Ernest Hemingway

Word Count: 1656

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" was published by Scribner\'s Magazine in

March of 1933, but it was not until 1956 that an apparent inconsistency in

the waiters\' dialogue was brought to Hemingway\'s attention. Hemingway\'s

thirteen word reply to Judson Jerome, an Assistant Professor of English at

Antioch College, said that he had read the story again and it still made

perfect sense to him. Despite this letter, Scribner\'s republished "A

Clean, Well-Lighted Place" in 1965 with a slight change in the waiters\'

dialogue that they argued would fix the apparent anomaly.

Scribner\'s decision to alter the original text, the letter Hemingway wrote

to Professor Jerome, and several papers on the subject all add up to a

literary controversy that still churns among Hemingway scholars. I will

argue that the original text is the correct text and Scribner\'s just

failed to interpret it properly. They failed to notice nuances in

Hemingway\'s writing that appear throughout many of his other works. They

obviously thought Hemingway\'s reply to Professor Jerome was made without

notice of the inconsistency. Most important, I believe they did not

evaluate the character of the two waiters in "A Clean, Well-Lighted

Place." A careful examination of the character of each waiter can make it

apparent that the original text was correct and that there was no need for

Scribner\'s to alter the text.

The dialogue in question results from a conversation the two waiters have

concerning the old man\'s attempted suicide. One waiter asks "Who cut him

down?", to which the other waiter replies "His niece." Later in the story,

the original text appears to confuse who possesses the knowledge about the

suicide. The waiter who previously said "His niece", now says: "I Know.

You said she cut him down." This seems to assume the knowledge about the

attempted suicide has either passed from one waiter to another, or that we

have incorrectly attributed the first exchange to the wrong waiters. So

which waiter asked about cutting down the old man?

When the disputed dialogue between the two waiters takes place, we do not

know enough about them to develop an outline of character. As the story

progresses, the character of the two waiters emerges through their

dialogue and thoughts, as does many of Hemingway\'s characters. Once the

character of each waiter is developed and understood, the dialogue makes

more sense when the story is read again.

The older waiter, who is unhurried and can empathize with the old man,

makes declarative and judgmental statements throughout the story. Much

like Count Mippipopolous in "The Sun Also Rises", the older waiter is a

reflective man who understands life and is not compelled to rush his time.

He says things that convey his nature: "The old man is clean. He drinks

without spilling." and "I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe."

The older waiter shows concern for the old man and it would only be

reasonable to assume that he knows a little about him. So if the older

waiter knows about the attempted suicide, why did the original text

"confuse" the issue?

The younger waiter shows all the impatience of youth and an uncaring

attitude towards the old man. He is more concerned about getting home to

his wife and to bed before three than he is about the old man. This

becomes obvious when he says, "An old man is a nasty thing." We can assume

that because the younger waiter cares only that the old man pays his tab,

he is not paying close attention to what the older waiter is saying about

him. This might be viewed as a long inference, but taken with the original

text it interprets quite clearly.

We have seen that the older waiter possess the character of a man

Hemingway would probably respect and admire. He is reserved,

contemplative, judgmental, and possesses many of the characteristics of a

Hemingway hero. The older waiter was trying to make sense of what he

probably saw as an age of confusion. The soldier that passes by suggests a

conflict is occurring and adds to the old waiter\'s perception of

confusion. He was trying to tell the younger waiter how honest and decent

it is