Although he only appears in three brief scenes, Owl Eyes plays a key role in Fitzgerald’s exploration of truth, lies, and superficiality throughout the novel. He first appears half-drunk in Gatsby’s library, and Nick quickly begins referring to the man as “Owl Eyes” because of the large, round glasses that he wears. The name Owl Eyes itself carries symbolic value and offers clues to the reader about the complex nature of his character. Owls traditionally function as emblems of wisdom and intuition, two qualities which Owl Eyes seems to possess. Beyond his presence in the library, a place full of knowledge, his interest in discovering who Gatsby truly is reinforces intellectually-inclined identity. At the same time, however, some cultures perceive owls as harbingers of death, and this symbolism adds an ominous layer to Owl Eyes’s character. The second component of Nick’s made-up name for the man, “Eyes,” calls attention to the idea of perception. Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald references eyes and seeing as a means of commenting on man’s relationship with reality. The billboard of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg is perhaps the most famous symbol of this dynamic, emphasizing the bleak, senseless world that many of the novel’s characters aim to ignore. The parallels that Fitzgerald creates between the glasses on the billboard and Owl Eyes’s glasses invites the possibility that he may have the ability to see the truth about Gatsby when no one else can.

While the symbolism of Owl Eyes’ name does reflect the nature of his character to some extent, he does not become the prophetic figure that he initially appears to be. Instead, his insights into Gatsby’s identity only reveal partial truths, and this choice allows Fitzgerald to emphasize just how deeply the superficiality of Gatsby’s world runs. Owl Eyes excitedly reports to Nick and Jordan that, contrary to his assumptions, Gatsby’s library is full of real books. This detail is enough to convince him of Gatsby’s authenticity, even though he also acknowledges that none of the books have cut pages and are therefore all unread. He appreciates the commitment to upholding an image of wealth without bothering to inquire further about Gatsby’s mysterious origin story. In this moment, Owl Eyes’s perceptive abilities only go so far.

The symbolic aspect of his name that Owl Eyes does live up to, however, is as an omen of doom. Although nothing tragic occurs in the library itself, the unsettling quality that his presence brings to the scene hints at the idea that Gatsby’s complex web of truth and lies may be the cause of his downfall. The brief scene outside the party in which Owl Eyes is involved in a car wreck more explicitly highlights his association with death and destruction, especially since he reveals that he was not the driver of the car. His relative lack of involvement in this moment calls back to his identity as a witness or observer, but his cluelessness about the car emphasizes the same perceptive limits that he displayed in the library. Owl Eyes appears one final time as the only guest at Gatsby’s funeral, once again accompanying death and destruction. The sympathy he expresses at the gravesite distinguishes Owl Eyes from many of the other partygoers who fail to acknowledge Gatsby’s passing.