The eyes of Doctor TJ Eckleburg
The most famous symbol in „The Great Gatsby” is the billboard in the valley of ashes featuring the large eyes of the optician Doctor TJ Eckleburg. Nick describes the fading advertisement like this:
The eyes of Doctor TJ 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 non-existent nose. […] his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground (p. 26).
These eyes watch over the comings and goings of the characters between New York and West and East Egg. It is heavily implied that they symbolize the eyes of God, watching over America and looking on it as a corrupt wasteland.
However, it is also suggested that the eyes might only have this symbolic power because they are seen in that way by the novel's characters. For example, after the death of his wife, George Wilson becomes convinced that they truly are the eyes of God judging everyone (p. 152), and eventually he even starts to believe that they are encouraging him to seek out and kill Gatsby. Michaelis, disturbed by this, unsuccessfully tries to dispel the power of the symbol: " 'That's an advertisement,' Michaelis assured him. [...] But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight." (p. 152).
The valley of ashes also serves as a symbol in itself, representing the dark realities and underlying corruption in...