What is the meaning of "resourcefulness of movement" in this extract from chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby?
He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American—that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games. This quality was continually breaking through his punctilious manner in the shape of restlessness. He was never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand.
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The narrator is describing a type of movement and physicality that embodies both grace and restlessness. That it is somehow emblematic of being "American" expresses a frequent theme in Fitzgerald's writing, in which being American is often seen at worst as a source of shame or, at the very leastm the reason for a vague yearning to advance beyond one's upbringing. The "resourcefulness" suggests a body that is not comfortable being still, always wanting to move, to change, to experience what comes next. This speaks to another theme that runs through the novel: ambition driven by a desire to transform oneself into something greater than one's origins. Gatsby himself is the prime example: he rises from humble beginnings to be wealthy and admired, and does so to prove himself worthy of Daisy's love but also of Daisy's world of wealth and privilege.
The “resourcefulness of movement” mentioned in this excerpt is simply a very natural way of movement that allows the body to go where it should, where it feels most natural, therefore managing the body’s energy more efficiently, more instinctually. This is in stark contrast to anyone who has ever been subjected to “lifting work or rigid sitting in youth,” and comes therefore from a lack of forced structure, from leisure and a freedom to do as one likes. Nick notes that it is a purely American phenomenon, and is a reflection of the unprecedented ease and prosperity of the roaring twenties in American culture. During this era, America – especially urban, upper-class America – had a wealth of unstructured time, unknown to such an extent by any previous generation, which made time for sport and socializing, wining and dining and parties and plain old fun. Their lives lacked the rigidity and responsibility of wartime, they lacked rural hardship, and they could just hang loose and swing.
Gatsby, as a representative of this extravagant upper-class society, would certainly exude such an air of looseness. This relaxed, may-the-body-go-where-it-will sort of attitude manifests itself, Nick says, as a sort of “restlessness” in Gatsby – the body is conserving its energy too well, and must always be in motion. Never having been forced to adhere to the repetitive demands of physical labor or the discomfort of motionlessness for too long, Gatsby does not know what it is to contain himself. He is alive with this energy, fed perhaps by single-minded anticipation, and he must be moving in order to expend it.
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