Dr. T.J. Eckleburg is a pair of giant eyes looming over the Valley of Ashes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The eyes are painted on a billboard advertising an oculist, and they are described as being “blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high.” The eyes are a constant presence in the novel, and they have been interpreted in different ways.
There are also a variety of opinions as to what these giant eyes represent. What exactly was author F. Scott Fitzgerald trying to say with this image?
Let’s delve into the world of The Great Gatsby and see what the significance of this billboard is.
What Does the Billboard in The Great Gatsby Symbolize?
Some readers see the eyes as a symbol of God, watching over the valley and its inhabitants. Others see them as a symbol of the American dream, which is often seen as being unattainable. Still, others see them as a symbol of the emptiness and meaninglessness of life in the Jazz Age.
Ultimately, the meaning of the eyes is up to the individual reader to decide. However, there is no doubt that they are a powerful symbol in The Great Gatsby, and they help create the novel’s unique atmosphere.
Some of the ways in which Dr. T.J. Eckleburg can be interpreted include:
The eyes can be seen as a symbol of God, watching over the valley and its residents. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the eyes are described as being “gigantic” and “ominous.” They seem to be all-seeing and all-knowing, which are qualities that are often associated with God. Even George Wilson sees this billboard as the eyes of God, telling his wife, Myrtle, that she can hide from him, but she can’t hide from the eyes of God.
The American Dream
The eyes can also be seen as a symbol of the American dream. The American dream is the belief that anyone can achieve success in America, regardless of their background, if they are willing to sacrifice and work hard. The eyes represent the possibility of achieving the American dream, but they also represent the emptiness and meaninglessness of life if the American dream is not achieved.
Emptiness and Meaninglessness
The Jazz Age was a time of great economic prosperity, but it was also a time of great social and moral upheaval, and some would say, decay. The eyes represent the emptiness and meaninglessness of life in a world that is focused solely on parties, drinking, excess, and the crazy pursuit of money.
No matter how they are interpreted, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes are a powerful symbol in The Great Gatsby. They help create the novel’s unique atmosphere and contribute to the novel’s exploration of themes such as love, loss, and the American dream.
On What Page Is Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s Eyes Mentioned?
This would depend on which book version you are reading. I prefer to use chapters and paragraphs to find certain quotes.
There are seven mentions of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg in the novel. You can find the first mention of the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg and his enormous yellow spectacles in Chapter 2, paragraph 1-20, where Nick describes them :
But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. 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. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
I followed him [Tom] over a low white-washed railroad fence, and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare.
“Terrible place, isn’t it,” said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg.
It’s interesting to note that Nick doesn’t even explain that the giant blue eyes hanging in the air he is describing is from a billboard!
We won’t hear about Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes again until Chapter 7, paragraphs 136-133.
We were all irritable now with the fading ale, and aware of it, we drove for a while in silence. Then as Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s faded eyes came into sight down the road, I remembered Gatsby’s caution about gasoline.
That locality was always vaguely disquieting, even in the broad glare of afternoon, and now I turned my head as though I had been warned of something behind. Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil, but I perceived, after a moment, that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away.
In one of the windows over the garage the curtains had been moved aside a little and Myrtle Wilson was peering down at the car.
Nick feels that the billboard eyes are warning him of impending disaster. Nick might believe that it’s nothing more than the car being low on gas, but apparently, the billboard knows better.
We will read about the eyes of Doctor Eckleburg one last time in Chapter 8, paragraphs 72-105, while George and Michaelis are talking:
“Have you got a church you go to sometimes, George? Maybe even if you haven’t been there for a long time? Maybe I could call up the church and get a priest to come over and he could talk to you, see?”
“Don’t belong to any.”
Wilson’s glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small grey clouds took on fantastic shape and scurried here and there in the faint dawn wind.
“I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me, but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window”– with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it,–and I said, ‘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 which had just emerged pale and enormous from the dissolving night.
“God sees everything,” repeated Wilson.
“That’s an advertisement,” Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight.”
Wilson states that he doesn’t have a church, but he seems to feel the need to have some type of God watching over his life.
Who Is Doctor T.J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby?
Doctor Eckleburg is a fictional person found on a billboard in The Valley of Ashes, but the type of advertising described in this novel was quite common for the era.
Many oculists used giant eyeballs or eyes and spectacles to advertise their services.
While we might find the idea of a huge billboard with giant eyeballs staring down or over us annoying or even creepy, Fitzgerald was describing a type of billboard that was commonly employed by oculists as a means of advertising.
Doctor T.J. Eckleburg may have been a completely fictional person, but the billboard was most likely similar to the kind that Fitzgerald saw around New York City.
What Do the Eyes of Dr. Eckleburg Represent to Nick?
The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg could represent a number of things to Nick Carraway. While Nick doesn’t go into detail about what he believes, the eyes do seem to annoy him or possibly give him an uneasy feeling.
When the eyes are first mentioned in Chapter 2, Nick is struck by the sign of this billboard. He could possibly see them as a symbol of the emptiness and meaninglessness of life in the Jazz Age.
However, Nick talks about how the eyes are always watching, but they do nothing to help the people of the Valley of Ashes. This could be a reminder that life is often unfair and that there is no one to save us from our own misery.
The eyes could also represent the moral decay that comes with the American dream, reminding us that there are people trapped in poverty, even in a country as wealthy as America. No matter how hard these people work, they will never obtain the “American dream.”
Nick never mentions God, but he does feel the weight of stare that those giant eyes produce. Who or what he believes those eyes symbolize is unknown.
Final Summary on TJ Eckleburg
While many believe that the eyes of Doctor TJ Eckleburg represent the ever-watchful eyes of God, it’s interesting to note that these eyes only oversee The Valley of Ashes. If God is omnipresent, why aren’t there more billboards?
Or could it be that, with nearly every character’s severe lack of morals, it only makes sense to have “god” listed as an inanimate object that can watch but take no action?
Notice that the billboard is placed directly on the road between East Egg, West Egg and the city. This could mean that people are free to turn around, go home, or make a different choice on the road of life with the billboard reminding people that someone, somewhere, is always watching.
There are a great many ways to view the symbolism behind the giant eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, and it’s up to the reader to decide which is right and which is an illusion.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.