Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Objective, Matter of Fact
Hemingway was not exactly a fan of high drama; in fact, even some of his most thrilling and adventurous stories are told in his signature deadpan fashion. Sometimes this is funny – heck, a lot of the time it's hilarious – but at other times, it's also devastatingly direct and striking. Here, the latter is true.
The unemotional narration of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" allows us to really digest what the characters are saying. After all, most of the story is just dialogue, punctuated by a long paragraph of "nada nada nada" – we have nothing else to focus on but the character's words and thoughts, and Hemingway doesn't attempt to interfere with our interpretation of these things. He very rarely places any judgment on his characters; for example, when the younger waiter tells the old man, "You should have killed yourself last week" (7), another author might have been tempted to add some stern adjective in there to show how rude the waiter is – perhaps "he said cruelly" or "he said unsympathetically." Hemingway, however, just leaves it as it is, clean, simple, and unapologetic: "'You should have killed yourself last week,' he said."