Study Guide

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place Old Age

By Ernest Hemingway

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Old Age

Now, "Old Age" may look a lot like "Mortality" to young whippersnappers, but let us just tell you that while these two themes are related, they are certainly not the same. In this text, the process of aging makes the characters feel their mortality; the Old Man's attempted suicide demonstrates his willingness to escape the loneliness that, according to Hemingway, comes with age. Hemingway implies that, no matter how much money we have, or how successful we have been in life, we are all ultimately end up as lonely individuals. In this loneliness, what matters above all is simply to have some means of escape from this loneliness, whether that's suicide, drunkenness, or simply a clean, well-lighted place to sit and still feel like part of the world.

Questions About Old Age

  1. What does the younger waiter understand about old age?
  2. How does the younger waiter view the process of aging?
  3. We know that the old man is about eighty years old. How old do you think the older waiter is? How old is the younger waiter? Do their ages matter?

Chew on This

Youth, represented by the younger waiter, is perceived to be impatient and naïve; a greater understanding of the world can only come with time.

Hemingway's depiction of old age overturns traditional perceptions of the old as wiser and more at peace with the world; old age in this story entails greater discontent and dissatisfaction, while wisdom gained about life is disconcerting rather than reassuring.

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