What do the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg symbolize in "The Great Gatsby"?Mr. Wilson looked at the bilboad and told Myrtle that god can see everything

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rshaffer eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Great Gatsby, the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg symbolize an all-knowing God watching over the working poor such as George and Myrtle Wilson in the valley of the ashes.  This sets up a direct contrast for those living in the rich East Egg section.  In the valley of the ashes, in place of flourishing wheat fields there remains only smouldering ashes. 

"This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-gray men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.… [And the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg] brood on over the solemn dumping ground."

There is no sign of real life other than the people living in "this solemn dumping ground."  The eyes stand as a witness to the desolation and despair that permeates this place and foreshadows the death that is to come.  

Because this scene follows the luncheon at the Buchanan mansion, where the cool breeze is felt and the lawns are lush green, the God-like image of the eyes also represents a sense of moral corruption with the wealthy.  The American Dream is thus corrupt because money stands supreme to all else including religion and God.

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The Great Gatsby

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