The Anti-Gentleman Character of Tom Buchanan in the Novel, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan is Daisy’s husband and an extremely wealthy man from an affluent family. Tom is frequently Fitzgerald’s microcosm for the wealthy American upper class. In the scene of the drive to New York and the afternoon at The Plaza, the reader has a rare chance to see Tom, a man who mostly conceals his emotions, display his actual feelings and character through his outbreak. Tom’s language and behavior prove that, despite his wealth and status, he is the antipode of the gentleman he thinks he is. Tom’s language and treatment of others is routinely discourteous and vulgar.

Nick tends to describe Tom’s comments as coarse, such as when he writes that Tom “…broke out… savagely” (120) when complaining about going to town. The adverb “savagely,” used to describe Tom’s manner of speech, suggests that, to Nick, he is not at all refined and does not speak in a genteel way. Later, Tom’s apparent habit of being rude to his surroundings becomes obvious when he calls Gatsby’s car a “circus wagon.” (121) Tom’s purpose in insulting Gatsby in his presence is to feel a much-needed superiority to him, but it does not make him or his car appear better than Gatsby or his car; it only enforces his pettiness.

Also, a circus wagon is a crude metaphor, and the comparison is similar to something a common workingman, not an ostensibly refined aristocrat like Tom, would make. When Tom unwillingly stops to get gas, even more of his vulgar speech and uncivil treatment of others is evident. When Wilson fails to immediately come out to service him, he asks Wilson if he thinks that they stopped “to admire the view.” (123)

There was no reason for this kind of impolite remark, and a real, refined gentleman would not have shown such rude impatience. Once again, Tom feels superior to others when he speaks rudely to them, but to the reader, especially after learning that Wilson is ill and distressed, Tom is simply a demanding brute. Tom is very class conscious, and a hypocrite who believes that he is superior to everyone else because of his social status. Tom’s arrogant class snobbery is evident when, after he found out about Gatsby’s working-class background, he exclaims that Daisy met Gatsby “God knows where!” before they were married. To Tom, the rift between the working class and the upper class is so wide, and the American aristocrats so superior, that he finds it unacceptable that Daisy, a girl from an affluent family, could even meet a man of Gatsby’ background.

Later, in the hotel room, Tom’s outburst that he will not “let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to [his] wife” (130) while he does nothing demonstrates both this hypocrisy and his arrogance. He cheats on Daisy without any remorse or worry, but the idea of Daisy cheating him transforms him into the role of infuriated victim. In his eyes, while it is wholly acceptable for him to have an affair, it is unacceptable that Daisy should. Tom evidently believes that he is superior and special, and holds himself to different standards than he holds others. Tom is further inflamed by the fact that Gatsby is a “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere,” (130) because, once again, he finds it unbelievable and unacceptable that Daisy could find Gatsby, a nouveau riche, more attractive than he.

That Gatsby’s former social status contributes so much to Tom’s anger indicates his class- consciousness, as Gatsby’s former social status seems to always be on his mind. Tom’s cruelty is evident in his actions, and he enjoys watching helpless people suffer because of his doings. From Tom’s conversation with Wilson, we can see that he likes to toy with others’ emotions. He knows that Gatsby’s car is impressive and expensive, and that Wilson could never afford, yet he mockingly offers to sell it to him regardless. All Wilson can do is “smile faintly,” (123) because he needs Tom to sell him his old car in order to raise money. Tom knows that he can mock Wilson as much as he pleases, and Wilson is therefore unable to stand up for his dignity. Tom enjoys Wilson’s helplessness to his humiliation because it makes him feel powerful.

Tom’s manipulative and cruel nature is again obvious when be beings asking Gatsby if he is an “Oxford man.” (128) Tom knows full well that Gatsby did not actually graduate from Oxford, but mockingly asks him if he did. Tom had likely planned to catch Gatsby in a lie and expose him dramatically to the others, so as to bring even more shame on Gatsby. It seems that Tom only enjoys being cruel to people who he feels are under his control, as shown in this example, when Tom has a hold of what he believes is one of Gatsby’s weaknesses. This characteristic is once again apparent when, knowing that Gatsby is no longer a threat to him because Daisy is disgusted by the way in which he earned his fortune, he instructs Daisy and Gatsby to ride back together.

It was not enough for Tom to destroy Gatsby’s image in Daisy’s mind; he needed to go one step farther and flaunt his victory and Gatsby’s crushed dream in front of him to feel that he as decidedly won this battle. Tom is a cruel brute who hides behind his wealth and social class, while scorning nouveau riche like Gatsby for not being born into old money. Tom’s character is in stark contrast to the character of an upper class gentleman. In light of Tom’s behavior, Gatsby looks more like that refined gentleman than Tom does, even though the reader expects him to display more of Tom’s characteristics.

The reader appreciates more fully Gatsby’s refinement and outward kindness in comparison with Tom’s vulgarity and cruelty. Tom’s character also reveals Daisy’s absurdity in ever loving him, and continuing to love him and staying married to him, especially with Gatsby present. Though Gatsby has many faults and unrealistic desires, to the reader, Gatsby is the better choice for Daisy. At least Gatsby will love Daisy and treat her kindly, while Tom is abusive emotionally to his wife and seems not to care about her until someone else is after her. However, Daisy is strangely attracted to Tom’s abusive and coarse character, so, while the reader pities Daisy, we can not empathize with her and understand her reason for choosing life with Tom.

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