Ernest Hemingway captures the essence and origins of nihilistic thought in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, written in a time of religious and moral confusion shortly after The Great War. The ideas expressed in this short story represent the post World War 1 thinking of Hemingway, and the notoriously nihilistic Lost Generation in Paris, which was greatly influenced by the many traumas of war. Learning from his unnerving experiences in battle, Hemingway enforces the idea that all humans will inevitably fade into eternal nothingness and everything valued by humans is worthless. He develops this idea by creating a brilliant mockery of two coveted religious documents, revealing authority figures as typical, despicable, human beings, and
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He shows this inability to understand the pain of the old man by forcing him out of the cafe, and even saying that he “wouldn’t want to be that old” (495). Additionally, the young waiter selfishly feels that the old drunk “should have killed [himself] last week” (494), simply because he doesn’t want to waste his time dealing with him. Like most young people, the young waiter is a short-term thinker, and he has not even thought of the possibility of death; Hemingway implies that the drunken old man and the older waiter were once youthful existentialists as well. More importantly, the reader can see that life is only enjoyed for a brief moment in time, and then everyone will disintegrate into complete and utter nothingness.
The older waiter, a more understanding and seasoned man, has lost his youth and is beginning to realize that the obliteration of his existence is approaching. He claims that he is the type of person who “[likes] to stay late at the cafe” (496), meaning that he requires a place of order and cleanliness just to take his mind off of death, and the idea of nothingness. These thoughts translate into the way he treats the old drunken man; he lets the old man lurk around the cafe because he needs “a light for the night” (496) to chase away the evil thoughts of death. Similarly, he sees the old man as “clean” (495), meaning that he is a man