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A Clean Well Lighted Place: Symbolism Analysis Essay Sample

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A Clean Well Lighted Place: Symbolism Analysis Essay Sample

A Clean, Well-Lighted place is a short story by American Author Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway uses his unique writing style to describe a story that starts off with a deaf man sitting in a dark café. The entire story unfolds in the small café with three dominant speaking characters. The old man is sitting in the bar and is a customer who is drinking, and the other two characters are a waiter and barman. The barman is substantially older than the waiter and unmarried with no family. The waiter is a younger man with a family and a youthful hurried life. The story begins with the older customer wanting a refill of his drink, and the younger bartender becomes irritated and wants to get home to his family being that it is so late. As the story plays out you begin to notice a relationship between the old bartender and the deaf man, being that they are both lonely and seek out their solace in bars indulging in late night drinking. It is disclosed to us that although the old man has money, he has still recently tried to commit suicide and is generally unhappy and lonely. The word “nothing “is repeated throughout the story linking the descriptive dark vs. light elements to feelings shared by both the old man and barman. Hemmingway uses a substantial amount of symbolism sprinkled every so delicately to help the reader sympathize and relate to the characters through element, empathy and feeling.

The first sign of symbolism presents itself in the very first sentence of the story. “It was late and everyone had left the café except an old man who sat in the shadow of the leaves that the trees made against the electric light.” (p 167) This scene describes an aged man who is sitting in a well lit café, yet falls in the shadow of a tree illuminated by a fake light. This simple short sentence places a shadow over the old man eluding a sort of darkness that seems to plague his character. The second sentence also presents symbolism, exposing that the old man is deaf. This is symbolic of the old man’s separation from the rest of the world. At one point the young waiter says something of hate to the old man, who has no idea because he cannot hear the words. The story progresses with dialect between the two waiters. It is clear that the age of the characters is also symbolic to the progression of alcoholism. The young man is in a hurry and could care less about staying out late for a drink with these two men as his company. The middle aged barman defends the older man because he is closer to seeing himself like the old man who is a drunk lonely suicidal dark being. The old man is at the end of his line and a full blown alcohol with not an ounce of hope left besides where he chooses to be miserable yet clean and dignified as he drowns his life away into a glass of brandy. In the dialect between the waiters, the younger barman makes a comment that “An old man is a nasty thing.” (p 168)

The older barman immediately comes to the old man’s rescue by describing him as a “clean drunk” which shows that the barman has apathy or relation to understanding the old man’s need for a clean bar instead of a filthy bodega. The behavior shows the symbolism between using the old man’s actions to describe a feeling of empathy felt by the barman who doesn’t want to feel like a “nasty thing”. The young man states that the old man should let them go home and that there are bars that are open later, and the barman continues to argue stating that a lighted place makes someone feel less dark in their heart and soul. The most dominant type of symbolism in this story is the reference between dark and light, used to describe the feelings between all of the characters with lighting and cleanliness. At this point the waiter now knows the barmen relates to the old man and exits the story (not dressed to really go home), and the barmen continues to reflect and talk to himself. The Bartender who was not ready to go home headed to the Bodega where he sat at a dirty bar and had a copita of “nada”. “Our Nada who art in nada, nada be thy name … “(p 170) is stated by the barman while sitting at the dusty unpolished bar.

To me the word “nada”, which means nothing in Spanish is symbolic to what the man feels inside as he sits all by himself late into the night in the dirty bodega. He states the Lord’s Prayer with the word Nada in place of Father/God which could also be symbolic of his feelings toward religion, or life in general. The title itself “A clean well-lighted place” is an example of symbolism. The title describes the difference between dark and light. It describes the difference between clean and dirty. The old man chose the clean lighted café instead of a dark, messy bodega to delve into his sloppy alcoholic slumber in order to mask his feelings of insanity and darkness that brews inside of his lonely soul. The contrast of his environment to the way that he feels is proof of balance that we all seek as human beings. It is proof that we mask things on the outside to hide the feelings that we feel deep inside. The last piece of symbolism that is worth mentioning would be in relation to the story and writer Mr. Hemmingway himself. Most people who know Hemmingway know that he often writes of alcoholism because he was in fact an alcoholic himself.

Most writers have a tendency to bleed their life into their interpretations and characters. This story could be symbolic of Hemmingway’s own progression through the various alcoholic stages. It could be symbolic of his fears and the darkness that surrounded Hemmingway as his disease progressed. This story was published in 1933 which would make Hemmingway just about middle-aged and could explain why the story seemed to relate to the middle-aged barman the most out of all three characters. It might be a coincidence that Hemmingway was once a handsome young boy with a family to go home to. Then as a middle aged man he ended up alone and privy to the voices in his head and empathy to loneliness. Is it irony that as an old man Hemmingway grew into a raging alcoholic and eventually committed suicide? Perhaps this story was written with a direct relation and foreshadowing to what Hemmingway saw unfolding because of his own dark passenger. The whole entire story displays sure examples of symbolism, right down to the title which describes what every one of us looks for in our lives, a clean well-lighted place to hide the messy dark bodega that lurks inside of us.

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