10 September 2014
Is Happiness Real? An Analysis of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
As people grow older and the falsehoods of youth are revealed, they begin to realize what a cold, hard place the world truly is. Young people tend to not see the world as it is. The youth are inclined to see the good in things and ignore the bad. But as they age, the glaring truths of life become impossible to ignore. The harshest truth is that happiness is only temporary. Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” supports this claim. By describing three men who are on different stages of their lives, Hemingway’s short story shows that happiness is an illusion that fades with time. Hemingway’s description of the young waiter’s views of his home life, time, privilege, loneliness are being juxtaposed with the older waiter and the old man’s views to show the downward spiral of happiness with age.
The old man and the young waiter have completely different views of their home life. Throughout the beginning of the story, the younger waiter is impatient and wants the old man to go home. The young waiter is doing this for completely selfish reasons. He wants to “go home and into bed” where his “wife [is] waiting in bed for [him]” (Hemingway 144 145). The young waiter has someone he loves to go home to, which is more than what the old man has. The old man has “had a wife once too” but it is assumed that she has died (144). The old man has an empty, desolate house that holds nothing but shadows. Hemingway contrasts a young man happily in love and an old man who has lost the love of his life to foreshadow the young waiter’s life. The old man was probably once as happy as the young waiter. The old man has lost the person who made him the happiest in his life to death. The young waiter will also eventually lose his wife, and in doing so, he will lose his happiness.
The young waiter’s inability to see his fate when viewing the old man shows his naïve grasp of time. The young waiter says “he wouldn’t want to be that old” (144). Warren Bennett emphasizes that “whatever [the young waiter] has said about the others may soon be said about him given time” (Bennett no pag). The young waiter will eventually be in the old man’s position. The younger waiter also thinks that time means is more important to him that to the old man (Hemingway 145). Although the older waiter rebuts the young waiter’s claim by saying “an hour is the same”, the younger waiter is correct in his assumption (145). The old man doesn’t like time. He wants his time to be over, which is why he tried to commit suicide (143). The old man has become so hurt by life that he doesn’t want his life anymore. Hemingway builds a digression of the love of time with the young waiter, the older waiter, and the old man. The young man finds time essential, the older waiter does not seem to think about time, and the old man wants time to end. This digression shows that as one ages, time becomes an unwanted burden that, to some, is too much to bear.
Another thing the young waiter is unable to see is his privileged life. The young waiter does not realize that having his “youth, confidence, and a job” is an incredible blessing that not everyone has (145).When the young waiter asked the older waiter what made his life different from the older waiter’s life, the older waiter uttered that he had nothing but a job (145). The old man has even less than them both. The old man has lost his job, life has worn away his confidence, and old age has taken away his wife. The young waiter fails to see how privileged he is because he is too blind to see what is to come. According to Sam Bluefarb, the young waiter is “too far back on the threshold of life…to be able to sympathize with the old man” (Bluefarb 4). He does not think of the future and how one day he will be old. He cannot see himself without his job or without his...
Benert, Annette. "Survival through Irony: Hemingway 's 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place, '." Studies In Short Fiction 11.2 (Spring 1974): 181-187. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 25 Sept 2014.
Bennett, Warren. "Character, Irony, and Resolution in 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place, '." American Literature 42.1 (Mar. 1970): 70-79. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 25 Sept 2014
Bluefarb, Sam. “The Search for the Absolute in Hemingway 's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro".” The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association 25.1 (1971): 3-9. JSTOR. Web. 25 Sept 2014.
Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia Boston: Pearson, 2012. 143-146. Print.
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