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What is the meaning of "brace" in the following excerpt from The Great Gatsby? When we...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted May 8, 2013 at 11:14 PM via web

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What is the meaning of "brace" in the following excerpt from 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. 

I was told that "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". 

But I thought that "brace" means here  "chill", "bracing air", or 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. I'd like to know more precisely the litteral and figurative meaning of this word, if it is possible.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 9, 2013 at 5:12 AM (Answer #1)

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Both of the possibilities outlined in this perceptive question are clearly relevant. "Brace" is a word that does mean a kind of embrace, but clearly the impact of the passage is talking about the sudden gust of wind that causes Nick to shiver and to become cold and aware of how freezing it is. It is important to remember the context of this passage. This is after Gatsby's funeral and is when Nick is remembering his days growing up in the West. Nick remembers one particular Christmas when this sharp "brace" occurred. Note how he continues the passage:

We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

Given the realisation that Nick comes to, that this has "been a story of the West," it becomes clear that "brace" is significant in the way that it physically links Nick to the West. Although the story is set in the East, Nick comes to realise it is the West where all the characters are from, and it is the West that Gatsby tried so hard to escape, but as he is set to return there, Nick realises that there is a connection between himself and the West that cannot be ignored. This is why the word "brace" is so important, hinting as it does about a connection between him and the West that Nick recognises cannot be denied.

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