“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”: The Time of Despair “This thing all things devours: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones to meal; Slays king, ruins town; And beats high mountains down”. Much like J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of that famous riddle from The Hobbit, Earnest Hemingway believes that time is a predator; ultimately everything that has a beginning has an end, and in time it will fade from all memory.
In “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, Earnest Hemingway portrays the theme of Time through dynamic contrasting imagery and ironic tone. Hemingway employs contrasting imagery to display the struggle between light and dark throughout the story. The old and deaf man constructs his sanctuary at this clean and well-lighted cafe, yet he sits within the shadows of the trees in the darkness. Hemingway introduces the contrasting ideas of light and dark: “This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted.
The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves. ” The very same place the old man seeks refuge is where he hides in the shadows, drinking and feeding his depression and misery. The old waiter is empathetic with the old man, understanding and acknowledging the implicit nature of time. The old waiter is conscious of the future, and recognizes the glum truth that everyone dies alone. The young waiter however, thinks only in the present, and is selfish and impatient.
Hemingway shows the disparity in the perception of time between the two waiters: “I wouldn’t want to be that old. An old man is a Nasty thing. ” To which the old waiter replies “Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, Drunk. Look at him. ” Time is the ruler of maturation, and while on the surface the old man appears to be useless, his presence at the cafe gives it meaning. Just like the soldier’s night with the prostitute will only temporarily solve his need for companionship, the cafe can only provide short-lived asylum for the old man.
Although the old man’s deafness is seen as a disability, it is what truly gives him peace. His deafness is what isolates him from the outside world, but at the same time it allows him to cope with the judgmental talk of the two waiters. Being deaf is exactly what the old man needs to survive. In conclusion, Hemingway depicts vivid contrasting imagery and irony in order to illustrate the effects Time has on a person.