Study Guide

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Writing Style

By Ernest Hemingway

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Writing Style

Sparse, Simple, Unornamented – classic Hemingway

This super-short short story is a terrific example of Hemingway's famous prose style. His writing is journalistic and no-nonsense; he reports dialogue cleanly and directly, without any froufy adjectives or fancy-pants descriptions. This sparse, tight economy of words is one of the things that made Hemingway so very, very famous in the 1920s, and his distinctive style is still much admired to this day.

Hemingway's Hemingwayness contributes to the bleak outlook of this story – instead of hearing about the despair of the old man, phrased eloquently and poetically over a span of pages, we simply get a kind of punch to the gut in this story. Its extreme shortness makes its point all the more powerful, and the direct reportage of dialogue and inner monologue are far more effective here than any amount of descriptive language could ever be. The most descriptive line we get, in fact, is the opening of the story, which, in fact, barely tells us anything at all: "It was late and every one had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light" (1). We don't see the café, nor do we know where it is or anything else about it – however, Hemingway manages to sketch out just enough of the scene for us to create a feeling of the setting for us.

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