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The Eyes of Fitzgerald
"But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg"(Fitzgerald 23). These eyes are more than they appear to be. They are mounted on a billboard that watches over the Valley of Ashes which stands between West Egg and New York City. This location is what makes Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes so significant and important to this book, because the idea of watching over a gray and decayed society is how it relates to today. In The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this idea of who is Dr. T.J. Eckleburg arises. Is he just a billboard along the side of a rundown society, or is there more meaning behind this idea, such as the scandals and corruption he watches upon? These eyes are only mentioned twice throughout this story, but they leave an impression that is key to understanding the full content of this novel. Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes are the most powerful idea in The Great Gatsby; these eyes watch not only the hidden secrets and crimes that go on around, but what might also just be a glimpse into the future.
Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes are the most powerful idea in The Great Gatsby and in today’s society because they watch all the secrets and corruption that occur. One example of this is when Myrtle and Tom have an affair. They both are married, but they choose to betray their partners for selfish-like reasons. Myrtle, who lives in the Valley of Ashes, works hard for her money and does not know what it is like to be able to have whatever she wants. When Myrtle meets Tom, a wealthy man married to Daisy, Myrtle sees he is able to offer her what she couldn’t even dream of. This encounter is when the secrets begin to form. Corruption soon begins, as Myrtle starts cheating on her husband, George, with Tom. A writer from The New York Times says, "His gigantic blue eyes, framed by enormous yellow spectacles, continued to watch in seeming judgment the striving, hapless denizens of 1920’s New York" (Barry 1). Dan Barry, is saying that Dr. T.J. Eckleburg watches down on this scandal that arises between Myrtle and Tom in shock. I agree because Dr. T.J. Eckleburg is a spectator of their show, but is unable to tell anyone of their game. He is the only one who really knows the background of what’s going on. Myrtle and Tom are unfortunate because they have turned to an affair, however they do not realize they both have perfectly fine relationships back home. They made this illogical choice to fulfill their loss of materialistic happiness and the stereotypes of a 1920’s lifestyle. Myrtle chooses to continue to deceive her husband for the money. She now knows what it is like to get what she wants, and how to buy her happiness with all the luxuries Tom’s money has to offer. Myrtle soon becomes so caught up in this fake, dreamlike lifestyle; she starts believing it is reality. Fitzgerald writes, "She had changed her dress to a brown figures muslin, which stretched tight over her rather wide hips as Tom helped her to the platform in New York"(Fitzgerald 27). This shows how when Myrtle is with Tom she needs to change herself including her looks, in hopes the relationship continues. Myrtle becomes so in depth with this affair, she thinks no one will ever know. Myrtle is mistaken because just down the street stands the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, who is watching the whole display, where the secrets and lies cannot hide forever.
Another reason why the eyes’ of Eckleburg are so powerful is because he watches silently over the crime that takes place along the streets below. George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband is clueless about the affair his wife is partaking in. This is shown when Nick, another character in Fitzgerald’s’ book, asks if George has ever suspected anything."Wilsons? He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York. He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive" (Fitzgerald 26). Later in the book, George starts to suspect something is going on, and he confronts Myrtle. As their fight starts to heat up, Myrtle runs carelessly into the street, thinking it is Tom in a car that passes, and is killed. This accident occurs under Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes. Eckleburg watches silently as this chain reaction plays out, but before he can do anything to stop it from continuing, it’s too late. Myrtle’s death destroys George and he believes he must get revenge against the person who ran over his wife. When George is talking to his neighbor about the details of the accident, he says, "God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God…Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg"(Fitzgerald 159). I believe when Fitzgerald wrote this line, he was connecting God to the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, and when George notices someone else has witnessed the truth behind all the lingering lies Myrtle has told, it gives him motivation to do something about it. George soon goes from clueless to careless as he decides to take a drastic next step. He decides to murder Gatsby; the man he believes was having the affair with Myrtle and was responsible for running her over. George goes to Gatsby’s house and decides to shoot Gatsby then himself. He is completely careless about his actions; Gatsby was not the one who had the affair with Myrtle, he just took this severe step from a suggestion he herd. George’s actions surprise people, including Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. According to an author from Rhode Island College, "Doctor T.J Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby, watches over the ruins of sanity, order, and sense from his own battered, solitary perspective" (Grund 1). I agree; because The Valley of Ashes is known to be the land where people earn their own money, where they live in reality, know what it is like to earn what you own, and the land of "sanity, order and sense." However, after the incident with Myrtle, and the mistakes by George, the Valley of Ashes goes into an example society of the corruption of the 1920’s. This is proven by a reporter from Kent State University, when he says, "The Valley of Ashes that lies between Long Island and New York City may symbolize both the moral decay of U.S society and the plight of the poor people (including Myrtle and her husband) who live in it" (Bruccoli 4). Through Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes, we see the breaking down of George and Myrtle’s relationship and the carelessness of American society as the not so perfect traits of the Valley of Ashes start to show through.
