Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby: Character Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:02 Who Is Tom Buchanan?
  • 1:34 Analysis: Condescending
  • 2:40 Analysis: Bigoted
  • 3:27 Analysis: Unfaithful
  • 4:19 Analysis: Sexist
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

In this lesson, you will learn about Tom Buchanan, a major character from F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel ''The Great Gatsby'', who is a man who seems to have everything but is morally bankrupt. His words and actions paint a picture of his (lack of) character.

Who is Tom Buchanan?

Some people seem to have it all: unlimited money, personal accomplishments, good looks, physical strength, a grand home, a beautiful spouse. It seems that such a person would be satisfied and grateful for what he has. This is not the case for Tom Buchanan, who has all of these things and more. In spite of these things, he consistently boasts, belittles others, and cheats on his wife.

By American standards, Tom Buchanan has it all. He was born into a wealthy family, has a lovely wife and daughter, owns a beautiful estate, is college educated, has experienced success as an athlete, and possesses strength and vitality. In the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, readers get a good overview of this character:

  • He is the husband of Daisy, the object of Jay Gatsby's desire.
  • He is wealthy, and he likes to flaunt it: His family were enormously wealthy and even in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach (p. 6).
  • He is a strong, tough man. His wife describes him as a ''brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen'' (p. 12).
  • He is athletic, a former college football player who had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven (p. 6). At the time of the story, he is thirty years old and an avid polo player.

This overview of Tom Buchanan does not tell much about the heart of this character. His words and actions in the story show him to be condescending, bigoted, unfaithful, and sexist.

Analysis: Condescending

Tom Buchanan values his status and his possessions. Nick Carraway, the story's narrator and a cousin of Tom's wife, describes his demeanor: ''Now don't think my opinion on these matters is final,'' he seemed to say, ''just because I'm stronger and more of a man than you are'' (p. 7).

Without a doubt, Tom could one-up most other people of his day, and he seems to let this define him. Upon Nick's first visit to the Buchanans' home, Tom remarks, ''I've got a nice place here'' and he goes on to describe the property's wealthy prior owner (p. 7).

A very telling example of Tom's condescending attitude can be found in his assessment of his mistress's husband (a mechanic, a man of low status): ''He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York. He's so dumb he doesn't know he's alive'' (p. 26).

Tom is bothered by other men's cheating, perhaps because he considers himself more worthy than other men: ''I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife'' (p. 130). As a ''Somebody'' from ''Somewhere,'' Tom is able to excuse his own cheating.

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