Hemingway's “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” and William Faulkner’s “The Bear” are two different kinds of stories. The former deals with the terrible fate of an old man, is completed within the duration of a few hours and the space of less than 4 pages: the latter treats the ‘growing up’ of an adolescent, Ike, spans over more than 10 years and runs into over a 100 pages. The former uses sparse narrative, bits of dialogue, and very few characters; the latter is written in a spontaneous flow of rhetorical narrative and reveals almost a panoramic range of characters. Nothing much happens in the former story; but a great deal of action takes place in the latter.
However, when readers look for deeper insight, they can find how meaningful this story is. The author's diction gradually brings the readers to a higher level of understanding the reality of life. The truth is buried underneath the story the emotional darkness, eventual isolation, and existential depression caused by the nada, the nothingness. He is the lone, last customer at a clean well-lighted café nowhere he stays and drinks until the waiters pull down the shutters. His deprivation, infirmity, handicaps and loneliness are all manifested in the stark nothingness he is now confronted with, which, as Carlos Baker defines, is “something called Nothing which is so huge, terrible, overbearing, inevitable, and64 omnipresent that, once experienced, it can never be forgotten.” In contrast to this dispiriting theme, “The Bear” is focused on the sombre but bracing ‘growing up’ of Comparisons Ike, descendent of the legendary Old Carothers, who, under the tutelage of Sam And Contrasts Fathers in the woods, acquires the hunting skills and the courage and compassion human beings are capable of. Like that of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” it address the lives of families whose pasts are ugly and disheveled.
The genealogical lines are unclear, the actions between people are disgraceful, and the later generations are left with more questions than answers. In both novels, the authors provide their characters a place to retreat, to gather their thoughts, to experience serenity and find hope for the future. Although still an adolescent, he is befittingly named to lead the final, successful chase of old Ben: and later, despite pragmatic objections of otherwise well-disposed McCaslin and others, repudiates his inheritance. In terms of locale, it seems that “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” is deliberately situated in an anonymous place, for such ceaseless assaults of nothingness could have struck any old man at any place in any country: but the story of chase, of the appropriation of land, and of racial discriminations in “The Bear” is naturally embedded in the particularity and peculiarity of the American South and the tangled fabric of its community/society.
With all those who need a light for the night. “This extremely limited number of characters and scale of their characterization in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” stands far apart from “The Bear” which involves a wide variety of characters from the hunting community and the American South. Of them, Sam Fathers, although he works for Major de Spain, is ‘the chief, the prince’ who nurtures the untamable Lion (the dog captured by him) with amazing skills and persistence in order to motivate it to hold and bay Old Ben, even as he empathizes a good deal with this legendary head bear. Unobtrusively, he possesses vast reserves of human courage and compassion, of endurance and dignity and humility which Ike learns from him, and grows from a raw, uncomprehending adolescent into a mellowing, understanding youth. Ike also learns from him the acceptance of the struggle for survival in the midst of wilderness with an accent on the principle of co-existence between men and animals.
All this stands in sharp contrast with Boon’s possessiveness of nature. Boon essentially remains ‘violent, insensitive and unreliable,’ despite his bravery and fidelity to Major de Spain and McCaslin. Notably, his eyes are “without depth or meanness or generosity or viciousness or gentleness or anything else” exactly like, Faulkner tells us, those of Lion. After its own manner, Lion also combines ‘unbroken courage’ and ‘indomitable spirit’ with a ‘cold and impersonal malignance’ and with a ‘will to pursue and kill.’ The major traits of many others who feature in “The Bear” may likewise be noted. They convincingly evidence much greater range of characters in this story than in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.”
The one piles intensities and keeps out densities: the other is at once dense and American Short intense. The two modes of writing, the restrained and the expansive, indeed, relate to Story the critical war waged on the question of the right degree of statement and best reflected in the correspondence between Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe in the thirties. In his letter to Wolfe in 1937, Fitzgerald wrote: