Subtly unadaptable to Eastern life

Last night I came across this phrase for the second time. I thought, “wow, what a great phrase,” then realized that I’ve thought that thought before. I did a quick digital sift through my college documents folder and found it filed under Sophomore Fall / American Lit II. Then, just like now, it caught my eye as I read The Great Gatsby; then, like now, it served as a title. So I took the opportunity for a little Throwback and read over the essay I so dramatically keyed out at the ripe age of 20. 

My parents always told me not to judge my {insert age here}-year-old brain with my {insert current age here}-year-old brain, but I couldn’t help cringing as I read through the essay. I referred to Gatsby as “the adulterous character” — ouch. Then I talked about Daisy being “brutally defenestrated” … what on earth? Did I really think she got thrown out a window and completely missed the plot of the book in my haste to get homework done, or was I trying to accomplish some kind of extreme metaphor? And oh, the overuse of adverbs: living joyously, initially enticing, brutally defenestrated (still, what?), desperately suggested, searching fruitlessly, contrasting starkly and, of course, intricately depicting. 

I think the prompt of the essay was how Fitzgerald depicts the Roaring 20s. I said he did so with a critical eye, an answer that I’m guessing stemmed from my own critical eye, one that wasn’t subtly or un-subtly adaptable to anywhere besides Orange City, Iowa. My 20-year-old brain missed the nuances, the quiet awe and revere Nick Carraway has for the city that let him down. No wonder his disappointment and cynicism is so great — he had a great fall from initial excitement and confidence.

But all that criticism isn’t the reason I’m here writing this. I’m here to give a shout-out to the beautiful writing of F. Scott when he talks about the “Middle West.” Can we please start calling it that again? Without further ado, my favorite passage from The Great Gatsby:

“That’s my Middle West — not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. 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. I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all — Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common that made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.”

The Great Gatsby

Note to self: re-read in five years and revisit. 

One thought on “Subtly unadaptable to Eastern life

  1. lifelongsummers says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Love your thoughts, Emily. I find it funny that we teach this book to high schoolers and college students when the book takes on so much more dimension after you start learning just how much gray there is in the world. Now I want to go back and read all of those American Lit books!! 🙂 Hope you’re doing well, Emily!

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