The main themes of the short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway are existential nothingness and despair. These themes are enhanced by the motifs of loneliness and drinking.
In order to understand this theme better, we should outline some of the features of the philosophical current called existentialism. This current focuses on the individual and his freedom of choice. However, human beings are not only seen as rational creatures, but as a total of feelings, thoughts and impulses. Due to this complexity, humans are disoriented and confused, and experience the feeling that they live in an absurd world.
Realizing that life has no real meaning and that all one does has actually no impact on the grand scheme of life often leads to despair. Despair can manifest in many ways. It does not always have to be fully expressed in an obvious manner.
Loneliness and drinking are the most important motifs in the story. The old man drinks to forget about his loneliness and his ultimately meaningless existence. For him, alcohol becomes a way of passing time without thinking about the passage of time, and a slower form of suicide.