It is very difficult for readers to feel anything other than contempt for Tom Buchanan throughout the novel. Fitzgerald uses Tom’s behaviour and attitude from the first time we are introduced to his character in chapter 1 to present him as a bully through his racist and unpleasant language assisted with his tough appearance. Daisy uses animalistic language to describe Tom as a ‘hulking physical specimen’ which highlights to the reader his potential strength and power of his build creating a sense of intimidation and fear that needs to be had for the other characters especially as he is powerful already through his riches.
Fitzgerald uses Tom’s characteristics and actions within Tom and Daisy’s relationship to convey negative feelings about his character to the reader. Their relationship involves Tom abusing and shouting at Daisy creating an instant dislike to him. Daisy accuses Tom of ill-treating her saying “I know you didn’t mean to, but you did do it. That’s what I get for marrying a brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen of a ——”.
The fact his own wife described him as having a bully like appearance suggests he doesn’t possess the attributes of a pleasant person especially when compared to the way Daisy describes other people she loves like Gatsby who to her resembles “the advertisement of the man” implying through the symbolism that Gatsby is a flawless man in every way which reflects the modernity of the age.
Fitzgerald emphasises these negative feelings we should feel towards Tom through his attack on his mistress Myrtle, despite her encouraging behaviour, ‘making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand’ describing how Tom not only hits his wife but also hits his mistress. It highlights to the reader Tom’s brutality in addition to his need of a mistress only to satisfy him so when she annoys him he makes it clear he won’t tolerate it.
Despite Gatsby participating in illegal affairs to gain his money he is a likeable character which Tom despises being the antagonist to Gatsby due to these very illegal affairs and the love he has for Daisy but as a reader we want to side with Gatsby because of the negative attributes Tom possess. When Tom expresses his hate towards Gatsby he says “Who is this Gatsby anyhow? ” demanded Tom suddenly. “Some big bootlegger?
” it suggests that despite the corruption of Gatsby’s lifestyle because we still like Gatsby more than Tom it highlights the extent of dislike felt for Tom’s character as his behaviour is socially more unacceptable than Gatsby’s which is morally wrong. Fitzgerald uses Nick as a retrospective narrator to convey his bias view of negatively against Tom but Nick is also intrigued by Tom. He is described in a similar way as Daisy, both fascinating kind of people.
They have both got what others desire: power which Tom has physically through his ‘cruel body’ and through the means of his status and money shown when he brought “a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest”. The fact Tom exploits these factors of wealth and fortune through extravagant excessive actions and almost controlling Daisy’s love for him with the threat of it all being lost if she chose Gatsby in the end creates a lack of respect amongst the readers for him.
Although it’s very difficult for readers to feel anything other than contempt for Tom Buchanan it could be considered that he was just a victim of the society of the 1920s and his actions were just a production of how things were at that time. Also he was explosive when he discovered his wife’s affair asking Gatsby “What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house anyhow? ” although everyone was aware. His anger could be interpreted more to do with competition for Daisy rather than love for her especially as he only projected his emotions at Gatsby in a verbal attack with barely any questioning with Daisy.