In The Great Gatsby, what is the significance of Tom's comment about the Sun?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 7, Nick and Gatsby are drinking beverages at Tom and Daisy's home on an extremely hot day, when Tom makes a remark about the sun. Tom says,

I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year . . . It seems that pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun—or wait a minute—it’s just the opposite—the sun’s getting colder every year. (125)

Tom Buchanan attempts to repeat a scientific statistic about the sun's temperature that he has previously read, in an attempt to come across as intelligent and impress both Nick and Jay Gatsby. However, Tom is an ignorant, arrogant man who does not understand anything he has read about the sun's temperature, its natural functions, or the fate of the solar system. Similar to Tom's earlier comments regarding the imminent takeover of the white race, his attempts at sounding intelligent fail and make him appear weak-minded and ignorant.

Tom's comment can also symbolically represent and reflect his failing marriage. If the sun represents intense love and human passions, Tom's comment about it getting colder reflects Daisy's waning feelings for him. In a sense, Daisy's love for Tom is cooling, which is similar to the sun's condition according to Tom.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tom's comment about the Sun comes on a hot day, and demonstrates how he takes in information without understanding it:

"I read somewhere that the sun's getting hotter every year," said Tom genially. "It seems that pretty soon the earth's going to fall into the sun -- or wait a minute -- it's just the opposite -- the sun's getting colder every year."
(Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby,

Tom shows here that while he may have read some statistic about the Sun's temperature, and about the eventual fate of the Solar System, he has no idea what that fact means in the large scheme of things. It is, for Tom, nothing more than a comment for small talk. Tom is incapable of understanding the life-cycle of a star, or the Sun's routine heating and cooling activity, and so drops this sentence -- immediately contradicting himself -- because of the heat, not because he wants to inform. For Tom, the facts are barely more than a collection of syllables that make him sound smart, and he expects that the people around him are equally ill-informed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team