A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a short story by Ernest Hemingway, first published in 1926. It was later included in his 1933 collection, Winner Take Nothing.

The story

It is late evening. Inside of the café, there are two waiters (old and young) and the old man who is sitting outside on the terrace. "The old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at the night it was quiet and he felt the difference". He was drunk as usual. The waiters are chatting about the old man who tried to commit suicide last week. The young waiter has no idea why he wanted to kill himself: "He was in despair" (...) "He has plenty of money".

Eventually the old man wants another glass of brandy. The young waiter comes to him and refuses to give him another glass: "You will be drunk". Disappointed, he goes back inside of the café. The young waiter starts to complain about the old man. "I'm sleepy(...) he should have killed himself last week". Then he takes the brandy bottle and marches out to the old man's table and says this word directly to the old man, but as the old man is deaf he does not understand him.

Afterwards in the café, both waiters are talking about the reasons that some old people commit suicide. From this conversation, the reader can gather that the old man who was there last week hanged himself with a rope, and that it was his niece that cut him down. The young waiter again states that the old man who is there tonight should go home because he, the young waiter, wants to go home to his wife. Furthermore, the young waiter cannot understand that both the old man and the older waiter like to stay in the café longer: "He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me."- he said. Once again we can see that the young waiter has no regard toward the old, as he describes the old as a "nasty thing." The older waiter tries to explain a few things to the younger waiter. The old deaf man wants another glass, but the waiter who was in a hurry persuades him "with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. "No more tonight. Close now". The old man pays for the brandy and gives a tip to the waiter.

Both waiters are putting the shutter, only this time they are talking about a matter of being lonely, feeling no fear about going home before usual hours. Young man: "I'm confidence. I am all confidence." Then he says that the older waiter has the same things as he, but the older waiter says "No. I have never had confidence and I am not young (...) I am of those who like to stay late at the café," (...) "With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night." The young waiter seems to not comprehend the idea of a well-lighted and clean place where the old can escape from loneliness. "..there are shadows of the leaves"- the older waiter says. Well-lighted is a contrast with the darkness of death and bad thoughts. The darkness must be avoided because in the darkness everything is a "nada" (Spanish: 'nothing'). The older waiter stays in case someone needs a lighted cafe in the night, in contrast with a bodega or a bar, which may not be lighted or clean and thus will only increase the loneliness.

The young waiter leaves the scene, and after 'good night,' the older waiter begins a monologue in which "nada [nothing]" replaces words in the Lord's Prayer, and the first line in the Hail Mary prayer.

Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada [then nothing]. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.

After that he smiles and goes to stand in front of a bar, which he thinks needs cleaning.

"What's yours?" asked the barman. [apparently asking for an order, meaning "What is your drink"]


"Otro loco mas," [Another crazy person] said the barman and turned away. The waiter then finally orders a little coffee.

The story ends with these words: Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it's probably only insomnia. Many must have it.


In A Clean Well Lighted Place Hemingway uses the waiters to judge the old man and portray his views towards the type of drinker he is. As a clean drunk, the man does not spill a drop as he drinks and can even walk steadily while he finally leaves the café. The waiters talk between themselves as the young waiter asks the old waiter the man’s story. He wonders how anyone could sit alone while drinking instead of buying a bottle for himself while drinking in the comfort of his own home. It is then the old waiter who defends the man. The old waiter acknowledges that it is better for the man to have many drinks in public than any drinks in private. In the film version of the story, the old waiter goes to bed alone in his own place with a bottle of alcohol near his nightstand suggesting that he had been speaking from experience while defending the old man.

Another way to analyze the relationships between the men is to compare them as one person. The young waiter complains about having to stick around the café waiting for the man to finish drinking. He claims that he has a wife to go home to and he would rather be in bed than in the café. The old waiter defends the drinking man because he can relate and even see himself in the man. He sympathizes knowing that he, too, prefers a clean well lighted place to drink and will later appreciate such a place in his old drinking age. The old man is in his final years of life and the old waiter recognizes that he soon will have the same fate as the old man. A progression of age is seen among the characters demonstrating the transition from being young and social to aging and feeling lonely. In "A Clean Well Lighted Place," Hemingway portrays a difference in age, experience, and opinion of drinking through the unique characters that could represent a progression of alcoholism.

Historical reaction by other authors

James Joyce once remarked: "He [Hemingway] has reduced the veil between literature and life, which is what every writer strives to do. Have you read 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place'?...It is masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best short stories ever written..." 每一个人都过着 空虚的生活


  • From 1975-2006, there were bookstores in the San Francisco area called A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, named for the story.

External links

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