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Essay/Term paper: Hemingway's "a clean, well-lighted place" and his life

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Ernest Hemingway

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Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" and His Life

Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21st, 1899. He was the son of Dr.
Clarence Edmonds and Grace Hall Hemingway. He grew up in a small town called
Oak Park, Illinois. Hemingway was brought up in a somewhat conservative
household by his parents who pushed the value of politeness and religion. It
wasn't until he began English classes in school that his writing talent began to
After he graduated from high school Hemingway turned his back on
university and he decided to move to Kansas City. It was there where he got his
first job as a writer. He was a reporter for the Kansas City Star. The Star
was the first to introduce to him the news writing format which demands brief,
to the point sentences and the smooth flowing of ideas. It seems that Hemingway
adapted this style to his fiction writng. Hemingway demonstrates this talent in
a short story called "A Clean Well-Lighted Place".
When he was 19 Hemingway enlisted in the army. He was rejected due to a
defective left eye. He then turned to the Red Cross in which he became a second
lieutenant. The Red Cross brought him to the front lines of the war in Italy.
It was here where he saw many disturbing sights which probably had a hand in
shaping his character.
After extensive injuries from the war, Hemingway returned unhappily to
Oak Park. The impression left on him by his participation in the war had
greatly changed him. He began living at home again but refused to get a job,
even when his mother ordered him to. Soon she kicked him out and he moved to
Chicago. Here he made a living writing for the Toronto Star and working as a
sparring partner for boxers. While he was in Chicago he met his first wife, the
young and innocent Elizabeth Hadley Richardson.
Soon the young couple were married and they moved to Paris. It was here
where Hemingway encountered many of the greats, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound,
Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, John Dos Passos and Ford Madox Ford. It was Stein
who took him under her wing. She was first to point him in the direction of the
simple declarative sentence, which was another great influence on his style.
It seems to me that it wasn't until Hemingway developed an interest in
bull fighting that the idea for "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" may have come
around. Bull fighting seemed to trigger a whole new interest in Spain.
The short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" was set in a small cafe in
Madrid, Spain. There is an old deaf man who sits alone on a patio, sipping
brandy. Together two waiters observe the old man who is their last customer.
The old man is comforted by the peaceful atmosphere of the cafe but the younger
waiter wants him to leave. Hemingway may have seen himself as the older waiter,
he was about thirty-five years old when this story was written. In the story
the older waiter comes from the stand-point that he is getting old and he does
not really have anything to show for life, no friends, not very much money, and
no real love. At this point in his life, Hemingway may have seen himself here.
"A Clean and Well-Lighted Place" originally appeared in a short story book, To
Have and Have Not. This is a good summary phrase for this story. You have
happiness or you don't, you have friends or lovers or you don't, you have money
or you don't, and for those people who don't, there must be a place where they
can seek a false sense of comfort, like a quiet cafe in Spain. I feel that
Hemingway might have been feeling lonely and unfulfilled when he wrote this
story. The cafe might have been a fantasy place where he may have liked to go
to comfort himself. It seems that he puts himself in the place of the older
waiter who really has nothing but his work. Hemingway probably felt that he had
nothing but his writing.
There was an interesting part in the story that slants towards a
religious theme. He writes, "It was nothing that he knew too well. It was all
a nothing and a men was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it
needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it
but he knew it all was nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name..." and
he goes on from there. It first seemed like gibberish to me but when I asked a
friend who is fluent in Spanish, if "nada" was a word in Spanish she said, "sure,
it means 'nothing'". I think he wants the story to flirt with sacrilege by
saying there's only emptyness in the end.
I liked this story because Hemingway is such an amazing writer. He can
make you think about huge themes in the space of a short story. The dialogue is
sparse yet he can still create characters so vibrant it is like watching a movie.
Hemingway's short stories are very well thought out.
In the story there is also talk about the old deaf man trying to commit
suicide. This interests me because suicide seemed to fascinate Hemingway.
Earlier in life his father disgusted him by committing suicide and then there is
mention of it in the story. Hemingway may have felt that suicide was the only
way to deal with a problem. Sadly enough Hemingway started suffering from
mental problems later in life and he was admitted to a mental hospital. There
he was treated and released sometime later. Hemingway committed suicide on July
2nd, 1962.


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