What is Gatsby's reaction when he sees Tom for the first time? What goes through his mind?

Gatsby's reaction when he sees Tom for the first time is a strange expression that Nick describes as a "look of embarrassment." Gatsby's thoughts and feelings likely revolve around his being in love with Tom's wife, Daisy.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jay Gatsby first sees Tom Buchanan at a New York City restaurant. At the beginning of chapter four, Gatsby invites Nick to dine with him in the city, where they meet up with Gatsby's business partner, Meyer Wolfsheim. Gatsby briefly leaves Nick alone to speak with Meyer, and Nick gets the impression that Gatsby's business partner is somehow involved in the criminal underworld. Once Meyer Wolfsheim leaves, Gatsby informs Nick that Meyer is a successful gambler and fixed the 1919 World Series. As the waiter brings the check to their table, Nick catches a glimpse of Tom Buchanan and tells Gatsby that he would like to introduce him to Tom.

When Tom comes over to speak to Nick, he shakes Gatsby's hand and Nick elaborates on their first meeting by saying,

"They shook hands briefly and a strained, unfamiliar look of embarrassment came over Gatsby’s face."

Immediately after Gatsby introduces himself to Tom Buchanan, he disappears without saying goodbye. Given Nick's description of their initial meeting, Jay Gatsby likely experiences a myriad of emotions when he sees Tom. Gatsby is overwhelmed with embarrassment and shame, which influences his decision to make a quick exit. Seeing Tom catches Gatsby off-guard, and he cannot properly compose himself.

It is understandable why Gatsby would feel embarrassed in front of Tom. For one, Gatsby is in love with Tom's wife, Daisy, and he purchased a mansion across the bay from Daisy's just to be close to her. Gatsby may also be intimidated by Tom's strong build and forceful character. Moreover, he likely feels jealous of Tom's privileged status as Daisy's husband.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team