Chapters 2 and 3 (p. 23–59) contain a motif of eyes, and, by extension, of seeing and blindness. In fact, the word "eye" appears in some form or another over 25 times in these two chapters. How is Fitzgerald setting up a theme for this book? Choose three references from these two chapters to eyes and sight and discuss how they work together to help Fitzgerald develop this theme.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the most striking examples of eyes in chapter 2 is the description of the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg billboard between West Egg and New York City. In the first paragraph of the chapter, the narrator, Nick Carraway, writes,

But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

This image of T. J. Eckleburg is a prominent part of this landscape and stands as an ambiguous, complex symbol. This symbol is sometimes interpreted as a version of God looking over the characters who pass in front of the sign. However, this would be an ironic image of God because it's simply a capitalist method to drum up business and is also rather empty. The death of the doctor advertising his practice is described as "eternal blindness," suggesting that there is no omniscience to this "God" figure. If you take this analysis a bit further, you could argue it suggests that there is no higher power looking out for our characters, nothing guiding them in terms or morality. Some of the main characters are marked by their irresponsibility and seeming lack of consideration for others, so Fitzgerald begins setting up this idea in the way he describes the eyes of T. J. Eckleburg.

In chapter 3, Nick goes to his first party at Gatsby's mansion. Nick makes many observations about the party, its participants, and the extravagance of the event. He also meets "Owl Eyes" at this party, a strange man who Nick finds in the library. Owls are often associated with wisdom, and the man seems educated, but he does not know how to answer Nick's questions about party guests's behavior. The party chapter sets up the theme of the unreliable nature of appearances and the danger of valuing style over substance. This theme will of course develop and become darker as the novel continues. The party guests's behavior, particularly the driving accident Nick asks Owl Eyes about, is another example of the irresponsible behavior of these privileged characters.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team