A clean well lighted place

Essay by KANYEWEST October 2004

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There has been a longstanding dispute among critics that argues the reasons behind such obvious ambiguity in Ernest Hemingway's 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place,' attempting to figure out whether or not the author did so purposely. It has been shown that Hemingway actually intended to include a lot of ambiguity into the story as a means by which to throw off his audience. The part of the story that has come under fire is the point at which the two waiters are exchanging dialogue. After some investigation, the writer discusses it has become apparent that in "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," Hemingway deliberately words the dialogue so that you are not able to identify which waiter is speaking. No one when first reading the story, can know which waiter is saying, as the dialogue opens, "Last week he tried to commit suicide." Critics will never agree that it is possible to know which waiter is saying what.

The second dialogue also reiterates this when speaking to the soldier. The third dialogue continues the challenge, as the younger waiter begins: "he's drunk now," he said."he's drunk every night.""what did he want to kill himself for?"By habit we assign this question and the rest to the younger waiter, then lines later find the older waiter saying " you said she cut him down," for he, it would seem, has been answering the questions. The context of controlled ambiguity assures us that when Hemingway decided to insert "you said she cut him down," he knew that this was decisive and he knew which waiter he was giving it to. The ambiguity is clear even before we know it is dual: once we have heard about "nada," the withholding of identification throws a spotlight on the opening " Nothing":"what [was he in...