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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Ernest Hemingway

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Hemingway’s Economy of Style

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is arguably not only one of Hemingway’s best short stories but also a story that clearly demonstrates the techniques of Hemingway’s signature writing style. Hemingway is known for his economic prose—his writing is minimalist and sparse, with few adverbs or adjectives. He includes only essential information, often omitting background information, transitions, and dialogue tags such as “he said” or “she said. He often uses pronouns without clear antecedents, such as using the word it without clarifying what it refers to. Hemingway applies the “iceberg principle” to his stories: only the tip of the story is visible on the page, while the rest is left underwater—unsaid. Hemingway also rarely specifies which waiter is speaking in the story because he has deemed such clarification unnecessary. The essential element is that two waiters are discussing a drunk old man—the rest can be omitted according to Hemingway’s economy of style. When the older waiter contemplates the idea of nothingness, Hemingway loads the sentences with vague pronouns, never clarifying what they refer to: “It was all a nothing. . . . It was only that. . . . Some lived in it . . .” Although these lines are somewhat confusing, the confusion is the point. This nothingness can’t be defined clearly, no matter how many words are used. Hemingway uses fewer words and lets the effect of his style speak for itself.

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