Hemingway was a big drinker, and so are most of his characters; some are so-called "good" drunks, while others are "bad" ones. What, you may ask, is a "good" drunk in Hemingway's experienced opinion? Basically, it's someone who can hold his or her liquor and retain some dignity, even when he/she's totally plastered. The real question is, why do Hemingway's characters need to be drunk all the time, however they handle it? There's a wide variety of possible answers to this question, but the best one is the most obvious: Hemingway's characters drink to escape from everyday life. "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is no exception – here, one of the characters drinks every night to escape from himself and his loneliness.
Questions About Drugs and Alcohol
What do you think is the significance of the fact that the old man is a "clean" drunk?
Why is it different to drink alone in a café than to drink alone at home?
Why does the old man have to be drunk all the time?
What is the function of alcohol in this story?
Chew on This
Alcohol serves as an anesthetic in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," allowing the old man to dull the pain of a meaningless existence.
Drinking at a café, in Hemingway's story, is a way of participating in society, even if one drinks alone there.