Tom Buchannan reflects important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s Free Essay Example
Tom Buchannan reflects important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s.
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With reference to appropriately selected parts of the novel, and relevant external contextual information on attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s, give your response to the above view. Tom Buchannan is certainly one of Fitzgerald’s most opinionated and distinct characters, and his social commentary reflects important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s. These attitudes and values are mostly negative, and Fitzgerald uses Tom as a way to convey everything he dislikes about 1920s society.
In examining this view, a good place to start is Tom’s blatant racism. Tom’s views are clearly racist, evidenced by his choice of reading: “Have you read the Rise of the Coloured Empires by Goddard? ” This refers to a genuine book that was around at that time, titled The Rising Tide Of Colour by Lothrop Stoddard. Tom feels threatened by the rising power of racial minorities and wishes to preserve the archaic status quo, which is reflective of the attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s.
The influx of immigrants from Asia and Africa was seen as a threat to many established Americans, and led to measures such as National Origins Quota Act of 1924 which restricted immigration to 150,000 per annum. It favoured European immigrants and effectively banned Asians from coming to America. Immigrants were referred to as a ‘barbarian horde’ and a sense of post-war patriotism led to attacks on many immigrants.
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Furthermore, Tom expresses views that could be considered white supremacist: “It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.
The white supremacy movement was taking off in the 1920s through groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, which was founded in 1915 but dramatically increased in membership during the 1920s. Through his bigotry and hatred, Tom Buchannan certainly reflects important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s. Further support for this proposition can be found when we consider Tom’s misogynist views, and how such views were common in the 1920s. Fitzgerald portrays many female characters that are dominated by men. The main dominator is, of course, Tom.
He perceives himself to be an alpha-male and dominates not only his wife, but any woman he is acquainted with. For example, he states that Jordan should not, “be allowed to run around. ” However, the best example of his domineering nature is how he ‘picks up’ Myrtle. They meet on a subway train and she initially, “told him I’d have to call a policeman. ” They end up getting in a taxi together, without even introducing themselves. Tom represents a dying patriarchal society, when women had to be submissive to men. Despite the progress that was being made, the 1920s society remained misogynistic.
As the historian Alice Kessler-Harris documents in her book Out to Work, in the 1920s, after women got the vote, their rate of increase into the professions began to slow; in some professions, such as medicine, science, and even teaching, the proportion of women began to decline outright. Laws were passed that made it easier to fire married female teachers and civil service workers. Women, especially married women, remained dependent on men. As evidenced by his poor treatment of women, Tom Buchannan reflects the misogynistic attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s.
Moreover, Tom’s views about marriage and his willingness to engage in extra-marital affairs are reflective of the attitudes and values towards marriage in real-life American society in the 1920s. Tom is engaged in an affair with Myrtle Wilson, and does not make much of an attempt to hide this fact: “The fact that he had one [a mistress] was insisted upon wherever he was known. ” Tom is not only disloyal; he publically embarrasses Daisy by showing off about it. Of course, this sexual freedom does not apply to Daisy – Tom is furious when he discovers that she has been seeing Gatsby.
Reports in the 1920s indicated that 28% of American men and 24% of women were adulterous at some point after wedding. This was a time of loosening morals and marriage no longer had the binding religious significance it once had. In real life, Fitzgerald experienced this with his own wife, Zelda, who he believed was having an extra-marital affair. Tom is also a hypocrite when it comes to marriage: “Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions…” He is hardly one to talk about the sanctity of the family.
Tom reflects that increasingly casual attitude towards love and sex that was developing in the 1920s. In light of this, it perplexes me that anyone could claim that Tom Buchannan doesn’t reflect important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s. Those that oppose my view claim that Tom’s values are archaic, and that they do not reflect the majority opinion of the 1920s. There may be some merit to this opinion, especially we consider that 1920s America was a liberal democracy where many minority groups were being given rights for the first time.
This is reflected in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald suggests that the boundaries of race can be broken down by the American Dream, despite the archaic views of men like Tom. When the characters are driving into New York they pass a car, “driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. ” A white man serving black people is a reversal of the racism that had dominated society until this point. This was the time of the Harlem Renaissance, a term used to describe a flowering of African-American literature and art in the 1920s, mainly in the Harlem district of New York City.
During the mass migration of African Americans from the rural agricultural south to the urban industrial north, many who came to New York settled in Harlem, as did a good number of black New Yorkers moved from other areas of the city. For the first time they were respected as integral to the community. This is because the American Dream, in its purest form, promises equal opportunity for all regardless of race. In light of this, it could be argued that Tom Buchannan doesn’t reflect important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s.
Rather, he is a representative of bigoted views from an earlier time. The claim that Tom Buchannan reflects important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s could be contested when we consider that his views on women are in fact outdated and not typical of the views of the time. Fitzgerald portrays some of the more independent female characters, such as Jordan. Jordan is a star golfer, and Nick states, “almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me. He is so used to seeing submissive women like Daisy, so someone independent like Jordan is fascinating. This could be one of the reasons Nick is attracted to her. Women in the 1920s were given more education and employment opportunities than ever before, and they had recently gained the right to vote. Fitzgerald wrote during the era of the flappers. These were women that shirked traditional feminine ideals and behaved similarly to men, such as smoking and drinking. They cut their hair short, wore short skirts and danced provocatively. Most importantly, they refused to be dominated by men like Tom (If you need to write complete family essay, hire our writers).
Likewise, Catherine is clearly an independent female, even in her appearance: “her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle. ” The reader gets the sense that she dresses to please herself, not men. Through characters like Jordan and Catherine we get the sense that the 1920s may not have been as misogynistic as Tom’s character leads us to believe, and therefore Tom Buchannan does not reflect important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s. Finally, Tom’s views towards money and work alienate him from the genuine attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s.
Tom is old money, meaning he is descended from the landed aristocracy of Europe: “His family were enormously wealthy–even in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach. ” He is used to a life where he does not have to work for his wealth. On the other hand, American society in the 1920s was all about new money and working hard. People like Tom were resented rather than admired, which is captured in Nick’s final remark about Tom: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money. ”
In light of this, the case could be made that Gatsby is a better representative of attitudes and values in 1920s America instead of Tom, especially with regards to money and work. Gatsby has certainly worked hard to acquire all that he has. According to Thomas Wolfe, every man in America has the right to become, “whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him. ” This certainly applies to Gatsby. He represents the American Dream of self-made wealth and happiness, the spirit of youth and resourcefulness, and the ability to defy his past and make something of himself.
This directly contrasts to Tom’s attitudes of apathy, laziness and entitlement that alienate him from the attitudes and values of the 1920s. To conclude, after careful consideration we determine that, for the most part, Tom Buchannan reflects important attitudes and values in real-life American society in the 1920s. The same could also be said of many of Fitzgerald’s characters, because many critics have taken The Great Gatsby to be an extended social commentary on the attitudes and values of the 1920s. The opposing arguments have some merit but ultimately they fail to realise the true implications and context of The Great Gatsby.
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