Study Guide

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Old Age

By Ernest Hemingway

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Old Age

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"

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. In the day time the street was dusty; but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. (1)

Though deaf, the old man can feel the quiet of the café at night, and this extra-sensory perception makes us wonder about what else he might be able to "feel."

Older Waiter

stood up, slowly counted the saucers, took a leather coin purse from his pocket and paid for the drinks, leaving half a peseta tip.

The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.

"Why didn't you let him stay and drink?" the unhurried waiter asked. They were putting up the shutters. "It is not half-past two."

"I want to go home to bed."

"What is an hour?"

"More to me than to him." (11-13)

The younger waiter's impatience suggests that time is of more value to the young than to the old – to him, an extra hour means that he can spend more time with his wife, who's waiting at home, but, in his view, an hour more or less means nothing to the old man, who has nobody waiting for him.

Younger Waiter

"I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing."

"Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him." (9)

Here, we see two contrasting views of age: the younger waiter sees old age as disgusting, while the older waiter appreciates and admires the old man's cleanliness and dignity, even at his advanced age.

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