Hemingway’s Desolation Laid Bare, Perhaps

  •  Raymond Petersen    


“A Clean, Well-lighted Place,” was first published in Scribner’s Magazine, in 1933, and ever since has been a significant focus of the literary world, with few daring to risk their literary aspirations, in rebuttal of previously published assertions as the dark forebodings of a world bereft of faith or joy. One is left to ponder a literary profession that appears bereft of a critical examination of the work, or, may not being able to see the forest for the trees. Responding to the assertion by Robert Penn Warren, that Hemingway lived in a “world of violent action,” WB Bache preferred to see the writer as a representative of unique craft and insight, and that he should be seen as, “a creative artist.” This is why I too, found Hemingway an enigma, as someone with a unique literary style, but possessing too, a wicked side. In his art, as he was in life, a hard drinking, womanizing, errant joker, who I feel certain here, is having a laugh at us all, from the other side. Sam Bluefarb (1971) wrote of the “Need to break through to some transcendent purpose—esthetic or religious—without which life seems to have little or no meaning.” Indeed, the melancholia which pervades this literary offering drags the reader down, into its darkness and despair, its depths of the maudlin, the mundane. The pathos may be evident, but does the meaning of the story have to be so dark, and so bitter? The “illogical dialogue sequence,” Warren Bennett (1990) ascribed to the tale, appears to be too bad, too lacking substance, too illogical for words, and so devoid of natural development that it takes on an artificiality such that it could only be a frolic that Hemingway is having, at our expense. Hemingway was a disciple of misogyny, this brute found love so often, not with docile, “pleasant”, or amenable women, but independent, vibrant, aggressive, articulate, intelligent, and yes, “feisty.” None of them was just a decoration, all were treated abysmally, and yet they all loved him till they had no more love left to give, until he had drained them of their capacity to continue to love him. These relationships open the door to a less discussed possibility, that “A Clean Well-lighted Place,” was actually a metaphoric celebration of femininity, in praise of womanhood, an explanation of the clean illumination of our lives (places), without whom, we are dark and dull, and lifeless, much like the iconic short story.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • Issn(Print): 1925-4768
  • Issn(Onlne): 1925-4776
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: quarterly

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