среда, 21 декабря 2011 г.

The Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg

The first time we see the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, the image is intertwined with Nick’s description of the Valley of Ashes. The ashes are, as ashes tend to be, "desolate" and "grotesque." Nick and the others have to pass through this "bleak" land any time they travel between the Eggs and the city. Think of the valley of ashes as one big, grey reality check. Compare Gatsby’s lavish parties of fresh fruit and live music and champagne to this land of smokestacks and ash-men; it seems that not all the world is as privileged as our cast of characters.

But the valley of ashes can also be seen as more commentary on the American Dream. The America of The Great Gatsby is ashen, decaying, and barren. It is also, based on the action that goes down in the valley of the ashes, devoid of morality and compassion. Myrtle Wilson lives by the ashheaps, and so there resides Tom’s infidelity. George Wilson lives by the ash heaps, so we can place there both anger and envy. Myrtle is, of course, killed there, so we also come to identify death with the valley.

Which brings us to the eyes. T.J. Eckleburg’s billboard is the second notable pair of eyes in the novel (Owl-eyes, remember?). But these ones are a little different from those of the party-going bibliophile. Nick goes on for three sentences about these weird, disembodied eyes before actually explaining that they’re on a billboard. He gives your mind time to picture eerie images, to wonder what’s going on, even to form other notions of what the eyes could be. Clearly, to us, the readers, the eyes are more than just a billboard. 

Now that we’ve established that, we’re sharp on the look out for more information. Nick notices the eyes again as the quartet heads into the city in Chapter Seven, shortly before the Tom vs. Gatsby showdown. He notes them keeping a "watchful vigil" – which sounds like a rather religious choice of words, at least in connotation. But we hit the jackpot in Chapter Eight, when George takes Myrtle to the window (from which, we know, the billboard is visible) and tells her she can’t fool God. Wilson then makes the very same connection we are; the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg are always watching, and so are the eyes of God.

There are a few directions you can take from here. The first is that, despite the absence of religion from the characters in this story, God is still there. He is all-seeing, ever present, and, as Nick points out, frowning. Things are not well in the valley of American ashes. The other shot you could take at this is to say that God has been replaced by capitalism. Instead of a truly religious representation, the best this world can do is manifest God in a billboard – an advertisement.

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