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A Clean Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway

Updated on March 13, 2013

Who deserves the hour more?


It is a lonely night when an old customer, who happens to be deaf, stays at the café longer than the young waiter wants. The young waiter deeply desires to find a way to get the customer to leave the café, so that he can go back home to his wife. He believes that his time is worth more than the customer’s time because he is young, confident, and employed. The waiter deserves the hour less, because his desire to go home is not important enough to compensate for the time at which the café closes.

Though the young waiter

has a wife at home and is desperate to leave early to see his wife; he does not deserve the right to hold grudges against his customer for staying at the café until it closes. The young waiter complains to the old waiter about the fact that his wife is waiting for him in bed and how much he wishes that the old man is dead. "You have youth, confidence, and ajob," says the old waiter (154). "You have everything (154)." The waiter later says that the only thing they have in common is that they both have a job. The young waiter, addressing other places the old man can go, says that he can drink at home, at a bar, or at a bodega. He believes he has an optimistic future of abundant opportunities as a young man; therefore, he can contribute more in an hour than the old man. However, the customer, who was recently protected from his suicidal attempt, tries to relax in a quiet and peaceful café while drinking excessively.


The old waiter, who represents the customer’s perspective, says that the customer had a wife. As a result, one may assume that he is depressed because of his lack of a wife to support him. He needs an extra hour, away from home, to alleviate his pains from the place that reminds him of his wife. So, he plans to stay at the café until three o’ clock in the morning, but the young waiter blatantly runs him out an hour before the building closes. The old waiter says, “I am of those who like to stay late at the café, with all those who do not want to go to bed, with all those who need a light for the night (154).” When the young waiter suggests that the customer should go to the bar, the old waiter says that a bar differs from the café substantially: “The light is very bright and pleasant but the bar is unpolished (155).”

The waiter’s desire to go home is beside the point; the café is not closed. An hour is the same to everyone whether they are young, old, or going through times of despair. For that reason, the customer should be able to use that extra hour to drink as much as he wants. The young waiter thinks that, because he still has a wife, he earns the hour more. The old waiter makes it clear to the young waiter that young and old men value time differently, thus he will not understand the old man. The customer needs a place to stay and the café should be available if it is not closed. Whether or not the waiter deserves to go home, the customer still earns the right to stay at the café as long as the café is open.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama,

and Writing 2005, 2007, 2010 11th edition. Gioia, Dana and Kennedy, X.J. 8153-155. Print.

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