What is the purpose of the two digressions - the encounter with 'Owl-Eyes' in the library and the car wreck - in The Great Gatsby?

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Halfway through Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker, fleeing Gatsby's Saturday night revel, stumble across a "stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles" in the library, perusing the volumes there in frank wonderment that they are real. The only one of the thousands of anonymous partygoers to be given a nickname, Owl Eyes has long been interpreted by critics as an alter ego of Nick Carraway, a kind of seer who 'sees' beneath Jay Gatsby's meretriciousness to his essential grace and goodness. As convincing as this interpretation might be, it fails to account for his behaviour when he reappears at the end of the chapter. There the drunken Owl Eyes has driven his car into a ditch, and after halfheartedly trying to pull it out, leaves the car where it is. The allegedly perspicacious Owl Eyes of the library is difficult to reconcile with this myopic (and careless) driver. The clue to their juxtaposition is found in a seemingly insignificant detail of the library scene. The one volume that Owl Eyes pulls from the shelf to illustrate Gatsby's genuiness is a copy of Stoddard's Lectures. This book, its pages never cut, is one of a number of chintzy, mass-produced volumes by an ex-Yale theologian turned world traveler. Here, in one ironic detail - a book of stupefying mediocrity chosen by a drunken second-guesser -  Fitzgerald reveals the social myopia of Gatsby's world, tumbling toward disaster like a car overturned in a ditch.    

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The Great Gatsby

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