What are the "eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg" in The Great Gatsby?

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e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The eyes of Dr. Eckleburg are literally eyes on a billboard and figuratively witness to the comings and goings and the deeds of those who pass through the Valley of Ashes. 

...the symbolic eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg [watch] over this “solemn dumping ground” as a God-like witness to the...hopelessness that emanates from the place.

While Myrtle and George Wilson, people of modest means, live within sight of this billboard in the modern pseudo-waste land between the suburbs and the city, characters like Gatsby, Tom, Daisy and Nick only pass through this depressed and depressing area. 

This region is where Myrtle is killed and where Gatsby's fate is sealed. 

The characters in the novel behave badly, acting without any clear moral sense. Though there is little mention of religion in the text, the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg are directly associated with the eyes of God. They stand as the symbolic witness and judge of the events that have taken place, leading to the deaths of two people. 

George Wilson draws this comparison after his wife is killed, confusing the eyes on the billboard with the judging eyes of God. 

Thus the eyes are a literal representation of commercialism (placed on an advertisement) and a figurative/symbolic representation of a silent force of judgement that finds its place at the end of the novel. 

Sources:
elbonian's profile pic

elbonian | Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

A billboard, metaphoically representing an omniscient being who wathces over the valley of the ashes.

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