A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
How we cite our quotes:
"I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o'clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?"
"He stays up because he likes it."
"He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me."
"He had a wife once too."
"A wife would be no good to him now."
"You can't tell. He might be better with a wife." (9)
This quote suggests that all good things must come to an end – it's a cliché, but hey, it's true. We learn that the old man, who now has nothing to live for except his lonely drinks in the café, once had a wife and a life of his own; however, in his old age, it's unclear as to whether or not companionship could possibly do him any good.
"And you? You have no fear of going home before your usual hour?"
"Are you trying to insult me?"
"No, hombre, only to make a joke."
"No," the waiter who was in a hurry said, rising from putting on the metal shutters. "I have confidence. I am all confidence."
"You have youth, confidence, and a job," the older waiter said. "You have everything."
"And what do you lack?"
"Everything but work."
"You have everything I have."
"No. I have never had confidence and I'm not young." (13)
The younger waiter is totally satisfied with his life – he believes in his wife and his way of living, and, like most of us, believes that his youth makes him invincible. The older waiter, however, is past this point in his life; we wonder if dissatisfaction and uncertainty are inevitable consequences of age.
"We are of two different kinds," the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. "It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe."
"Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long."
"You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves." (13)
The idea that someone might "need" the café, like the old man, suggests that the world is full of discontented, lost souls, who just need somewhere bright and pleasant to sit and escape from themselves.