The most important characters in the short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway are the two waiters and the drunken old man. Other characters such as the couple passing by, the niece, the wife and the barman are only mentioned. Even the most important characters are barely sketched.


The Old Man

The last customer in the bar is not very active and he is only important for what he stands for. He is symbolic for the passage of time and the nearing of death, for the inevitable decay of human beings.

We do not know much about his outer appearance except that he is old, deaf and drunk (p. 1, ll. 3-4). However, even drunk the man is able to maintain a certain physical integrity and walk straight: “The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.” (p. 3, ll. 14-15)


The Waiters

The two waiters in the café form an interesting contrasting pair. They are contrasting both in terms of outer appearance and points of views on the world.


The young waiter

The young waiter is married and impatient to finish work and get home. For this reason, he sees the last customer as an impediment. He is so concerned with his comfort that he would rather that the old man had died instead of being now at the café delaying the waiter’s return home: “"I'm sleepy now. I never get into bed before three o'clock. He should have killed himself last week."” (pp. 1-2, l. 27, l. 1)


The older waiter   

The older waiter is very different from the young one. First of all, he is more sympathetic towards the old drunken customer; he finds the drunken man all kinds of circumstances to excuse him for being drunk: “"Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him."” (p. 3, l. 4)

From the way he acts, the older waiter seems to understand the old man better, perhaps because the waiter is also aging and is heading in the same direction as the old man.


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