The American Dream is originally about the discovery of happiness, but by the 1920s, this dream has become perverted into this desire for wealth by whatever means; mistaken that money will bring happiness. F. Scott Fitzgerald does not us the words “American Dream” in the novel, The Great Gatsby, but it is evident that he shows the impossibility of achieving happiness through the American Dream. Fitzgerald demonstrates through symbols and motifs the impossibility of the American Dream.

Eyes of T.J. Eckleburg

Another dominant symbol within this novel is the billboard eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. The eyes symbolize the loss of spiritual values in America. The billboard was erected to promote the business of an optometrist in Queensborough – the eyes symbolize the growing commercialism of America – life in America is all about making money, a lot of money as evidenced by the wealth of people like Tom Buchanan – a man’s success is measured in terms of how much money he is worth, not on what kind of person he may be morally. The billboard, like the spiritual values of America, is neglected – “But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.” The old-fashioned values of America, which Nick Carraway returns to reconnect with in the mid-West are completely absent from the East, God seems to have abandoned America, leaving only Dr. T.J. Eckleburg behind to stare down with his empty eyes on people who have abandoned their spiritual values in the quest to achieve material wealth.
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Moreover, the eyes also symbolize the corruption of America’s people. The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg stare down on the main characters as they pass underneath the billboard on their way into New York City where Tom carries on his adulterous affair, where Gatsby drives Nick to meet Wolfshiem, the man who fixed the World Series, where Daisy rushes off to find a few thrills with her over, Gatsby. The eyes seem to frown down on these characters, Wilson equates T.J.’s eyes to the eyes of God. He recounts to Michaelis what he says to Myrtle after discovering his affair, “‘and I said “God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!”” However, Michaelis tries to point out to him that “It’s just a billboard.”
Lastly, the eyes also suggest the hollowness of the American Dream. There is this idea that a person who comes from humble origins could achieve the Dream if they are willing to work hard and take advantage of opportunities. This is seen in Gatsby and Myrtle where they bootleg and commit adultery respectively. However, the frowning eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg look down on the Valley of the Ashes as if to say that the American Dream is one big lie – the American Dream produced wealth for some (like Gatsby), but for the majority of people, their hopes for gold is just like the ashes. The reality is that not everyone can have as much money as the Buchanans have – for every Buchanan, there are thousands of Wilsons. The idea that everyone can live the dream is just a dream. For most, life is the nightmare of the Valley of the Ashes which the Eyes frown down on all day long.