Extended Character Analysis
Tom Buchanan is a brute who embodies the preening, power-hungry narrow-mindedness of the East Egg elite. Nick, who knew Tom from their time at Yale, remarks that Tom was once an incredibly talented football player. While still wealthy and physically imposing, Tom, at the young age of 30, is already past his prime. Tom seems to be drifting through life, seeking out some “irrecoverable football game.” Much as Gatsby looks to the past in an effort to find satisfaction, so too does Tom. He is unable to move on from the glory of his college football career and instead stagnates in his wealthy world, listlessly traveling in search of the golden but unobtainable past.
Ironically, despite Tom’s dissatisfaction, he is everything that Gatsby wants to be: wealthy, influential, and married to Daisy Buchanan. However, Tom exemplifies the fact that happiness cannot be bought. He is racist, classist, sexist, and cruel, keeping mistresses without bothering to hide them from his wife. The essential difference between Tom and Gatsby is that Gatsby has had to earn everything he has, whereas Tom was born with wealth and power. Gatsby had to dream up a better life for himself and work to make it happen, giving him a sense of hope and optimism. Tom, on the other hand, perceives that his best days are already behind him, so he settles into idleness and carelessness, never bothering to dream or strive for anything more.
Tom’s philandering speaks to his need for control and dominance, a remnant of the power he once had on the football field. He ruthlessly bars the advancement-seeking Myrtle Wilson from holding any delusions about improving her station, breaking her nose when she so much as mentions Daisy’s name. Unlike Daisy, who is his equal in social standing, Myrtle is someone Tom can treat as an inferior. Not only is she poor, she is also ugly and overweight, whereas Tom is fit and attractive. Tom maintains complete dominance over Myrtle, physically, socially, and emotionally. Myrtle is so desperate to advance her social status that she willingly takes Tom’s abuse, modeling the abuse of the poor by the wealthy. All told, Tom is a walking powder keg, an unconscious assemblage of narcissism, lust, and listlessness, itching to release his rage on those he perceives as less powerful.