We might refer to him as the Owl-Eyed Man, but the closest F. Scott Fitzgerald via Nick gets is Owl Eyes or in chapter nine when he attends Gatsby’s funeral, Owl-eyes and “the man with owl-eyed glasses”.
Regardless of how we refer to him, Owl Eyes has achieved an iconic status in The Great Gatsby and part of a series of references, symbol and motifs that contributes to the enduring nature of the novel (see the post on The Green Light, Gatsby’s car and even Gatsby’s smile).
Owl Eyes is first introduced when Nick and Jordan are searching for Gatsby in chapter three. Nick and Jordan are searching the house and “On a chance” try “an important-looking door, and walked into a high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas.” In the library, Nick and Jordan find Owl Eyes who claims to have “been drunk for about a week now” and immediately demands their opinion about the books.
The confusion of Nick and Jordan is set against Owl Eyes’ expectation that the library is part of the larger façade that is Gatsby. Instead, Owl Eyes finds a thoroughness and realism that might be mistaken for reality if it were not underpinned by references to construction and pretense. Owl Eyes refers to Gatsby as “a regular Belasco”, a Broadway theatre produce known for the realism of his sets and after handing Nick a book, Owl Eyes “snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse.”
In his first appearance, Owl Eyes hints at the superficial but carefully constructed nature of Gatsby’s identity. What makes Owl Eyes more interesting is his two lesser know appearances in the novel.
At the end of chapter three, the still drunk Owl Eyes crashes a car. This is a criminally overlooked moment that foreshadows the tragedy of the novel. After Owl Eyes emerges from the crash, a dialogue takes place in which not only does Owl Eyes show confusion about how the crash happens and even denies responsibility for the crash that takes place, but ultimately Owl Eyes (who at this point is referred to as “the criminal”) lets the crowd know that he wasn’t driving and that “There’s another man in the car”.
Given the lack of responsibility expressed for Myrtle’s death in chapter 7 and the fact that Daisy was driving even though Nick and Tom believe Gatsby to be the river, the crash at the end of chapter 3 takes on a greater significance anticipating the tragedy novel.
Owl Eyes makes a final appearance among the few attendees of Gatsby’s funeral. Here he comments that people used to come to Gatsby’s house by the hundreds. Nick has no comments which leads Owl Eyes to comment “poor son-of-a-bitch” in a combination of sympathy and criticism that encapsulates the conflict in our and Nick’s view of Gatsby.
Owl Eyes might be a fully formed character in The Great Gatsby, but is used by Fitzgerald as an effective reference for aspects of Gatsby as a character, the misfortune that befalls Gatsby and the ultimately sympathetic conclusion Fitzgerald wants the reader to have about Gatsby.
Read more about The Great Gatsby:
The Motif of the Green Light
Gatsby’s Car and the American Dream