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

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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...

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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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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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