Owl Eyes from The Great Gatsby: A Complete Analysis

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway meets an interesting but not often talked about character whom he calls Owl Eyes.

Who is Owl Eyes? Is he merely an interesting diversion in this novel or does he have a deeper meaning?

Who Is Owl Eyes in the Great Gatsby

Does Owl Eyes symbolize something more sinister than just a drunk old man?

An analysis of this character is necessary since little in The Great Gatsby book is what it appears to be on the surface.

Who Is Owl Eyes?

In Chapter 3 ( read Great Gatsby Chapter 3 Quotes ), Nick is invited to a party at Gatsby’s mansion next door.

Nick has never actually met Gatsby, so he seems very intent on meeting the man. Nick begins searching the grounds and the house for his host, but rather than finding Gatsby, all Nick finds are rumors and Owl Eyes.

Narrator Nick Carraway Meets the Owl-Eyed Man

two men talking

Of course, Owl Eyes isn’t the man’s name, but we never are told his name or his history. Owl Eyes is simply what Nick call’s the man he meets in Gatsby’s library.

Who is Owl Eyes? We only know what Nick tells us about this character. Owl Eyes was an old drunk man who wore enormous owl-eyed spectacles, looking through the books in Gatsby’s library.

Owl Eyes appears to be impressed by the enormous selection of leather-bound books and proudly shows them to Nick, as if he owned them himself.

“Absolutely real—have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real… It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too—didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?”-Owl Eyes tells Nick and Jordan.

It appears that so many of the newly rich have books on the shelves that are merely window dressing, and Owl Eyes is impressed that Gatsby owns real books.

What or Who Does Owl Eyes Symbolize in The Great Gatsby?

Along with the large billboard of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, whose eyes look out over the Valley of Ashes, Owl Eyes represents an all-seeing but completely uninvolved deity.

Owl-Eyed Man in The Great Gatsby

Owl Eyes watches everything that is happening at Gatsby’s parties, but he doesn’t say much of anything. He doesn’t help, he doesn’t object, and he doesn’t seem to judge (other than judging Gatsby’s library). He simply observes and takes notes.

One might come to the conclusion that Owl Eyes is like God. He sees all but does nothing to stop humans from their suffering or enjoyment. The owl-eyed man makes some observations (the books being real), but otherwise, he leaves everyone to their own devices and lets Nick come to his own conclusions.

The description that Scott Fitzgerald uses could also mean that Owl Eyes sees through Gatsby. He may have been drunk, but he could see that the house, the man, and even his library were genuine and more than just window dressing. Along this line, he seems to be the only character other than Carraway to see through the real Gatsby ( read more on Nick Carraway’s character traits here).

It’s also interesting to note that in many cultures, owls are considered not only to be wise but also an omen of death.

Fitzgerald could have called him “Spectacle Man” or Bespectacled Drunk, but he chose the words Owl Eyes for a reason.

Perhaps, the wise old owl can see that someone is sure to die, but he wisely says nothing.

What Happened to Owl Eyes When He Left Gatsby’s Party?

Owl Eyes became drunker still that evening and as all-seeing as he was, he couldn’t see that he was too drunk to drive.

Owl Eyes crashes his car (learn more on 1920 cars ), then quickly blames the mechanics who worked on it last, not himself.

This is possibly F. Scott Fitzgerald’s way of saying that even God isn’t perfect.

What Is the Significance of the Owl-Eyed Man at Gatsby’s Funeral?

Bespectacled owl with a red-white polka dot bowtie

Of all the people mentioned in The Great Gatsby, only a few servants and Owl Eyes attend Gatsby’s funeral.

Why a minor character like Owl Eyes?

While Owl Eyes may have been impartial or perhaps he simply thought discretion to be the better part of manners, he was more than a bit judgmental when it came to the funeral.

“We straggled down quickly through the rain to the cars. Owl-eyes spoke to me by the gate.

“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.”

Owl Eyes thought that it was absurd that no one was allowed inside the house now, while hundreds of partygoers had no problem gaining access to any part of the house before.

Gatsby’s facade was no match for the wicked. They were stripping the house of any valuables they could carry away and removing any trace that they might have been associated with Gatsby.

This is why Tom, Daisy, Jordan, and even his friend Wolfsheim did not attend the funeral.

Owl Eyes, however, had no problem with Gatsby and his American Dream. He knew the truth and must have admired Gatsby if for no other reason than he wasn’t a fraud.

Owl Eyes tells the truth about Gatsby, even if no one else does:

“He took off his glasses and wiped them again, outside and in. “The poor son-of-a-bitch,” he said.”

Perhaps by having Owl Eyes attend the funeral, F. Scott Fitzgerald was saying that wealthy people (whether new money or old money) used other people until they had no more purpose, then they threw them away like so much garbage.

Having no further use for a dead man, no one bothers to pay their last respects. Only Owl Eyes, who sees all with his large glasses, knew what was proper behavior and what real relationships are all about. Respect.

Is Owl Eyes Important in The Great Gatsby?

Owl Eyes is an impartial observer at Gatsby’s house, taking note of everything that was going on and everyone who was in attendance at Gatsby’s party.

Owl with spectacles

This man seemed to have a very clear idea that Gatsby was a real person, with real feelings, even very real books.

He didn’t judge Gatsby, but at the funeral, he certainly judged everyone else’s behavior, and who can blame him?

Owl Eyes knew about Myrtle’s death but most likely believed Gatsby’s lie that he was driving the car that night.

The only person who knows the truth about the accident was Daisy and Nick.

Not that it would have mattered to Owl Eyes. He understands and sees Gatsby as a human being, not as an object to be used.

Final Analysis

Owl Eyes shows the world that no matter what the circumstances, someone is watching. Whether it’s a person or God, someone is always watching what is going on.

This drunk, middle-aged man saw through Gatsby’s facade and realized his true, even if slightly flawed, character. He didn’t judge him but made Gatsby more human by showing that he was a true person who had desires and feelings.

Owl Eyes himself, described as wise and all-seeing, is a flawed character, but perhaps that is the point of his character.

Aren’t we all flawed in one way or another?

Owl Eyes from The Great Gatsby: A Complete Analysis
Owl Eyes from The Great Gatsby: A Complete Analysis
Who is Owl Eyes in The Great Gatsby? What does he signify? You'll find a complete analysis of the Owl Eyes Great Gatsby character here
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