A Well-Lighted Place: Loneliness and the Meaning of Life
“A Well lighted place” by Ernest Hemingway introduces three main characters late at night in a cafe and explores their brief interactions that reveal significant details about their individual places and perspectives in life. The story looks at many issues; love, wealth, family fulfillment, issues that all factor into an individual’s will to live and overall contentment. The dialogue throughout the story reflects many components or definitions of contentment and one’s will to live. Hemingway’s existentialism examines the question of loneliness and its role in finding the meaning in life. By alluding to several attempts by the old man to find fulfillment, he presents a theme about individual happiness. He accomplishes this in part through the characters, who represent different types of loneliness. Their loneliness shows that loss is inevitable and that meaning in life is ambiguous and personal.
In the beginning of the short story we are introduced to each of the characters. An old man is pictured in a cafe and two waiters (one old and one young), who speculate about the old man and his life. We learn that the old man attempted suicide and that he is a widower. The two waiters react differently; the young one with facetious indifference and the other with sympathy. The younger waiter who his in a rush, hurries the old man out of the cafe before he “gets too drunk” (Hemingway, 1). When the young waiter leaves, we’re left with the older waiter who reflects on “a nothingness” and recites a bible verse; the Lord's prayer and replaces the words with “nada” (Hemingway, 4). The old waiter leaves the cafe and goes to a bar. Out of these brief moments emerge two things: an important existential question, and an answer to that question. What is the meaning of life? “Nothing” (Hemingway, 1).
The first section focuses on the lives of the characters. "Last week he tried to commit suicide," one waiter said. "Why?" "He was in despair." "What about?" "Nothing." "How do you know it was nothing?" "He has plenty of money."(Hemingway, 1). The story opens with the reader learning about the old man’s suicide attempt. Here, it is clear that despair is a source of discomfort for the old man but we are left not knowing the specific cause. Moreover, when the young waiter replies that the old man attempted suicide because of “nothing”, which he explains is because of his wealth, we begin to see Hemingway develop his argument. This moment sets up the narrative of wealth correlating with a will to live. For the young waiter, a will to live and contentment can be derived from wealth. But, the discussion of his wealth within the context of his overall life allows Hemmingway to demonstrate how individual fulfillment is a function of many factors. The young waiter, who has less experience believes that wealth is a condition that is necessary for happiness. Contrastingly, the old man seems to understand and empathize w...