“Seeing Eyes” - The Great Gatsby Essay Example
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is packed with a plethora of symbolism examples: metaphor, personification, and simile-- among others. Fitzgerald writes in such a narrative manner that these messages are easy to overlook at first. A second or third analysis of the book is required to finally notice just how often seemingly miniscule words like “eyes” or “blindness” become apparent. Throughout Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, there are innumerable mentions of eyes and seeing, ranging from all-seeing eye imagery on billboards to ambiguous descriptions of the characters’ eyes and the emotions they are meant to evoke. By illustrating different characters’ eyes and their varying levels of sight, F. Scott Fitzgerald is referencing the fact that we can see eyes as much as they can see us, and they can only tell us the truth about people, even if the individuals themselves do not.
The Description of Eyes
Fitzgerald introduces the majority of his characters with a brief description of the sort of eyes they have. One character is based more on their eyes than any other, and that is Owl-Eyes. In fact, he never receives an “actual” name because his eyes are all we need to know about him. While everyone else is getting recklessly wild at one of Gatsby’s parties, we meet Owl-Eyes in Gatsby’s library as he’s examining all of the books to see if they’re real. He is the first person to acknowledge that Gatsby could be a phony. Owl-Eyes is a symbol for wisdom.
Tom Buchanan is introduced as a man with a “supercilious manner” and “two shining, arrogant eyes” (Fitzgerald 7). Straight from the beginning, we are able to infer that Tom is going to be an unlikable character, and this suspicion is confirmed as the story progresses and we discover that Tom not only has a mistress, but beats and lies to her. Oddly enough, Tom proudly introduces Nick to his secret mistress, Myrtle, because he craves Nick’s approval. Also, while Daisy and Jordan (who claim to be friends) interact with one another, we find that they are both described as having “impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire” and that they speak only “to entertain or be entertained” (Fitzgerald 12).
Though Daisy seems outwardly sociable, Nick finds that, when speaks to her privately, she is noticed to have cynical eyes that “flash around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s” (Fitzgerald 17). Jay Gatsby also craves people’s approval. He is first examined at one of his signature wild parties, “standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes” (Fitzgerald 50). His eyes are “approving” because he feels that the hustle he was on to get rich and popular is finally paying off. He does not necessarily even enjoy parties (as we find out later in the story), he just enjoys revelling in his accomplishments.
He is trying to build up his status to impress Daisy. Despite the obvious superficiality we find in these people by comparing their eyes with their actions, they are all well-off individuals with significant ranks in society. This proves that, no matter well you manage to fool society with your words or wealth, your eyes can never lie. Because the eyes are often said to be the “windows to the soul,” Fitzgerald’s characters are based off of the type of eyes they have; this allows the reader to know the character by inference before he or she has actually gotten to know them.
Along with characters being given personality-specific eyes, Fitzgerald also applies these eyes to nonhumans and inanimate objects for symbolism’s sake. The characters must pass through a valley of ashes every time they travel between their homes and the city, and all the while, the ominous eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg loom over them, silently chastising their superficial lives. Nick describes, “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” (Fitzgerald 23).
Nick intentionally paints these eyes for the reader in a manner that makes it seem as though they are eerily real and not just a billboard ad for an eye doctor. It is also important to note that the eyes exist between two fantasies, both revolving around money, the Eggs and the city. As George Wilson, a presumably dense man, wisely states in response to news of his late wife’s infidelity, “‘God sees everything’” (Fitzgerald 159). The eyes see everything just as God does; therefor, Fitzgerald is implying that though these people insist on keeping up their facades, reality will always be lurking nearby.
Even the puppy Tom buys for Myrtle is aware that the Valley of Ashes is a symbol for something. While he is sitting on the salesman’s little table, he is shown looking through the smoke with “blind eyes” and “groaning faintly” (Fitzgerald 36). The puppy is getting his first taste of what the world looks like and it is making him groan. He is unaware of what is happening around him (“blind”) and yet, he is still aware that it is bad. He is never described as happy or playful or wagging his tail as a puppy should be, and that should stir some concern in the reader. Nonhumans and inanimate objects seem more capable of sensing the problems with modern society than the living, sentient characters do; Fitzgerald makes this apparent to show how wrapped-up everyone is in their own superficial lives.
By illustrating for the reader different characters’ eyes and their varying levels of sight, F. Scott Fitzgerald implies that eyes can see us as much as we can see them. Throughout The Great Gatsby there are countless references to eyes and seeing, ranging from vivid eye imagery on billboards to descriptions of the characters’ eyes and the (typically negative) emotions they are meant to evoke in the reader. Fitzgerald packs his story with symbolism of all types, often so frequently and ambiguously that their meanings are initially overlooked. However, additional deep analysis of the book helps to finally notice just how often apparently miniscule words like “eyes” or “blindness” seem to pop up. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby proves that eyes are truly the windows to the soul.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner, 2018.