Tom Buchanan is an old friend of Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby.
Nick and Tom attended Yale together and were in some of the same social clubs while in college.
While these two friends may have drifted apart a bit since their college days, Nick finds himself living just across the bay from Tom and his wife Daisy, who is Nick’s first cousin.
Nick tells us quite a bit about his friend, most of it not very flattering. It almost makes one wonder why they would be friends at all.
Perhaps any friendship this pair had would have dissipated after college had it not been for Daisy.
In his narration, Nick tells us everything we need to know about Tom, and more.
How Does Nick Describe Tom Buchanan?
In the very first chapter, Nick introduces us to Tom and says-
[Daisy’s] husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven—a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax.”
Like the Bruce Springsteen song “Glory Days” it appears that Tom is relying and reliving his old college days when he was a polo player and football star.
While Daisy tells Nick on the phone that the couple’s move from Chicago to East Egg was permanent, Nick doesn’t seem sure. He feels that Tom will drift on forever in search of his lost youth.
Nick also describes Tom’s physical appearance:
Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body.
We discover later in the book that Tom also has a cruel mind to match the body that Nick describes.
Quotes about Tom Buchanan Being Racist
Nick describes his first meeting with Tom and Daisy at their home. As everyone is sitting around the living room talking, Tom begins to tell Nick about a book he read entitled, “The Rise of the Colored Empires.” Tom tells Nick-
Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out, the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.
The book is a thinly veiled cover for a real work called, “The Rising Tide of Color,” which purported to use scientific methods to justify discrimination against non-white people.
Talking about the positive influence he feels the book brings him, Tom speaks about it out loud in front of his servants, who are all people of color.
Not only does Tom blatantly display his racism, but he does so proudly.
Nick notes that for someone in his 20s to travel to Europe, the South Seas, buy his fiancee Daisy a $300,000 pearl necklace, live in a mansion and never need to worry about income, Tom Buchanan must be “enormously wealthy.”
Nick also says that Tom came from Chicago’s elite suburb of Lake Forest, bringing with him a “string of polo ponies” to East Egg. However, doubt is raised about Tom’s pedigree with Nick’s comment,
“It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that.”
Many consider Chicago, Illinois, to be part of the mid-west, so no matter how rich Tom might be, Easterners may be loathed to accept him, the same way that Tom is loathed to accept those with newly made fortunes from West Egg, such as Jay Gatsby.
Tom Buchanan Quotes about Sexisms
Whether or not Fitzgerald intended to show that the American Dream was being corrupted by sexism, or whether this was merely the times he lived in, the fact remains that Tom was a raging sexist.
While Tom had no qualms about cheating on his wife, he suddenly plays the victim and becomes enraged at the thought that his wife was having an affair.
Tom Buchanan had more than one affair as well, despite the fact that he and Daisy had only been married about 4-5 years.
With both his wife Daisy and his mistress Myrtle Wilson, Tom has complete control over both of them. Tom shows a complete disregard for Myrtle and clearly views her as an object for his pleasure only.
Tom even goes to the extent of physically harming Myrtle (breaking her nose). More than likely Tom’s harming of Myrtle is the accentuation of his “superiority” above women in general, and how his relationship with Myrtle is strictly for the sake of pleasing himself.
In Chapter 1, while Tom, Daisy, Nick, and Jordan were trying to eat dinner, the phone kept ringing. It was Myrtle Wilson trying to reach Tom. Tom doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s Myrtle calling, repeatedly getting up from the table to speak to her.
In Chapter 2, Nick is completely repulsed by Tom’s open cheating and referred to Tom and his mistress when he said-
The fact that he had one (a mistress) was insisted upon wherever he was known. His acquaintances resented the fact that he turned up at popular restaurants with her (the mistress at the time) and, leaving her at the table, sauntered about, chatting with whomever he knew.
Most men would keep a mistress secret for fear of being found out, but Tom is apparently proud that he can afford to keep a mistress and wants everyone to know it.
Tom Buchanan Quotes about Money
Nick tells us that Tom came from old money. People from families that had inherited their wealth lived in East Egg.
Those who worked hard and earned their wealth lived in West Egg.
Nick found it almost amusing that anyone would take note of whether someone’s wealth was old money or new money, saying-
“I lived at West Egg, the – well the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them.”
Tom seems to feel that his wealth and social standing makes him better than others, despite his actions being far more deplorable.
“Self-control!” Repeated Tom incredulously. “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out […] Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.”
When one considers that Tom has been having multiple affairs, even on his honeymoon, this does show that money cannot buy morals or class.
Tom refers to Gatsby as “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.” He shows his arrogance about not only his considerable wealth but also his long-standing family name and reputation.
Tom’s wealth goes without saying, but as a person, he appears to be morally bankrupt.
Quotes about Tom Buchanan’s Arrogance
Fitzgerald had no qualms about exposing the arrogance of the ultra-rich through his character Tom Buchanan.
Not only does Tom blatantly show off the fact that he has a mistress, but his arrogance also makes him believe that everyone else who doesn’t is stupid, including the husband of his mistress, George Wilson.
Talking to Nick about George Wilson, he says, “He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York. He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive.”
While confronting Gatsby at the hotel in New York, Tom arrogantly tells him-
“Oh, no. No. We’re different. I am. They are. She is. We’re all different from you. You see, we were born different. It’s in our blood. And nothing that you do or say or steal… or dream up can ever change that.”
While no one can deny that “everyone is different,” no one would ever deny that Tom’s arrogance makes him stand out (in a bad way) in the story.
While on some level, Tom Buchanan may love Daisy, he is an arrogant, sexist man who sees Daisy as nothing more than an accomplishment or something to own, like a car.
Tom does come from old money, and he has more than he knows what to do with, but he isn’t even a likable person. Nowhere in the book does Fitzgerald mention that Tom had friends. He may have had a lot of acquaintances from college, such as Nick, but he doesn’t appear to have friends.
F. Scott Fitzgerald appears to be saying that money does make life easier, and the ultra-rich do have an easy life that’s free from any responsibilities, but it can’t buy them friends, love, or morals.