A Clean, Well Lighted Place summary

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place begins with a description of a quiet, outdoor café at dusk. A deaf old man, who frequents the café regularly, sits at a table under a tree, slowly drinking himself to a stupor as usual. Preparing to close, two waiters speak to themselves about the elderly gentleman, one telling the other that the man attempted suicide the week before. Soon the man demands another bottle of brandy, and the younger waiter belligerently concedes, telling the deaf man, “You should have killed yourself last week,” as he pours him another glass. The waiter returns inside, and the two café workers continue their conversation about the old man’s suicide attempt. The younger waiter, who says that he never gets to bed before three o’clock and that his wife is waiting for him, seems especially angered at the patron’s continued presence. It seems the old man is very lonely and has no remaining family, save perhaps his niece, who cut him down from the rope with which he tried to hang himself the previous week. Throughout the conversation, the young waiter continues to insult the old man, calling him “a nasty thing.” The older waiter defends the senior, however, saying that he is clean and dignified in his drunkenness. Finally the young waiter, or the waiter with a wife, as Hemingway refers to him, forces the man to pay the bill, and soon the man leaves. Cleaning up, the old waiter dispenses a few words of wisdom to his younger colleague, telling him that he identifies with the old man’s desire to stay up all night drinking, feeling the need to keep the café, a clean, well-lighted place, open for anyone who needs it. Now alone, the old waiter continues his train of thought, deciding that life is meaningless. He recites to himself the Lord’s Prayer, except he removes all references to God and replaces them with “nada,” the Spanish word for “nothing.” On his way home, the waiter stops at a bar, telling the bartender that the bar is unpolished, reminding himself of his disdain for bars because they aren’t the clean, well-lighted places he relishes. He leaves the bar, knowing that he will not get to sleep until dawn. He tells himself, “it is probably only insomnia.” “Many must have it.”