Study Guide

The Corrections Contrasting Regions: Midwest vs. East Coast

By Jonathan Franzen

Contrasting Regions: Midwest vs. East Coast

To anyone who saw them averting their eyes from the dark-haired New Yorkers careening past them [...] it was obvious that they were Midwestern and intimidated. (2.1)

This sets the tone for everything to follow. Alfred and Enid aren't just Midwesterners: They're die-hard suburbanites, a.k.a. everything that New York City isn't.

Down at the offices of the Warren Street Journal, where he sometimes felt insufficiently transgressive, as if his innermost self were still a nice Midwestern boy, he took pleasure in alluding to the European statesman he was "cuckolding." (2.637)

This is the first indication that Chip isn't as comfortable on the East Coast as he'd have you believe. We'll be meeting that "innermost self" soon enough.

More typically though, the only discordant note at Deepmire would be an off-color toast offered by some secondary groomsman [...] who sounded as if he didn't come from the Midwest at all but from some more eastern urban place, and who tried to show off by making a "humorous" reference to premarital sex. (2.960)

This quote says two important things: (1) It establishes Enid's belief that Midwesterners have better morals than those East Coast heathens; and (2) it ties the East Coast with urban places, establishing the secondary nature of the rivalry.

Instead of apologizing and depreciating himself, as any polite St. Judean would have done, Emile responded by agreeing that [...] a "lite" crab cake would be a wonderful thing, but the question, Mrs. Lambert, was to manage it? Eh? (2.963)

Repression plays a big part in Midwestern values. Enid isn't used to dealing with a brash East Coaster like Emile—luckily, though, she won't have to deal with him for much longer.

What Gary hated most about the Midwest was how unpampered and unprivileged he felt in it St. Jude in its optimistic egalitarianism consistently failed to accord him the respect to which his gifts and attainments entitled him. (3.479)

Gary desperately wants to be seen as upper class, and he believes that he can't have that experience in the egalitarian Midwest. Gary doesn't dig community; Gary digs cash.

Gary wished that all further migration to the coasts could be banned and all Midwesterners encouraged to revert to eating pasty foods and wearing dowdy clothes and playing board games, in order for a strategic national reserve of cluelessness might be maintained. (3.659)

Gary is eager to bury the Midwestern part of himself whenever possible. Of course, he wouldn't be so ashamed if it wasn't a big part of who he was—even in trying to hide his roots, he is formed by the Midwest. Ha.

The phrase seemed to Alfred an eastern blight, a fitting epitaph for a once-great state, Ohio, that parasitic Teamsters had sucked nearly dry [...] Now came a new effeminate generation for whom "easygoing" was a compliment. (4.17)

Alfred values hard work above everything. It's understandable: He had a rough childhood and lived through even rougher times. This hard-nosed Midwestern upbringing is out of place on the East Coast.

For a moment her blue eyes seemed to look inward; apparently she had that ability of the enviable, of the non-Midwestern, of the moneyed, to assess her desires without regard to social expectations or moral imperatives. (4.742)

Enid—like Gary—associates the East Coast with wealth. The only difference is that, while Gary is attracted to it, Enid resents it.

The word she wanted to apply to Robin Passafaro, who had lived in urban Philly all her life, was "Midwestern." By which she mean hopeful or enthusiastic or community-spirited. (5.571)

The Lamberts' identity as Midwesterners is less about the place where they grew up and more about the culture that raised them.

Just as the beasts were said to speak on Christmas Eve, so the natural order of the suburbs seemed overturned here, the ordinarily dark land alive with light, the ordinarily lively road dark with crawling traffic. (6.210)

The suburbs are transformed into a bustling city—it's a Christmas miracle. To our surprise, Gary has an emotional reaction to the spectacle, finally revealing the Midwestern boy that he's so eager to hide.