A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
by Ernest Hemingway
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Short story
Publication typePeriodical
Media typePrint
Publication date1933

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is a short story by American author Ernest Hemingway, first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1933; it was also included in his collection Winner Take Nothing (1933).

Plot synopsis[edit]

Late at night, a deaf old man is the sole patron in a cafe. Nearby, two waiters, one young, the other older, talk about him. When the old man orders another brandy, the young waiter purposely overfills his glass. The waiters speculate about the old man's recent suicide attempt. The young waiter wants the patron to go home, and complains that he never gets to bed before three o'clock, while the older waiter is more understanding of the old man's plight. Again the old man asks for another brandy, but this time the young man tells him the cafe is closed. After he leaves, the waiters resume their discussion. The young waiter wants to hurry home to his wife; the older waiter is more thoughtful. He muses on youth and observes that he is now one "of those who like to stay late in the cafe," likening himself to the old man. He mentions the importance to some people of having "a clean, well-lighted place" in which they can spend time. After the young waiter leaves, the older waiter reflects on the emptiness of his own life and returns to his home and his insomnia.

Historical reaction by other authors[edit]

James Joyce once remarked: "He [Hemingway] has reduced the veil between literature and life, which is what every writer strives to do. Have you read 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place'?...It is masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best short stories ever written..."[1]

Discrepancies in the text[edit]

Scholars have noted issues with dialogue attribution within the text. F. P. Kroeger writes that "Hemingway, or someone, has been careless enough about this story so that at one time one main speaker seems to have information about the old man's suicide attempt which the other one does not have, and at another time the situation is reversed".[2] William E. Colburn of Central Michigan College writes that "it becomes evident that one waiter knows about the customer's suicide attempt, but the other apparently does not. If it is the older waiter who knows, then why is it he who says, "'He has plenty of money'" in answer to the younger waiter's question, "'How do you know it was nothing?'"[3] He elaborates that these inconsistencies have gone unnoticed by close readers for decades.


  • In A.E. Hotchner's biography Papa Hemingway, Hemingway is quoted saying that this might be his favorite story.[4]


  1. ^ "Lost Generation"
  2. ^ Kroeger, F. P. (1959). "The Dialogue in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"". College English. 20 (5): 240–241. doi:10.2307/372691. ISSN 0010-0994.
  3. ^ Colburn, William E. (1959). "Confusion in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"". College English. 20 (5): 241–242. doi:10.2307/372692. ISSN 0010-0994.
  4. ^ Hotchner, A.E. (1966). Papa Hemingway. London: Mayflower Books. p. 141.

External links[edit]