Study Guide

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Dissatisfaction

By Ernest Hemingway

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Unhappiness, discontent, or just plain everyday life – call it what you will, dissatisfaction is a pretty universal theme in the works of Mr. Ernest Hemingway. In "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," Hemingway offers a fairly pessimistic view of the world, suggesting that even people who are young, happy, and totally content will someday end up lonely, drunk, and dissatisfied. By showing us three characters in different stages of life (young, middle aged, and elderly), Hemingway depicts the way in which life grows increasingly unsatisfactory, until the only viable options are suicide or drunkenness. Depressing.

Questions About Dissatisfaction

  1. We know that the old man lives well and has enough money to take care of himself. Why do you think he is so unhappy?
  2. Do you think the younger waiter will always be so self-satisfied and confident?
  3. What are the potential causes of the older waiter's "insomnia?"
  4. Do you think that the world, as conceived of by Hemingway, is really made up of two kinds of people – those who are happy and those who aren't?
  5. Do you think the old man was happy when he had a wife and a family, or do you think his dissatisfaction has always been part of his nature?

Chew on This

Though the younger waiter's confidence seems unshakeable, the presence of the two older men suggests that his youthful happiness will inevitably be supplanted by the discontent of old age.

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