The lives of some people often seems like a slow but subtle decline to nothingness. A dead end is the inevitable destination, and it might be closer than it seems to be. Being a troubled man himself, the author tried to signify this ideal in his short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, by representing three stages of life through the three characters in the story: the young waiter, the older waiter and the old man.
The first character is the young waiter. He is youthful and healthy, and has a loving wife waiting in bed for him every night. He is also inconsiderate, frustrated and arrogant. He is eager to close the café and return home, not letting the old man stay and drink. He treats the old man with disrespect, taking cruel advantage of the old man’s deafness by telling him: “You should have killed yourself last week.” He cannot understand the old man’s depression, and thinks an hour is “More to me than to him.” His personality and disdain may be a indication of the first stage in life, where one is blinded by youth and confidence, ignoring the true griefs and vacuities of life.
The older waiter is much more understanding than his colleague. He sympathizes with the old man, disagreeing with the generalizations of the younger waiter. In fact, he wants the café open, so he can stay there too “[with] all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.” However, the older waiter tries visiting a bar, which he dislikes and considers as an antithesis of a clean, well-lighted place, and tries justifying his empty depression as insomnia. This character represents the second stage of life, half-realization and half-denial of the emptiness to come.
The old man symbolizes the last stage of life, where he surrenders himself to “nada”. He has given up everything, to the point where he attempts suicide by hanging himself, his death postponed only by his niece who cut him down. He has money, which symbolizes that materialistic things cannot salvage a man from such miseries. He searches for a clean, well- lighted place for a temporary sanctuary, even when he knows the comfort will be ephemeral.
The young waiter, the older waiter and the old man are 3 very different people in terms of age, ideals, personality and social status, their will would give away in the face of “nada”. The love and warmth in life are nothing but superficial delusions, and the void that awaits is the only thing that matters when the next thing left in life is death. But is that what the story is ultimately trying to tell? No, this story tells is that there is still hope. There are still clean, well-lighted places where troubled souls can rest. We should leave those places open, no matter how late at night.