How is Tom Buchanan affected by materialism in The Great Gatsby?

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belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Tom Buchanan, married to Daisy, is an Alpha Male and one to whom personal superiority is more important than ethics or morality. He uses his wealth and status to buy and bully respect; he cannot be argued with, because he will not listen to reason. To Tom, having wealth is less important than using it. He is contemptuous of Gatsby not because Gatsby is more successful than himself, but because he can't see that Gatsby is also buying respect, although for a different reason. For Tom, all that matters is being the most important person in the room, and spending money accomplishes that.

...Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave [Daisy] a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
(Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, mrbye.com)

Tom's materialism differs from Gatsby's in that he has no goal or purpose; he simply wants to be powerful. Tom believes that the accumulation of money is a means to an end; he is enabled in his cruelty because of his money, and he feels self-justified because the wealthy are an entitled class. In the end, Tom "wins" over Gatsby because he is more ruthless and without personal honor; he doesn't care about the innocent lives he has damaged, but only cares that he has successfully retained the only thing Gatsby truly finds important: Daisy.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Tom Buchanan is portrayed as an extremely wealthy, selfish individual, who is arrogant, controlling, and callous. Tom Buchanan hails from an affluent family and flaunts his wealth whenever he gets a chance. His wealth increases his arrogance to the point that he believes he is superior to others because he has money. Despite being completely ignorant and shallow, Tom believes he is above reproach and deserves respect. Tom also believes that he is more intelligent than others because he is wealthy and even boasts about his recent studies, which ironically emphasizes his ignorance and lack of perspective.

His wealth also allows him to engage in frivolous, reckless behavior and he uses his money as a shield to protect his reputation. For example, Tom rents an apartment in the city, publicly carries on an affair with Myrtle, and is indirectly responsible for Gatsby's death. Towards the end of the novel, Nick Carraway acknowledges how Tom's wealth makes him a careless individual by saying,

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. (Fitzgerald, 191)

Overall, Tom Buchanan's materialism and wealth dramatically alters his self-perception and increases his arrogance. His wealth also enables him to engage in reckless behavior and acts as a shield to protect his reputation.

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pauline1 | Student

Materialism refers to the conviction that material success holds the highest value in human life. Those that subscribe to this school of thought are more concerned with material possessions as opposed to integrity.

Tom Buchanan is an ardent subscriber to the doctrine of materialism. He is married to Daisy, Nick’s cousin. Tom seems to be more preoccupied with his own wealth and success as opposed to social equality. He is portrayed as a rich individual who blatantly boasts about his well-being to other people.

For instance, the first words that come out of Tom’s mouth when Nick pays him a visit are “…it is a nice place I’ve got here”. This is a clear indication that Tom is more concerned with his material wealth and superiority as opposed to his visitor’s welfare.

Additionally, Tom is depicted as an individual who can go to any extent to protect his belongings. He lacks integrity and is callous when it comes to protecting his own interests. Tom lies to Wilson that it was Gatsby who had knocked down and killed Myrtle. Agitated by the death of his wife, Wilson tracks down Gatsby and guns him down before taking his own life. Tom sets up Wilson against Gatsby to get back at the latter for having an affair with his wife. This shows that Tom is overly obsessed with material things, and he would do anything to eliminate those that challenged his superiority.

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