What is the meaning of the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I am reminded of Stephen Crane's short story "The Blue Hotel." Very near the end of this great story the Swede is killed by the gambler, and this section closes with these final words:

   The corpse of the Swede, alone in the saloon, had its eyes fixed upon a dreadful legend that dwelt a-top of the cash-machine. "This registers the amount of your purchase."

No doubt the billboard showing the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg is intended to have the same effect on the reader. Crane apparently calls the sign on tope of the cash-machine "a dreadful legend" because it is totally meaningless as applied to the death that has just taken place. The same may be true of the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg. They see nothing and care nothing about the passing parade of humanity with their hopes and dreams. If life is meaningless, then any legend attached to any man's life or death would seem to be equally appropriate. 

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Yes, the doctor's eyes are symbolic.  They see everything.  All of the decadence and poor choices that characters make happen under his watch.  The billboard is very creepy!  Its use in the story reminds us that even when we think no one is watching, someone is.

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teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Near the end of the novel, Wilson and Michaelis discuss the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg being like the eyes of God.  In addition, I think the eyes might also represent the characters’ views of themselves.  Wilson says that the eyes will always see what a person has done wrong which suggests that a person always knows his/her rights and wrongs.  For all her reasons, Myrtle knows that she has done the wrong thing by having an affair with Tom, and Wilson’s mention of the eyes points to the retribution that one must pay for his/her wrongs.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I get the feeling that it's a little like Big Brother...the characters in this novel feel as though they are being watched and are under scrutiny.  This is especially true for Wilson as he comes to find that he does not live up to his wife's expectations and that she has taken a lover as a replacement or subsititute to make up for Wilson's shortcomings.  The eyes are always there...staring...blue in the gray surroundings of this industrial area.  They are unchanging, but the only color in a rather drab setting.  Perhaps, in their own way, they signify that the American Dream can be acheived...that you don't have to settle for gray.  You can reach higher and become something of color.  Myrtle certainly was trying.

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user5067439 | eNotes Newbie

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Actually, with a little research, you'll learn there's more meaning in this.  The initials, T.J. are symbolic for Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson believed whole heartidly that any nation rooted in it's agriculture economy cannot fail. In the story, the characters pass by the ashes of what can be described as the farmlands almost abanoned by the populace as the left to move into the city. This is symbolic, for the roaring twenties marked the beginning of what would turn to be the biggest financial crisis in American History. The billboard is more of a symbol for Thomas Jefferson, looking over what remains of his agriculture society, in hopes one day man will return to avoid future tragedy as a nation, and in the story whats revealed to be the characters. This is taken from the ashes, which is often a  symbol for rebirth, a Pheonix reborn from the ashes. The characters are so invested in their lives within the city (the parties, the gossip, the betrayal, and the facades everyone creates), the city also representing the rich life Gatsby had to enter to get Daisy back, that as forcasted in Thomas Jeffersons words, are doomed to fall. The farmland represents also the poor life Gatsby had to leave behind. By choosing not to return, it sealed his fate. Analysed in Critical Reading and Writing College Course.

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alysonkonsker | eNotes Newbie

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The eyes watch over the corrupt materialism and infidelity of the characters, doing "nothing about it".  They are an allusion to "God" allowing for the world to fall to pieces.  The oculist who posted that billboard for his practice has since moved away, leaving his practice (dream) behind.  The eyes remain, neglected, values are neglected (such as religious values), and the valley of ashes, once a rich farm land, continues to decay.  The Great Gatsby is a novel that exposes the corruption of morals, the conflict between love and money, and the tragically flawed characters that contribute to their own demise.

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ssandhu05 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

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The eyes are a symbol that represent God himself, since the billboarded eyes watch everything and everyone that is in sight. It was even discussed later, towards the end of the book, that the eyes seemed to represent God. This is similar to the watchful eyes of Big Brother, but it's less restricting.

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melissa1106 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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The eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg on the billboard represent God and his omnipresence.The eyes on the decaying billboard are all-knowing and watch over the booming town. They see everything that goes on in the town. They symbolize a higher power that looms over the actions that unfold throughout the story.

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Wiggin42 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Valedictorian

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One interpretation of the eyes of TJ Eckleburg is that they are like the eyes of God; watching over the miss happenings of the characters in East and West Egg. Its supposed to give a creepy tone that is off putting and unsettling. The character's secretive actions always have an audience. 

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dantnix | Student | eNotes Newbie

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Dr. T.J. Eckleburg has a billboard in the valley of ashes. This is a grotesque scene. Some feel that this is a symolism of God seeing all and looking down upon the people. There is a line from the text that says that the oculist, an old term for an eye doctor, was trying to fatten or advance his practice/business; however, he has moved away, or forgotten, or sunk down into eternal blindness. Fitzgerald wrote the book a few years after WW1. Many people were disgusted with God at the time. An advertisement is an illusionment. Advertisers want you to think they are offering you the best and they stetch the truth. The billboard of Dr. TJ Eckleburg is a metaphor telling us that if we think God is watching over us and taking care of everything and keeping things in order than we are disillusioned. Those all seeing eyes have really left us and sunk down into blindness. 


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darshika25 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

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The eye's of Dr T.J.Ekleburg is very important throuhout the story. Dr T.J.Ekleburg is actually a big advertisement board of an occulist. The eyes are actually blue in colour in the grey sky(morose atmosphere).

It is situated in such a way that it can be seen directly from the garage of Wilson. George Wilson actually believe that this advertisement is God because he sees everything. When Myrtle dies Wilson said 'He knows everything.' In several parts of the story the autor mentions the name of Dr T.J.Ekleburg to make readers know that he actually has a certain importance in the story.

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jgutlern | (Level 1) eNoter

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Contrary to many critics' opinions, I do not believe the whole Dr. T.J. Eckleburg thing is a symbol, and it has nothing to do with God.

It is an old billboard for an out of practice oculist.  It is faded, and this, along with the entirety of the "valley of ashes," gives the impression of dreams lost.  A man opened a practice...it was his dream.  Now that dream is over.

Also, much of this book is about characters projecting illusions of meaning onto things and people where it does not exist.  If anything, Nick's description of this billboard might give off a feeling of a being looking down upon the valley, but he's just doing the same thing he does with Gatsby:  thinking it's greater than it is.

As for God, Wilson only says he sees God in the billboard, one he's likely to have seen many times in his life, after he finds his dead wife.  In times of great distress we sometimes suddenly see God, where he does not exist.  This is not unlike Gatsby seeing the green light as something to reach for, when, in the end, what he thought was near it turned out to be a pipe dream.

In other words, the billboard is just a billboard, the green light is just a green light, and The Great Gatsby is just a guy named James Gatz.  Oh, not to mention, The Great Gatsby is another illusion.  We get wrapped up in it, but in the end, it's just a bunch of ink on paper, and when we're done with it, we're left with nothing but ourselves.

Or so I think.

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courtneycc16 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

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the eyes of Doctor Eckleburg means that God was always with him and was staring down at the moral decay of the 1920's.

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