The original cover for The Great Gatsby features a pair of droopy blue eyes and bright red lips placed in the midst of dark night sky arousing the overwhelming sense of foreboding. Evocative of sorrow and decay, these faceless eyes are the central symbol of Fitzgerald’s novel.
Apparently, Fitzgerald had seen the Francis Cugat’s painting before he finished his manuscript. He begged the painter not to sell his work to anyone, because it was so meaningful to Fitzgerald that he had to insert it somehow in his novel. As a result, this haunting image was captured forever in the novel in a vivid description of a billboard.
But above the grey 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 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.
However, the painting was not appealing to everyone. In his memoir, Ernest Hemingway vividly recalls how the original cover, that is the Francis Cugat’s painting, turned him off at the first sight.
“Scott brought the book over. It had a garish dust jacket and I remember being embarrassed by the violence, bad taste and slippery look of it. It looked the book jacket for a book of bad science fiction. Scott told me not to be put off by it, that it had to do with a billboard along the highway in Long Island that was important in the story. He said he had liked the jacket and now he didn’t like it. I took it off to read the book.”