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Could you please tell me the meaning of "sharp," "wild," and "brace" in the following...

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coutelle | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted May 8, 2013 at 1:41 PM via web

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Could you please tell me the meaning of "sharp," "wild," and "brace" in the following excerpt from the last chapter of The Great Gatsby?

When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. 

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 8, 2013 at 5:03 PM (Answer #1)

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In this section of Chapter 9, Nick is reminiscing about returning home from prep school and college at Christmas time. Nick feels that the culture (people and atmosphere) of the Midwest is more genuine than what he's experienced in the East and New York. That's why, as the train is pulling out, he calls the snow "the real snow, our snow" as if to say all aspects of the Midwest (snow, culture, people, etc.) are more genuine, more "real" than those of the East. 

A few paragraphs after this section, Nick describes his thoughts on West Egg and compares them to an El Greco painting depicting a sullen scene with an unknown woman on a stretcher. Nick's image of his home in the Midwest is more honest and personal, a place where people know each other. Thus, for Nick, the East is impersonal and the Midwest is personal: 

I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name. 

When Nick says that a "sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air," he's describing two things which happen to be analogous to each other. Note that Nick feels that the culture and even the snow of the Midwest both have a genuine appeal. This is his subjective interpretation because the Midwest is more genuine to him than the superficiality of the East where people don't really know one another (recall that no one came to Gatsby's funeral; a very impersonal culture). The air he feels as the train starts out in the Midwest is sharp (immediately noticeable), wild (natural), and braces (clasps, connects) him to the air. And here, "air" describes the actual, physical air of the Midwest but also the culture, the general feeling. When Nick goes home to the Midwest, he can immediately notice the change to a more honest, simple culture. It is as if he can sense this feeling in the air because he attributes feelings of honesty and simplicity to all aspects of the Midwestern landscape. 

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coutelle | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted May 8, 2013 at 5:35 PM (Answer #2)

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In this section of Chapter 9, Nick is reminiscing about returning home from prep school and college at Christmas time. Nick feels that the culture (people and atmosphere) of the Midwest is more genuine than what he's experienced in the East and New York. That's why, as the train is pulling out, he calls the snow "the real snow, our snow" as if to say all aspects of the Midwest (snow, culture, people, etc.) are more genuine, more "real" than those of the East. 

A few paragraphs after this section, Nick describes his thoughts on West Egg and compares them to an El Greco painting depicting a sullen scene with an unknown woman on a stretcher. Nick's image of his home in the Midwest is more honest and personal, a place where people know each other. Thus, for Nick, the East is impersonal and the Midwest is personal: 

I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name. 

When Nick says that a "sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air," he's describing two things which happen to be analogous to each other. Note that Nick feels that the culture and even the snow of the Midwest both have a genuine appeal. This is his subjective interpretation because the Midwest is more genuine to him than the superficiality of the East where people don't really know one another (recall that no one came to Gatsby's funeral; a very impersonal culture). The air he feels as the train starts out in the Midwest is sharp (immediately noticeable), wild (natural), and braces (clasps, connects) him to the air. And here, "air" describes the actual, physical air of the Midwest but also the culture, the general feeling. When Nick goes home to the Midwest, he can immediately notice the change to a more honest, simple culture. It is as if he can sense this feeling in the air because he attributes feelings of honesty and simplicity to all aspects of the Midwestern landscape. 

Thank you for this explanation, but I thought that "brace" meant  "chill", "bracing air", that it's referring to a very cold gust of wind, which is making them 'brace themselves' - i.e. tense up against the suddenly cold weather. It's sharp because it's so cold, so it feels painful against their skin. Is it possible also that Nick feels that chill like a sudden embrace, because he is surrounded by cold.

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