What does the quote "the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty" mean?

The meaning of the quote “the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty” is that Gatsby served and aspired to unrestrained, tacky, and ultimately empty material wealth. He reinvented himself to be of service to his ideal goals of riches, high-class society, and Daisy.

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In Chapter 6 of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald reveals that the title character reinvented his identity from James Gatz—the son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”—into the rich, seemingly untouchable Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island. His new identity

sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father's Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty.

The phrase “the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty” illustrates Gatsby’s worship of material wealth and high society, especially as represented by Daisy.

Until Gatsby (actually still James Gatz) was 17 years old, he resentfully performed manual labor in such jobs as clam digger, salmon fisherman, and janitor. Aspiring to—and believing he is deserving of—a better lifestyle, he changes his name upon meeting and working for Dan Cody. Cody is a debauched man who earned millions of dollars from silver mining and sailed around with women on his yacht. This yacht represents wealth and glamour to Gatz/Gatsby.

Gatsby reinvents himself as a Christ-like figure, but his God is money and he worships at the altar of material wealth. His “Father’s Business” is actual business and finance. He views himself as the son of God who serves what he believes is God’s business—the pursuit of wealth. The “beauty” which he services is upper-class society as represented by expensive objects (e.g. cars, houses), notorious figures, and Daisy.

To be in “the service of” means to be at the beck and call of it, while demonstrating loyalty and admitting a lower status. This phrase emphasizes the hierarchy that Gatsby occupies vis-à-vis the old money of East Egg; he is nouveau-rich, ranked below, and kept outside of the high-class society to which Daisy belongs. This “beauty”—decadent wealth—is “vast, vulgar and meretricious.”

The adjective “vast” emphasizes a boundless, unchecked nature. On the positive side, “vast” can connote promise and potential, which Gatsby does have. On the negative side, however, “vast” emphasizes lack of restraint. This may conjure images of the revelling partiers consuming Gatsby’s alcohol and food, of Tom in his anger, and of Gatsby in the measures which he takes in order to woo Daisy.

The description “vulgar” means unsophisticated, which Gatsby feels he is compared to Daisy’s people. This word also accurately highlights the gross waste, tastelessness, and behavioral excesses that her peers exhibit.

Finally, the word “meretricious” underlines the flashy and shallow nature of material wealth. “Meretricious” describes something that is garishly attractive and pretentious but ultimately has no actual value or integrity. To Gatsby, rich society and Daisy seem gorgeous, costly, and classy; in reality, however, they are tawdry, superficial and empty. He aspires to attain a goal or prize that turns out to be unattainable, worthless, and unfulfilling.

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