Is Tom Buchanan (The Great Gatsby) racist?

Expert Answers info

Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write3,296 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Science

The impression we get from Nick is that Tom was born into money, was gifted with athletic talent, and never had to give two thoughts to those less fortunate than him. This does not necessarily lead to a racist point of view. However, such a lifestyle is conducive to elitism and Tom is no exception. Tom is an elitist. He thinks he is better than most people.

When Nick is talking with Tom, Daisy, and Jordan in the first chapter, it quickly becomes clear that Tom is self-involved, proud, and, yes, a racist. Daisy uses the word "uncivilized" and Tom strikes at this opportunity to bring up the topic of civilization.

"Civilization's going to pieces," broke out Tom violently. "I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read 'The Rise of the Colored Empires' by this man Goddard?"

Tom continues, claiming this theory of Goddard's has been scientifically proved. He goes on to say, "This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It's up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things."

Just as Tom thinks he is from an elite economic class, he believes that his white race is the "dominant" race. He is clearly a racist.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

user3054720 | Student

ghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh gh h gh g  g 

gmzexyz | Student

Tom Buchanan's racism is evident from the very beginning of the novel when he advises that "it's up to us (white people), who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things" (Pg. 17.) Tom seems to embody an ideal physical and intellectual superiority. Tom "among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven - a national figure in a way" (Pg. 10.) His physical description shows how much power he has, like he could take on the whole world. "Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward... There was touch of paternal contempt in his voice, even towards people he liked." (Pg. 11.) By making others inferior to him, Tom sets his place as the "dominant" race. Tom's domineering nature prevents him from being able to consider the opinions or views, or see anyone else as an equal. Another quote which suggests Tom's racist views is "Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and White" Pg. 137. Tom believes that African-American people should not be associated with people of European origin. When he talks about "The Rise of the Coloured Empires' by this man Goddard," he is referring to Nordicism. (Marigoles, 2.) "It's a fine book and everybody ought to read it...The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be - will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff, it's been proved" (14). Tom as an educated and wealthy man proudly recites what he learned from his new readings. At the time Goddard had studied a family of undesirables and concluded "feeblemindedness, not environment, was responsible for social ills and was hereditary and trasmitted," (Marigoles, 4.) Tom also echoes a popular view at the time which stated "The disadvantage of unions between certain individuals of the primary races is understandable. It breaks up the smooth-running harmony of each, and increases variability to a point where selection of a better whole is almost impossible." (Glass, 133.) Tom clearly embodies the overwhelming prejudice and racism of his time with his presence and behavior. Despite being described as a well educated, wealthy member of society, Tom cannot see through the prejudice and racism which was spread with the help and in the name of science.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Unlock This Answer Now