest and mystery. When read over once the story seems to have no meaning but because of the dialogue and the theme nada readers can figure out the underlying meaning and information from the story.