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 shine.
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.