My final reason why Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes are so powerful and relatable, is because that’s how Fitzgerald meant it to turn out. Fitzgerald wrote this book, in hopes to spread his predictions on the future of the U.S society. He believed the 1920’s were a great time, full of hopes and promises of the American dream, but he knew it would not last forever. Fitzgerald created the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, as a way to include himself into the novel. Blake A. Richard, a professor at Boston College, agrees, "Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes, and optometrist’s billboard on the road to Jay Gatsby’s mansion, stared patiently out over the Jazz Age, without blinking, without judgment, without tears. In their pitiless observation of American drowning in its own bootleg liquor and easy money, the eyes might well represent F. Scott Fitzgerald himself. Those wise but silent eyes must have known that someday Gatsby and America’s fantasy world must come to an end, but it is an end that evokes little pity. It was a great ride" (Richard 1). Fitzgerald loved the ideas of enjoying life and of endless money that the 1920’s had in store, but it was too good to be true. While some people like Blake Richard might argue, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg was a way to show Fitzgerald’s views towards the 1920’s society eventually coming to an end; others can argue it was a look on his ideas of the social classes and moral decay. A writer for the Richmond Times writes, "Various symbols, such as the brooding eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg on a billboard, are inevitably probed for clues to the "meaning" of the book and the Fitzgerald’s beliefs on social classes" (Charles 2). I agree with both these writers’ thoughts. Fitzgerald included his ideas of beliefs and social classes by talking about East Egg and West Egg in his book, and how the affairs that formed in The Great Gatsby, could always be related back to money. However, Fitzgerald also wrote about the glory of the 1920’s, but the hidden truths behind this glory, which we can see by looking through Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes.
Dr. T.J. Eckleburg truly is the most powerful idea in The Great Gatsby. All the conflicts and problems that arise in The Great Gatsby, makes us wonder if there was any way of preventing them; Dr. T.J. Eckleburg is looked upon as the reason they could not be stopped. Eckleburg’s eyes look down upon the wrongs and evils, judging in silence of the actions of everyone that pass his rundown society and he watches as if nothing wrong has ever happened. He watches the clueless become careless, and the heroes become the guilty, as no one seems to blink twice at the wrong. Fitzgerald wrote this as more than just a classic novel about the famous "Jazz age," but as a way to include his ideas of the 1920’s society, and his predictions for the future, of watching over the wrong and disguising it to be right, through these "blue and gigantic" eyes. I believe if Dr. T.J. Eckleburg was still standing above the Valley of Ashes today, he would still be watching in silence, but not only of the decay of the streets he watches, but over the decay of America as a whole. He would see some of the same themes that occurred in the 1920’s; greed, corruption, division of social classes, and the loss of moral beliefs. Even though Dr. T.J. Eckleburg watched over the sins in silence, there is no way he would have been able to stop the injustices below, because in the end he was only a symbolic metaphor for Fitzgerald’s beliefs. 92 years later, maybe our society will finally realize we cannot just sit back and let the eyes of others cure the wrongs, but instead let the wrongs we see motivate us to do what is right.
Barry, Dan. "Here's Looking At You, Dr. Zizmor." New York Times 18 Jan. 2006: B1 (L). Gale Biography in Context. Web. 22 Mar, 2012
Fitzgerald, Francis Scott K. The Great Gatsby. New York, 1925. Web.
"Fitzgerald, F. Scott." Roaring Twenties Reference Library. Ed. Kelly King Howed. Vol 1: Almanac and Primary Sources. Detroit: UXL, 2006. 221-230. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 21 Mar, 2012.
Grund, Gary R. "Do The Windows Open? Stories." ProQuest Learning. Fall 1998. Web. 22 Mar. 2012.
Richard, Blake A. "Gentle Into That Good Night." ProQuest Learning. July-Aug. 2006. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.
Slack, Charles. "F. Scott Fitzgerald Writer Achieves In Death What Was Impossible In Life." ProQuest Learning. 24 Sept. 1996. Web. 22 Mar. 2012.