In The Great Gatsby, do Tom's and Jordan's physical descriptions correlate to something deeper in the novel?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The physical descriptions of Tom and Jordan imply much about their personalities and basic character traits. As he stands dressed in his riding clothes, surveying his enormous and beautiful estate, Tom is described in terms of his physical strength and aggressiveness. He has a "rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner." His body is "powerful" and "capable of enormous leverage--a cruel body." The description of Tom's eyes is especially meaningful in conveying his personality:

Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward.

This unflattering image of Tom is further emphasized by references to his "gruff" voice with its "impression of fractiousness" and "touch of paternal contempt." Overall, this description of Tom implies that his great wealth has corrupted his character, making him unworthy of much personal respect.

Fitzgerald's initial physical description of Jordan is also connotative, although not as pointed:

She was a slender, small-breasted girl with an erect carriage which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet. Her grey sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming discontented face.

Jordan moves in "a series of rapid, deft movements." She is "jaunty" in her demeanor. Sometimes she moves "slenderly" and "languidly." Jordan's only pursuit, other than pleasure, is playing golf, and these  descriptions suggest her physical control and athletic bent. However, her "cool" demeanor and "discontented" face imply more. Jordan is frequently cited as the archetype of Fitzgerald's Jazz Age flapper--beautiful, strong-willed, independent, and unconventional.


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The Great Gatsby

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