web analytics
A clean, well-lighted place

A clean, well-lighted place

Author Ernest Hemingway
Title A clean, well-lighted place
Year 1926

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American journalist, short story author and novelist. In the 1920s he became part of the American expatriate literary community in Paris (sometimes known as The lost generation). In the 1930s, he became war correspondent in Europe, first during the civil war in Spain (he actively supported the Republicans), and later the second world war.

Hemingway was one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. He was awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1953 (for The old man and the sea) and the Nobel prize in 1954.

Many people consider Hemingway’s short stories superior to his novels, and one of his best known stories is A clean, well-lighted place.

The story is simple enough. The scene is a cafe (a clean, well-lighted place), at 2:30 a.m. There is one visitor left, an old man seeking refuge from the emptiness of life and the despair of old age in brandy, and the two waiters talk about him. The younger waiter asks the old man to leave so that they can close up and go home. The older waiter sympathizes with the old man and appears to feel the same nothingness in his life:

“It was all nothing, and a man was nothing too.”

Hemingway used his usual terse style to good effect. The story contains stark images of light and dark, of youth and old age, of despair, nothingness. Hemingway’s own fear of old age seems to permeate through the story. The feeling this story left behind was similar to the feeling I had watching Goya’s black paintings, in particular Two friars and Two old people eating – the same despair, the same fear of old age and the emptiness that goes with it.

A clean, well-lighted place was read as part of the Short Story Short Challenge.


  1. I liked your take on this story. Other Hemingway stories I’d recommend: Hills Like White Elephants, The Killers, Big Two-Hearted River (parts one and two), Snows of Kilamanjaro and Short, Happy Life of Francis McComber.

  2. Thanks for your recommendations, LK. So far, I only read For whom the bell tolls (in high school, will re-read for the classics challenge) and The old man and the sea. I never read Hemingway’s short stories (except the famous For sale: baby shoes, never worn). I’ll try some of your suggestions. Thanks.

  3. not too long ago we read A Farewell to Arms in my book club, and while i was glad that i read it, it certainly wasn’t my favorite read. i felt the same way about The Old Man and the Sea when i read it in high school. i’d forgotten about “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” though – which i also read in high school. i really did enjoy it. thanks for the reminder!

  4. Thanks for your comment, alisonwonderland. I never read A farewell to arms, but I quite enjoyed The old man and the sea when I read it.


  1. For whom the bell tolls | Henk van Kampen photography - [...] and the plot, but nothing else. Much later, I read The old man and the see, and (recently) A…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *