At one point or another in life everyone dreams of one day being rich and living a life free of worries. Few ever achieve this goal and most come to look at it as nothing more than a fleeting dream forever beyond their grasps. It was during the Jazz age, a time when people had mistakenly believed that everyone could be rich, that the concept of “old money” emerged. Those born into wealth were held at a higher esteem than those who had struggled and worked for their success. In this time the wealthy spent their time entertaining high-class social parties, and playing polo in the summer. In the novel, The Great Gatsby, the Buchanans represent “old money” and as a result hold themselves superior to others despite not having worked for their money or status. As a result of his enormous wealth, Tom Buchanan presents himself as a man of the ‘dominant’ race and treats others as if they are beneath him. Early in the novel, Tom is discussing a book he is reading called The Rise of the Colored Empires and tells Nick and Daisy, “This fellow has worked out the whole thing- It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things” (Fitzgerald 13).
Growing up with such a sheltered and luxurious lifestyle has shaped his mind into believing that he is superior to others because of his race. Like many people during this time who believed African Americans to be lower class human beings, Tom thought himself and others like him, to be better in every way. This misguided mindset added to his treatment of people. The people around him are always made acutely aware of his wealth as can be seen in the novel when Nick says: “His family was enormously wealthy – even in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach-but now he’d left Chicago and…he’d brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest”(Fitzgerald 6). Tom has so much money that it causes him to take his good fortune for granted and spend his money carelessly. He is constantly searching for something of interest to add to his boredom and flaunts his money around without a care. Daisy Buchanan, born with beauty and wealth is sought after by many and as a result acts superior to others, and takes what she has for granted as well as the people around her.
At Tom’s mansion Gatsby remarks that Daisy’s voice is full of money and Nick thinks to himself: “That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it…. High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl…” (Fitzgerald). The way Daisy’s voice is described gives the reader a sense of understanding that Daisy is the way she is because of how she was raised in a wealthy family and how she continues to live her life so carelessly because of it. Everything about Daisy lets the reader know that she’s like ‘the king’s daughter, the golden girl’ as Nick so aptly puts it, through the way she speaks and the way she carries herself as if she is untouchable by the problems of daily life and somewhere beyond where everyone else is. But though Daisy has never worked a day in her life she still realizes how corrupt the world can be and yet continues to act carelessly. At Tom’s mansion she tells Nick what she said when she first heard the gender of her newborn baby: “‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad its a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (17).
Daisy says these words with a certain cynical sarcasm and manages to get Nick’s sympathy for a moment until he realizes that she is being fake. These words seem to say that in the world Daisy lives in surrounded by wealth that a little girl can only be happy unless she is a beautiful fool, or else she will live unhappily or be treated poorly. As a beautiful, and wealthy person Daisy realizes that she gets by in her life mostly because of those attributes and that without them she would be ruined not having anything to fall back on in her carelessness. Together Tom and Daisy Buchanan lived a life of luxury never having to take responsibility for their actions, their enormous wealth and fortune led them to become partners who acted without thinking or considering the consequences. Before Nick had arrived at East Egg to visit his distant ‘friends’ Tom and Daisy he described what they had been doing before: “They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together” (6).
Nick seems to describe that the Buchanans are never satisfied where they go and are always looking for some form of excitement. They use their vast wealth and go wherever they want to on a whim trying to fill their lives with something they’re missing and make it less boring. After Gatsby’s funeral Nick had met up with Tom who explained to him what had really happened the day of Myrtle’s death, it was then that Nick thought this of the Buchanan’s: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…” (Fitzgerald). Nick is referring to ‘creatures’ as people such as Gatsby or Myrtle who suffered the consequences of Tom’s and Daisy’s actions. The Buchanans left East Egg without hesitation and went back to their lives of luxury all the while treating people like trash and leaving behind their mistakes. Nick seems to understand what the Buchanans are really like and speaks of them with a sort of resentment and reproach for their actions and carelessness.
The wealth and status of the Buchanans represent them as ‘old money’ and despite not having worked for their money or status they hold themselves superior to others. The novel, The Great Gatsby, is the story of Jay Gatsby’s pursuit of his green light, Daisy and his inevitable downfall as a result. Throughout the story the Buchanans act as if they are better than everyone else regarding others with distaste for their lack of money. Tom and Daisy seem to live in their own world where the only person that matters is themselves. This is important to the novel as a whole because their actions throughout the novel are part of the reason for Gatsby’s downfall. The Buchanans lived in a time when everyone believed they could be rich but only those who had inherited their money were considered truly wealthy. It was a society such as this that bred people like Tom and Daisy who grew up not ever needing to take responsibility for their actions.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925