The Great Gatsby is a book that is rather quick to read, easy to absorb, and forever reflected upon. Among my junior English classes, whether AP level or not, Gatsby tends to be the favorite. Students feel smarter for having read it. They despise the right people. They wrestle with the shallowness of the characters. They seem to like the character who spent so much time becoming the person he was not. They sometimes come to look at a narrator as unreliable. (And when it comes to carrying out speaking truth to a nation, many of our leaders have certainly become unreliable narrators.)
Students certainly pick up on the symbols like the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.
I am thinking of starting a GoFundMe Page to raise money to construct billboard for the obviously deceased and still fictional Doctor T. J. Eckleburg complete with the same “blue and gigantic” eyes with “irises one-yard high” on “no face” complete with “a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose.”
And this billboard would be placed right outside of the North Carolina General Assembly building on West Jones Street, possibly near the parking area where each lawmaker who leaves the building would have to lock eyes with the celestial oculist after a day of wielding power that affects so many people.
Lawmakers like Tim Moore. Lawmakers like Phil Berger.
Were they not the people who intentionally stalled the budget process and keep those who were really looking to help North Carolinians from amending what was there?
Yes, they did.
Those two men spearheaded the effort to keep NC from expanding Medicaid which in turn kept hundreds of thousands of people from getting health coverage while we are dealing with a pandemic.
Those two men championed a version of the budget that would have presented dramatic cuts to the North Carolina Health Department.
Those two men wanted a version of a budget that would have not given hourly workers and classified school staff a raise to allow them to at least have a living wage and a possibility of saving for what is now a “rainy” day.
Those two men used teachers as hostages in the budget process talking about a “raise” that really wasn’t much of a raise, and those same teachers are literally working against this pandemic to just have the chance to teach students at this time.
And that’s not even covering what they have done over the years to keep schools from being funded.
“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 irises 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. Evidently some wild 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. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground” (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2).
When someone sits for a picture or portrait and stares straight into the lens, the result is the appearance of constant eye contact. The poster of James Baldwin in my classroom as he looks into the camera allows his eyes to always make contact with mine no matter where I am in the classroom. His smile, however, takes away any preclusion of judgement.
But the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg simply stare without any other expression. They are there to judge. They are the “eyes of God” in a society where many in power lack a moral compass, show spiritual depravity but scream religious fervor, and worship profit more than the welfare of others.
They never blink.
They always look.
They seem to see all.
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 (Chapter 2).
Amazingly enough, if you were to visit the webpages of many lawmakers during election periods you might find some sort of meter that reflects their allegiance to the common person, the everyday citizen, and all who reside within the state’s borders.
But what is happening now in NC, the country, and around the world will need more than propagandized resumes and glittering generalities to get us through.
It is action and the lack of action that are speaking loudly.
I understand. It may be a tad bit hyperbolic to equate a book that talks of a man who uses organized crime to build a life of opulence during the “Jazz Age” / “Age of Prohibition” in an attempt to control destiny who ends up crossing paths with a man of immense wealth who steamrolls over people because he can and looks at women and minorities as inferior then eventually gets killed by a mentally, spiritually, and financially crushed man to a modern setting.
Power, money, influence, and the addiction to control people and their fates drive many a literary character to do unspeakable things to make readers question society and government.
Art imitates life. Just ask Richard Burr.
And the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg are looking straight at all of them right now.