I was sure the request would be something utterly fantastic and for a moment I was sorry I’d ever set foot on his overpopulated lawn.
Gatsby warns Nick he’s “going to make a big request of you today,” but he won’t ask him directly, leaving it up to Jordan Baker to ask Nick at lunch later in the day. Nick claims to be more annoyed than interested, but this can’t possibly be true. It’s another example of Nick lying to himself and lying to us as readers.
Nick already knows Gatsby as the most mysterious figure he’s ever met, and surely the elaborate setup for the request must pique his curiosity. From a certain point of view, Nick’s right to treat the request as unworthy of the anticipation, and wrong to think it would be utterly fantastic. Instead, it’s a modest demand of impossible proportions – Gatsby only wants Nick to invite his cousin Daisy to tea, and have Gatsby drop by for a casually non-coincidental reunion. Gatsby only wants to recreate the past, to renew the idealized romance of his youth.
Fitzgerald believed that the great and small can share the same prosaic longings. He would have approved of the notion that somebody like Citizen Kane would spend his last breath on the name of a sled. In his day, some critics felt that Fitzgerald should be slightly regarded because his concerns weren’t sufficiently serious – he didn’t write about racism or poverty or bullfighting or war or incest. Almost a decade after the publication of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald complained, “I had recently been kidded half hay-wire by critics who felt that my material was such as to preclude all dealing with mature persons in a mature world. But, my God! it was my material, and it was all I had to deal with.”
All he had to deal with was the problem of the past as both anchor and engine for an unattainable future. Orchestrating a chance meeting is a small request, but reviving lost love would really be something utterly fantastic.