How does Tom Buchanan manifest the immorality of The Great Gatsby era aristocracy?

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is difficult to know where to start when discussing Tom Buchanan's immorality in this novel, an immorality that is to some degree a reflection of the Roaring Twenties.  After World War I, in which millions of young men from many countries died, there was a feeling in the air of wanting to live for the day, of doing what one pleased, a new kind of freedom that did result in a great deal of immoral behavior, an immorality that the "aristocracy" of the day indulged in freely, not being subject to many of the constraints upon the poor.  One example of this was adultery, which Buchanan indulged in with Myrtle Wilson, and another, of course, was excessive consumption of alcohol, a consumption that Prohibition seemed to actually increase.  Still another example of immorality is Buchanan's racism, as evidenced in his admiration for a book called The Rise of the Colored Empires. He says,"It's up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things" (17), and this was certainly the attitude of most wealthy people at the time. We were a long way from the civil rights era.  His attitude toward those beneath him, including the Wilsons, is also reflective of his class and times.  He has every expectation that poor cuckolded George Wilson will provide him with services with gratitude, and he does not ask to see Myrtle. He tells her when he wants her. In spite of the notion that this was a classless society, the "ruling" class of the wealthy had most of its privileges and a strong sense of entitlement.  Wild parties were held at which poor young women were plied with liquor and taken advantage of, people had servants whom they treated poorly and condescendingly, and there was an almost Puritan sense that the wealthy "deserved" their wealth, as the poor somehow "deserved" their poverty. 

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The Great Gatsby

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