In The Great Gatsby, what is the significance of the "owl-eyed" man?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Great Gatsby, Owl Eyes is a symbol of perception and insight; he sheds light upon the character of Jay Gatsby, and he acts as a counterpoint to some of the other characters.

He is the only one who discovers amidst all the frivolity of the parties that Jay Gatsby has a library with real books enclosed in leather covers. This impresses Owl Eyes, and he calls Gatsby a "regular Belasco," alluding to David Belasco, a famous and popular playwright, impresario, director, and producer of the time. This allusion suggests that Gatsby, too, knows how to set a stage. Interestingly, Owl Eyes also observes that the pages are uncut in these books, a clear indication that no one has read them. An impressed Owl Eyes realizes that Gatsby knew that he had only to go so far with his realism; no one would actually read these books, anyway.

Nevertheless, the perspicacity of Owl Eyes only goes so far; he later falls out of a car that he has driven into a ditch. Thus, he is a flawed character like all the others, "a bad driver" as Nick Carraway refers to people who are careless in their lifestyles. However, he possesses enough decency that he attends the funeral of Jay Gatsby even though Nick has not contacted him.

"I couldn't get to the house," he remarked.
"Neither could anybody else."
"Go on!" He started. "Why, my God! they used to go there by the hundreds."
He took off his glasses and wiped them again outside and in.
"The poor son-of-a-bitch," he said. (Ch. 9)

Owl Eyes has seen in Jay Gatsby the "great Gatsby," the man of imagination and deep and genuine feelings. He, like Nick, knows that Gatsby "is worth the whole damn bunch together!" (Ch.8)

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This minor character contributes to the motif Fitzgerald introduces early in the novel through the presence of T.J. Eckleburg and his huge eyes on the billboard in the Valley of the Ashes. Like the inanimate Eckleburg, Owl Eyes acts as an impartial observer of events. Unlike Eckleburg, Owl Eyes does make a final moral judgment of Gatsby's life and death.

It is through his character that we learn Gatsby's library is full of books that are real, if unread. Owl Eyes is amazed.  For the reader, Owl Eye's discovery suggests Gatsby's wealth and the detail in which he constructed his new identity in order to impress Daisy. This incident gives us another insight into Gatsby's commitment to his dream.

The real significance of the owl-eyed man, however, is found in the novel's conclusion when he suddenly appears at Gatsby's funeral, one of only a handful of people who attend. His presence itself suggests moral responsibility in his character: He shows up. He also apologizes to Nick for not paying his respects at Gatsby's home. Owl Eyes is someone whose opinion deserves our respect.

It is he who recognizes and acknowledges the tragedy of Gatsby's life and destruction. Owl Eyes wipes the rain from his glasses. Seeing clearly, figuratively as well as literally, he pronounces Gatsby's benediction: "The poor son-of-a-bitch." With this, impartial observation becomes moral judgment and the novel's themes are further emphasized.

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The Great Gatsby

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