Loneliness pervades “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and suggests that even though there are many people struggling with despair, everyone must struggle alone. The deaf old man, with no wife and only a niece to care for him, is visibly lonely. The younger waiter, frustrated that the old man won’t go home, defines himself and the old man in opposites: “He’s lonely. I’m not lonely.” Loneliness, for the younger waiter, is a key difference between them, but he gives no thought to why the old man might be lonely and doesn’t consider the possibility that he may one day be lonely too. The older waiter, although he doesn’t say explicitly that he is lonely, is so similar to the old man in his habit of sitting in cafés late at night that we can assume that he too suffers from loneliness. The older waiter goes home to his room and lies in bed alone, telling himself that he merely suffers from sleeplessness. Even in this claim, however, he instinctively reaches out for company, adding, “Many must have it.” The thought that he is not alone in having insomnia or being lonely comforts him.


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