How does Tom Buchanan explain, "civilization going to pieces"? What does this imply about his character?

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dneshan | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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In Chapter one of “The Great Gatsby”, Tom makes a comment about “civilization going to pieces” during a dinner party with himself, Daisy, Jordan, and Nick.  The conversation begins after Daisy explains to her company that Tom hurt her finger; she then goes on to call him “hulking”.  After this, Nick responds, seemingly joking around, by telling Daisy that she makes him feel “uncivilized.”  Then Tom says, “Civilization's going to pieces.”  The comments that follow explain what Tom means by this.  He continues by talking about his pessimistic attitude and asks Nick if he read a book entitled “The Rise of the Colored Empires” which he explains to be a book that advises “the white race” to look out for themselves only and not let anyone control them and, according to this book they need to “produce all the things that go to make civilization.”  Tom’s comments during his conversation on this subject do reveal a few things about his character.  First, it the reader that he is racist and believes that he is of the dominant race.  Secondly, it tells us that he feels that he is superior over others.  These two personality traits do dominate Tom’s character throughout the novel.