In the use of "wild" in this extract from the second chapter of The Great Gatsby, is the denotation "zany"? The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard...
In the use of "wild" in this extract from the second chapter of The Great Gatsby, is the denotation "zany"?
The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas 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.
In this excerpt from Chapter Two of The Great Gatsby, the meaning of "wild wag" does not seem to denote zany, which means comical or silly. Rather, it suggests what is called "fly-by-night" type of business, one that is often called in Yiddish slang [which is frequently used in big cities such as New York where there is a great population of Jewish people], schlock, meaning cheap or shoddy in methods.
While Fitzgerald may have intended to imply that the oculist had a zany sense of humor, and erected the gargantuan and grotesque pair of eyes out of his wild sense of humor, it is arguably more in keeping with the ethnicity of many New Yorkers --especially the stereotypical images of physicians, dentists and optricians as Jewish and greedy--that the word schlock can, instead, apply--also, the fact that the name is Dr. Eckleberg, as many a Jewish name ends in -berg. Moreover, in Queens, where the "wild wag" hoped to draw customers, almost 20% of the population was Jewish in the 1920s. And, having coming from Minnesota, Fitzgerald may have found such ethnic tastes for gaudy colors and oversizing as rather overdone, shoddy, and indicative of a greedy hope to attract clients quickly.
According to Karal Ann Marling in her book The Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol Along the American Highway, the large eyes have been "extrapolated from the human face" and made into a "super scale" that hovers "in a frozen act of cosmic, unending appraisal." so the parodic humor and shoddiness of this sign then becomes symbolic as T. J. Eckleburg's eyes
...dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
The greedy and the materialistic have laid waste their talents in the acquisition of wealth and turned what was once picturesque, the river and the land, into a "grotesque" picture of a pair of gold spectacles that gaze at ashes and a dingy, foul river.