What role does Owl Eyes play in "The Great Gatsby"?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Owl Eyes," as his name indicates, plays the role of the wise seer or perceiver in the novel. Nick meets him in Gatsby's library the first time Nick attends one of Gatsby's grand parties. While the other guests are busy trading wild rumors about their host, Owl Eyes, though somewhat drunk, is actually looking at the evidence that Gatsby's home offers about him.

Owl Eyes's drunkenness causes him to say more than he might have otherwise. He indicates that he believes Gatsby to be a fraud when he expresses surprise that Gatsby's books are not merely cardboard. He goes so far as to take one of the books off the shelf to show Nick its reality. Owl Eyes also notes that its pages have not been cut, meaning that Gatsby does not actually read the books he owns. This reveals that the illusion of an Oxford man Gatsby projects is not quite perfect.

At the end of the novel, Owl Eyes will be the only partygoer other than Nick to show up for Gatsby's funeral, a poignant commentary on how everyone else used him for his food, his drink, and the good times he offered. Owl Eyes, seemingly, was the only person other than Nick to see Gatsby in his true, if flawed, humanity.

Fitzgerald establishes a connection between Owl Eyes and Gatsby. Owl Eyes, partially drunk, pretends at first to have been driving the car that careens into a ditch while leaving Gatsby's party the night Nick meets him in the library. We soon find out that Owl Eyes has been protecting a more drunken friend who was really driving. This foreshadows Gatsby's covering for Daisy having run over Myrtle at the end of the novel. Both Gatsby and Owl Eyes are decent people willing to sacrifice themselves to protect another. 

luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Owl Eyes, or, the man with the owl-eyed glasses whom Nick only refers to by the nickname Nick gives him, plays two roles in the story. When Nick first encounters him in chapter 3 at the first of Gatsby's parties that Nick attends, it is in Gatsby's library.  The man is drunk and he expresses to Nick and Jordan his amazement that Gatsby's books are real.  He goes on to say that he's surprised the books aren't just props.  This seems to indicate that the man detects some aspect of falseness about Jay Gatsby.  Since the reader doesn't know this yet - that Jay Gatsby is not who he appears to be - it is foreshadowing.  The implication is that Gatsby gives off a mysterious and somewhat false impression.

The second time we see Owl Eyes is after that same party.  He has just been in a wreck as he and another man were leaving Gatsby's party.  He is still quite drunk and he is standing in the road and telling people that he knows nothing about cars and driving and has no idea how they wrecked.  Here he serves the purpose of pointing out the immorality, bordering on depravity, of the people.  Much of the story deals with the immorality of the people and how that destroyed the American Dream.

The last time we see the man with the owl-eyed glasses is in chapter 9.  It is Gatsby's funeral and he is one of the few mourners to show up.  Dozens and dozens of people showed up at Gatsby's parties and accepted his free food, drink, and hospitality, but he is the only one of the party-goers, besides Nick, to come to the funeral.  Perhaps Fitzgerald is telling us that Owl Eyes saw more of the real Jay Gatsby from the start than others did and thus mourned the man more.

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The Great Gatsby

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