It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.
“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.
“He was in despair.”
“How do you know it was nothing?”
“He has plenty of money.”
Michael Gove’s philistinism over the GCSE Literature ‘choices'( now there’s an irony) deprives students of two of the most brilliant novels of the 20th Century: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Their brilliance emanates not least from the marriage of their profound humanitarian messages with their stunning narrative style, a style rich with cadence which connects the reader to meaning through hearing as much as our literal translation of the words on a page.Cadence in writing may induce a hypnotic effect as we are taken inside the rhythm and ‘pulse’ of a narrative.
Yesterday I was teaching David Almond and found his writing has an elegiac ‘pulse’ which moves the reader into mystical spaces, where ‘magic’ takes place. Doing a little research around Almond, I was not surprised that he credits Hemingway’s stories with being a rich source of inspiration. Hemingway in the opening of the short story above, again reveals why he is regarded as one of the very best writers of the short story. His simplicity is artful and although the language seems simple to the point of thrift, the cadences of his writing affect us, and shift our emotions before we can even stop and contemplate why One of Hemingway’s most artful techniques centres on his use of ‘and’. This word is repeated in his writing as it adds an extra ‘beat’ to a sentence without any discordance. It unites ideas where we might not recognize their implication and connects what we might not connect.
The preponderance of one syllable words also adds a sentence of inevitability to the description above. The observation of the narrator with its melancholy mingling of the old man’s presence with the dusty silence of the night, is contrasted with the bigoted viewpoints of the waiters.
‘ and now he felt the difference.’ What difference we wonder? The external sounds of the town or the ironically protective gaze of the two waiters, keen to ensure the old man plays his bill. The casual simplicity belies the problematic meaning, for this is a tale about longing, loneliness and death.
What we wonder is the ‘clean well-lighted place’? Is it really the cafe where customers eke out their isolated lives? Or is it life itself, where the ‘light’ is harsh and too ungenerous in its stark scrutiny? Or is the irony really that the light is in fact darkness and we all fear death and suffering, hence our affection for what might appear a ‘well-lighted place‘?
How to write a good essay!
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