Who is T. J. Eckelberg in The Great Gatsby?

Quick answer:

In The Great Gatsby, T. J. Eckelberg is a pair of faceless bespeckled eyes on an old billboard that keeps a watch over the valley of ashes. They may represent the omniscience of God who sees everything that the characters of this story do not. They also serve to remind the reader to view the events of the book from a distance instead of only through the characters.

Expert Answers

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

T. J. Eckelberg is not a character in The Great Gatsby. Rather, the faceless eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckelberg loom at the characters from a billboard for an oculist. The aging billboard is located in the valley of ashes and depicts the large bespeckled blue eyes of Eckelberg. Fitzgerald suggests that this symbol has meaning for the characters, but he never comes right out and tells the reader what that meaning is. To Nick, the eyes seem to be judging the characters and American society in general.

There may be something godlike about these eyes. After the death of his wife, George Wilson makes a clear comparison to these eyes to those of God. To him, they are the eyes of God, who sees everything that people do and judges them for it. With God's eyes staring out from an advertisement, Fitzgerald may be suggesting that America has replaced religion with capitalism.

The eyes of T. J. Eckelberg may also remind the reader to view the characters from an impassioned distance. Too often they are caught up in their own machinations to see clearly what they are doing. Even Nick is too involved in the events of this story to be a completely reliable narrator. However, if we view the events of the book and the people in it as if we were eyes on a billboard, we might just get a more accurate picture of what is actually going on.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Who is T. J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby?

Between West Egg and New York City lies a depressing place locals refer to as the valley of ashes. Nick Carraway, the narrator, describes it as a place where ashes seem to grow up from the ground like crops and where all the houses and cars and even people are covered in ash, making it seem as though the whole place is made of the stuff. Even the air is powdery, and everything seems always gray and "ghastly" as a result. In the midst sits an old billboard, an advertisement for an eye doctor called Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The advertisement consists of a huge pair of blue eyes —there is no face or even nose—and a great pair of yellow eyeglasses. The sign seems to have been placed there in order to advertise the practice, located in Queens, and entice either people in the valley or those riding the train through it on their way to and from the city to visit the doctor for their eye-health needs. However, the advertisement is evidently very old, as Nick describes the eyes as looking rather "dimmed," the paint fading and wearing away from the weather. Later in the story, we learn that George Wilson has been associating those eyes with God, which is pretty ironic given what the eyes really are: a device to make money. Money does seem to be "God" in the world depicted by the book.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on