Tom is a character with few redeeming qualities. He represents the worst aspects of the super-rich in American society whose money insulates them from the normal constraints of law or morality. Nick describes them as:
careless people – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money.
The first image of Tom is one of ownership and domination in front of his vast mansion:
Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.
Nick describes how the extent of his wealth
rather took your breath away. It has been entirely inherited – he doesn't work for a living and presumably never has.
The description of him as
Tom Buchanan of Chicago suggests his high status and sense of entitlement. He despises Gatsby for his lack of background, dismissing him as
Mr Nobody from Nowhere, an insult that seems to destroy Gatsby in Daisy's eyes. Although he was educated at Yale, he seems limited intellectually, but made his mark there in sport where he was a famous player in their (American) football team. Nick describes him as:
one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savours of anti-climax.
Tom is a compulsive womaniser, with a preference for lower class women whom he treats with contempt and violence. He breaks Myrtle's nose, Daisy complains he has hurt her little finger, and, in the past, he caused a chambermaid he was having an affair with to break her arm after crashing his car, while he himself, typically, was unscathed.
He does, however, seem to love Daisy in his own, possessive fashion, recalling moments of tenderness during the confrontation at the Plaza Hotel:
the day I carried you down from the Punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry.
Tom comes over as an intimidating figure, as he still retains the powerful physique of the star football player –
a cruel body, according to Nick. As well as frequently hurting people, he also bullies the people around him. He imposes his will on Nick and
determination... that bordered on violence that Nick meet his mistress Myrtle.
His practised brutality is captured in the way he assaults Myrtle:
Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.
Although cuckolding him, he treats Wilson with unabashed disdain, knowing that Wilson cannot retaliate as he needs his business. He seems to enjoy the confrontation with Gatsby at the Plaza hotel,
exulting and laughing afterwards.
Tom is a racist: he supports the ideas put forward in a book called The Rise of the Coloured Empires, describing it as
He is a male chauvinist, complaining of Jordan and Daisy that they
run around too much.