Ernest Hemingwayâ€™s â€œA Clean, Well-Lighted Placeâ€ can be defined as a twentieth-century Modernist fiction short story because it contains all three of the tenants of modernism. The absence of God is evident in this story through Hemingwayâ€™s images of Nothing. The idea of the old man in this story being deaf justifies his own isolation from the rest of the world. The third tenant of modernism is manâ€™s confrontation with his own mortality; in â€œA Clean, Well-Lighted Place,â€ the elderly man hides in the shadows of the leaves because he recognizes the shortcoming of his life. Hemingwayâ€™s â€œA Clean Well-Lighted Placeâ€ is a reflection of his own terror of old age and infirmity and he is trying to communicate with the reader by leaving the reader with a feeling that there is no escape from the doldrums of the winter years of life.
The first tenant of modernism exhibited in Hemingwayâ€™s short story is the absence of God through the image of Nothing. Nothing is what the old man wants to escape. The older waiter, who sometimes acts as the voice of the old man's soul, describes his adversary:
"It was all nothing, and a man was nothing, too...Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was nada y pues nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada nada be thy name thy kingdom nada they will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee..."
The Nothing is a relentless monotony, unbroken by joy or sorrow. It is unending emptiness without comfort or companionship of man or God. It is the senselessness of each heart-beat that is just like the last and refuses to give in to death. The old man's loneliness is empty. His days of retirement without useful work or purpose are empty.