* Site-Outage Notice: Our engineering elves will be tweaking the Shmoop site from Monday, December 22 10:00 PM PST to Tuesday, December 23 5:00 AM PST. The site will be unavailable during this time.
Dismiss
© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

by Ernest Hemingway

The Café

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

The clean, well-lighted café of the story's title is its central image. This kind of café is a kind of idealized space; in it, even the loneliest, most despairing of men can find some kind of comfort. The café represents a space in which one can escape from troubles – in this case, from the despair of everyday life. The older waiter explains why these specific elements are necessary in his ideal space: he needs the café to be clean and quiet (music is absolutely out), and most importantly, he requires a lot of light. But why? What does that light do for these characters? Why can't the older waiter or the old man be content to sit in a dimly-lit bar to drink undisturbed?

The answer is simple – light chases away the dark. You know that feeling of insecurity and dread that can creep in at night? That's what these characters are feeling; the older waiter expresses it best when he describes the awful nothingness of life – "nada y pues nada y pues nada" (14). Nothing can offer him comfort, and this vast spiritual emptiness is overwhelming. Hemingway suggests that only the light of a pleasant café, and the numbing effect of drunkenness, can push away the dark realization that we are all nothing.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...

Advertisement
Noodle's College Search
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement