Near the beginning of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, Mr. Undershaft exclaims in retort of another’s question, “well, I am a millionaire, and that is my religion” (Shaw 103). Many people look toward the heavens in search of the power to enable them to live in the world. Others, like Shaw’s Mr. Undershaft, look toward more earthly subjects to obtain their power and symbolize their status. Often these subjects, such as money, wealth, or physical beauty and ability, give their owners an overbearing sense of power and ability in all of that they do. Some people become so obsessed with their materialistic power that it becomes their religion and leads them in everything that they do. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the character of Tom Buchanan is introduced and portrayed as someone who has allowed his physical abilities, money, and wealth, become his religion and lead him in his actions, perceived thoughts and beliefs, and speech.
Nick, the first person narrator of The Great Gatsby, introduces Tom as a “national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax” (Fitzgerald 10). In college at New Haven, Tom relied on his physical abilities, as “one of the most powerful ends that ever played football” (Fitzgerald 10), as well as inherited wealth to give him the power and prestige to be perceived as better than the best. In the beginning of his college career, as Nick seems to suggest, it was this supreme physical ability on the football field that allowed Tom to have supreme reign over all off the field. But, after college, the football legacy ended, and with it, Tom’…
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…lected to “make a short deft movement [that] broke her nose with his open hand” (Fitzgerald 41) rather than admit that the other party could do something without his explicit permission.
From his first introduction early in the first chapter of The Great Gatsby to the end of the second, Tom strives to constantly remind everyone around him of his power through his actions, thoughts, and speech. Like royal subjects loyal to their king, he believes that everyone is under him and should respect and obey his every wish. Through the mastery of Fitzgerald’s poetic hand, a character has been created to which wealth has become a religion and god has become a personification of himself.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner-Simon, 1992.
Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion and Major Barbara. New York: Bantom Books, 1992.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – The Power of Money
In the preface to Major Barbara, the playwright George Bernard Shaw observes that “money is the most important thing in the world–it represents health, strength, honor, generosity and beauty,” but, the poet continues, “it also destroys people as certainly as it fortifies and dignifies others” (Shaw 28). Shaw recognized that many people look toward money, the ultimate representation of materialism, in search of the power that enables them to live. But, money can play many parts in the drama of life. It can represent or give the illusion of wealth, prestige, nobility, and power. Those that seek to harness its powers must also strive to conquer its ability to destroy and corrupt. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the repeated image of money, no matter in what form or through whom it is portrayed, is used to such an extent that it becomes central to the development of the story.
The abstract idea of money can be expressed in many ways. Perhaps the most straightforward way is through the acquisition of grand possessions. In the first chapter of the novel, Nick, the first-…