I Was Within And Without What Does This Quote Mean?

Updated 30 September, 2023
Nick’s comment, “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life,” demonstrates his confusion and different points of view about the city and his new lifestyle. He enjoyed several aspect of it, while also having certain concerns and critics towards other aspects. The remark also refers to how he was the inside and outside narrator at the same time, observing others’ situation as well as partaking in others.
Detailed answer:

The Great Gatsby immediately starts with Nick Carraway suggesting to the reader that he is in some way unreliable due to his desire for upper class mobility and his conflict of thoughts. In Chapter One, Carraway states “I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan knew”. Nick is obviously wanting to pursue his career in finance in this chapter and again fueling this desire for upper class mobility, a desire he shares with other characters in the novel which he soon comes to criticise.
Nick is also portrayed as being an outsider, frequently so in relation to Gatsby’s lifestyle and parties. During the first party he attends, he “wandered around rather ill at ease”, with “ill at ease” directly addressing his discomfort in this scenario. This is seen in his quote: “High over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” , with “attraction and repulsion” and “enchanted and repelled” directly linking the two statements. Nick’s confliction of being both “within and without” demonstrates how whilst he is immersed in the lifestyle of the ‘new era’, he cannot connect or relate to it; a result of both his ‘old money’ status and his establishment as an outsider.
Nick positions himself in these moments as a pedestrian outside as well as being inside the building with those of a higher class to them, creating a binary opposition. Nick’s sense of himself split between being inside and outside nicely describes his social position in the novel. Although he hangs out with wealthy people, he is not quite one of them. Nick’s desire to be associated with the higher class could suggest his unreliability, suggesting that he may alter his interpretation of reality in order to position himself as higher class. This alienates the reader due to Nick Carraway’s obsession with the higher class and desires to be part of it meaning that he will see the best in them even when they can be the worst characters, evident in the rest of the novel.

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