â€œYou Should Have Killed Yourself Last Week.â€: In Ernest Hemingwayâ€™s â€œA Clean, Well-Lighted Placeâ€
“You should have killed Yourself Last Week”
Ernest Hemingway is one of the leading short story writers of the twentieth century. He worked as a journalist at the beginning of his career and that experience is reflected in his writing styles when he uses short sentences with deep meanings. He also experienced traumatic incidents during World War I, which had an influence on his way of thinking and altered the themes he used in his stories. One of the major themes used in his stories is that the world lacks the spiritual meaning and, therefore, it is essential for an individual to take control of his life and make the important decisions. This ideology has influences from his involvement in the youth association named the Lost Generation. The story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, is based on the same theme that explores the nothingness of life and proposes to add meanings to it. This essay focuses on a statement given in this story by the young waiter on the face of the old man depicting the nothingness of life of the old man from the perspective of the speaker.
An old man is sitting in a bar that is a good place to spend leisure time. It is well-lighted and clean, in an exalted sense, as experienced by the workers and customers who happened to be at that place (Widiani). The old man regularly visits the café where the old employees know him well. It is late at night and only two of the waiters were present in the café waiting for the old man to finish his drink so that they may close the café. The old man, however, is not ready to leave soon. He nods to the waiters to fill his glass again. The young waiter serves him and, by taking advantage of his being deaf, exclaims that he should have died the last week when he attempted suicide. The young waiter has been informed of the old man's attempt to suicide by a middle-aged waiter with whom he has been discussing the old man a few moments ago.
The young waiter is a symbol of youth who has everything that life can offer to humans in common to live happily. He is unaware of the concept of a life devoid of meaningfulness. He hates the way the old man is sitting idle exploiting his time, wealth, and health. The young waiter has meanings of life and he has engagements that keep him indifferent to the feelings of nothingness, loneliness, and futility.
The old man's idea of suicide stems from his perception of existence, whereas the young waiter reinforces it out of the irritation he experiences because of the old man's idleness (Place). The middle-aged waiter suggests some justification for the old man’s plan for the suicide, and admires the café to be a worthwhile place. He is afraid of his insomnia, wants to stay more at the bar, and cannot appreciate the other cafés he visits.
The old man has tried to take his life through the act of suicide as a demonstration of taking control over his life (Purnama). He has spent all good days of his life, and found no reason to continue living at this stage. The old man finds himself hollow from the inside, and he comes to the café to find peace in the clean, well-lighted, and silent environment it offers. He knows the worth of the place as do the other middle-aged waiter. The old man wants to be dead, because he thinks that death is inevitable, and it does not seem plausible to him to prolong the duration of suffering the void that his life confers on him.
Place, A. Clean Well-Lighted. Rainbow: Journal of Literature, Linguistics and Cultural Studies. 2013.
Purnama, Adnan Hidayat. Loneliness in Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. State Islamic University, 2016.
Widiani, Maria. The Significance of Café to the Theme of the Story in Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Sanata Dharma University, 2017.
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