"The Great Gatsby" is considered one of great American novels. On its surface, F. Scott Fitzgerald's book appears to be a story of lost love. Jay Gatsby is the main protagonist, and the story revolves around his efforts to regain the love of Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy were separated by World War I, and Daisy marries Tom Buchanan, who comes from a wealthy East Coast family. Fitzgerald's primary purpose in writing the novel was to present a scathing critique of the American preoccupation with wealth and the decadence that it engenders. Gatsby and Tom represent two different perspectives on wealth and social mores.
Compare and contrast the source of Gatsby and Tom's wealth. Gatsby and Tom represent the distinction between the newly rich and old money, respectively. Tom's wealth is inherited. The old money families represent an elitist aristocratic element in American culture. Everyone else is beneath them in the pecking order, and this is especially the case with the newly rich, such as Gatsby. Gatsby worked his way out of poverty by engaging in a number of illegal activities, including bootlegging and securities fraud.
Contrast Gatsby and Tom's lifestyles. Gatsby lives in West Egg, and Tom lives in East Egg, both on Long Island near New York City. East Egg is where the old money aristocracy lives, whereas West Egg is for the newly rich. Gatsby's character is representative of the newly rich's lack of taste, ostentation, lavish parties and spending. Tom's character, on the other hand, is more old-fashioned and restrained, at least on the surface. Tom and Daisy's home is subtle and beautifully decorated. Gatsby's is a mansion, garishly decorated, and a site for all sorts of excess. Gatsby dresses in a loud pink suit, whereas Tom is more reserved in his dressing style.
Compare the underlying traits in their characters. Gatsby is a mysterious figure who keeps his past hidden. In fact, he invents his own identity. His real name is James Gatz. He grew up in extreme poverty in North Dakota without prospects or education. The Army was his means of escape. He met and fell in love with Daisy in Louisville, Kentucky, before going to the war. She married Tom in 1919. James Gatz is mysteriously transformed into Jay Gatsby during the post-war years. His new identity and wealth are motivated by his desire to regain Daisy. Tom, on the other hand, is easily seen as a young, spoiled rich man. However, his character is far darker. He is abusive, sexist and racist.
Make a list of Tom and Gatsby's flaws. Despite the differences between Tom and Gatsby, they both, in Fitzgerald's view, are flawed characters. Their flaws are amplified by their extreme wealth. Gatsby and Tom are both compelled by the desire for pleasure, cynicism and greed. Gatsby emerges more as a tragic hero driven by his love for Daisy. Tom, on the other hand, is more of a villain and brute despite, or perhaps because of, his education and upbringing.