A Clean, Well-lighted Place

Hemingway, Ernest

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Jan-28-1997


This is another of Hemingway's dense vignettes, filled with nuance but spare in style. The anecdote revolves around the difference between a clean, bright cafe and a dark, not-so-clean, bar as a place for lonely men to spend the long, sleepless nights. Two waiters discuss a lingering patron in a cafe who overstays his welcome as the night wears on. The old man gets quietly drunk each night; just last week he tried to kill himself, but was rescued.

Tonight he tries to pass the night in a clean, well-lighted place. The young waiter, impatient, to get home to his wife, does not comprehend the importance of this place to this old man's survival. The older waiter, who does understand, walks into the night himself, unable to find his own clean, well-lighted place in which to pass a lonely and sleepless night.


This is a story about lonely old men who have no warm, welcoming place to be when darkness falls. The cities and villages must be full of such men, who drink in search of the sleep that will not come, and crowd into dirty bodegas as a way to deny the quiet desperation which can lead them to an even more abrupt self-destruction. The piece is beautifully crafted, with the story within a story underscoring the ubiquity and commonality of the tales of lonely old men.


First published: 1926

Primary Source

The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway


Charles Scribner's Sons

Place Published

New York



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