The Great Gatsby

Discuss Fitzgerald's use of symbols, such as the eyes of T. J. Eckleburg, the green light on daisy's dock, and the valley of ashes

What did Fitzgerald mean when he said the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, the greenlight on Daisy's dock, and the valley of ashes?

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The second chapter begins with a description of the valley of ashes, a dismal, barren wasteland halfway between West Egg and New York. A pair of enormous eyes broods over the valley from a large, decaying billboard. These are the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, an optometrist whose practice has long since ended.

It is a "valley of ashes," a place of uninterrupted desolation. The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are an indelibly grotesque image: these are eyes unattached to any face or body, gazing out over a hellish wasteland. Fitzgerald's description of the drawbridge and passing barges makes an allusion to the River Styx, a mythological river which one crosses to enter the realm of the dead. The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg seem to be a monstrous parody of the eyes of God: they watch, but they do not see; they are heartless, and entirely unknowing. Like the scene in which Gatsby reaches for the green light, high symbolism is given priority over the demands of realism: the reader is presented with an implausible, but highly effective image of two detached eyes looking out over dust and ashes.

The novel's only non-wealthy characters live in the valley of ashes; it is the grim underside to the hedonism of the Eggs, and of New York City. George Wilson, Myrtle's dejected husband, seems almost made of ashes: "ashen dust" coats his clothes and his hair. Fitzgerald represents poverty as lying beneath wealth and providing the wealthy with a dumping ground. It is what the wealthy wish to avoid seeing at all costs.