Study Guide

The Great Gatsby Religion

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"Have you got a church you go to sometimes, George? Maybe even if you haven’t been there for a long time? Maybe I could call up the church and get a priest to come over and he could talk to you, see?

"Don’t belong to any."

"You ought to have a church, George, for times like this. You must have gone to church once. Didn’t you get married in a church? Listen, George, listen to me. Didn’t you get married in a church?"

"That was a long time ago." (8.74-76)

Even the most religious character in the text, George, has little use for institutionalized religion.

"I spoke to her," he muttered, after a long silence. "I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window" – with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it – "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!’"

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.

"God sees everything," repeated Wilson.

"That’s an advertisement," Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight. (8.103-106)

Wilson believes that the one being that has the right to judge is God – even while he judges his own wife. This is an interesting notion to compare to Nick’s opening lines: that one should not criticize (another form of judging). Seen in this light, Nick’s father’s advice takes on a religious tone.

"You see," cried Catherine triumphantly. She lowered her voice again. "It’s really his wife that's keeping them apart. She's a Catholic, and they don't believe in divorce." Daisy was not a Catholic, and I was a little shocked at the elaborateness of the lie.

"When they do get married," continued Catherine, "they're going West to live for a while until it blows over." (2.97-99)

When we read this, it hit us that religion is pretty much absent from all the characters’ lives. Here it only serves as an excuse for Tom’s not marrying Myrtle.

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. (2.2)

The T. J. Eckleburg billboard certainly stands out. Later in the novel, Wilson remarks that his wife’s wrongdoings can’t escape the eyes of God, then looks at the two gigantic eyes on the billboard outside. Eckleburg’s constant gaze is definitely ominous, since so much immoral activity is constantly going on – especially in the Valley of Ashes. For more on Eckelburg, check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory."

We waited for her down the road and out of sight.

It was a few days before the Fourth of July, and a gray, scrawny Italian child was setting torpedoes in a row along the railroad track.

"Terrible place, isn't it," said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg.


"It does her good to get away."

"Doesn’t her husband object?"

"Wilson? He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York. He’s so dumb he doesn't know he’s alive."

So Tom Buchanan and his girl and I went up together to New York – or not quite together, for Mrs. Wilson sat discreetly in another car. Tom deferred that much to the sensibilities of those East Eggers who might be on the train. (2.22-28)

We think it’s interesting that Tom and Eckelburg exchange frowns. It’s like Tom is staring defiantly at a disapproving God, angry that anybody would dare judge him. You could interpret that as Tom being condescending even to God. Also, if that’s how you want to interpret those frowns, isn’t it ironic that Myrtle and Tom don’t share the same train to New York to avoid judgment of other East Eggers? It seems almost as if the judgments of other people are more important to them God’s.

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