Compare and contrast Gatsby and Tom in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

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penelope3907 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's most famous novel, The Great Gatsby,the characters of Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby are interesting foils for one another. 

A major similiarity is that both love Daisy Buchanan. For both men, Daisy represents wealth; for Tom, Daisy is a symbol of his enormous wealth and his ability to control the world using money. For Gatsby, Daisy is a symbol of the world of the rich he has strived to join; by having Daisy, Gatsby feels he can prove to himself and others that he belongs in that world. 

But the depth of their love for Daisy is very different. Tom routinely cheats on his wife and doesn't seem to mind if she knows it, but claims he loves her despite this, saying:

"Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time."

On the other hand, Gatsby has loved Daisy since they met and has been faithful to her despite their separation and her marriage. He cannot accept that she ever loved Tom because he has never loved anyone but her. This is shown when Gatsby says:  

"She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me!"

The two men are very different in other ways. First, Tom's wealth comes from his family. He is "old money," a status considered far more respectable than Gatsby's breed of "new money," especially considering that Gatsby acquired his wealth through a life of crime. While Gatsby seems to desire Tom's respect or at least acceptance, Tom shows visible disdain for Gatsby, even before learning of his wife's affair. 

Though Gatsby is actually a criminal, Tom does far more to damage the lives of others: cheating on his wife with a married woman, abusing Myrtle and possibly Daisy and sending George to Gatsby when he knows George intends to kill Gatsby. While Gatsby is a hopeful and innocent character, Tom is careless and violent. 

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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