But above the gray 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 non-existent nose. Evidently some 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.
After Nick describes the valley of the ashes, he describes a pair of eyes that turns out to belong to an advertisement. The beginning of Nick’s description of Doctor Eckleburg’s giant, disembodied eyes gives the impression that the eyes are all-seeing and cast judgment. However, Nick’s dismissal of the actual doctor as a “wag” who wanted to “fatten his practice” before letting the billboard decay suggests that the ad is just another example of the emptiness of American consumerism.
I followed him over a low whitewashed railroad fence, and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare.
Nick explains that after he and Tom get off the train so that Tom can bring Myrtle into the city, he notices the “persistent stare” of the eyes in the billboard as they walk toward George Wilson’s car repair shop. Nick knows he is about to meet Tom’s mistress, a married woman, although he has “no desire to meet her” due to the immorality of the situation. Nick’s guilt manifests in what he deems a judgmental look from the billboard eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, the closest representation he sees of God during his time in New York.
Then as Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s faded eyes came into sight down the road, I remembered Gatsby’s caution about gasoline.
Nick explains why seeing the billboard causes him to tell Tom to stop at George Wilson’s car repair shop for gas before he, Tom, and Jordan continue their ill-fated trip into the city. Here, Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes serve as a foreshadowing, seeming to caution Nick or admonish him for taking part in a night that cannot possibly end well. And if Nick had not reminded Tom to stop for gas, Myrtle never would have seen Jordan or Gatsby’s car, which would later strike and kill her.
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.
While Nick, Tom, and Jordan are stopped at George Wilson’s shop, Nick reveals that the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are almost supernaturally pulling his attention toward something, which turns out to be Myrtle. Again, the billboard foreshadows the tragic events to come and almost seems to be warning Nick away from the situation. Although Nick never explicitly compares the advertisement to God or any other sort of higher power, in his recounting of the story, he bestows on the billboard some sort of inexplicable powers.
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.
The night of Myrtle’s death, George’s friend Michaelis recalls George telling him that he warned his wife, while pushing her into the window, “You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!” Here, and while George was threatening Myrtle, George literally sees the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg as those of God. As a working-class man who lost his wife’s love to a wealthy, though violent and cruel, man, George has been driven nearly to insanity. In his state, as someone who has been the victim of capitalism in several ways, a physical manifestation of capitalism such as the billboard seems to him to be God, a being who sees and controls all.