“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” The quote implies the repulsiveness and allurement of Tom Buchanan guests’ lifestyle. Nick does not entirely approve of their extravagance and excessive fashion.
Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby depicts Tom Buchanan, who invites Nick to his apartment for a little party. He takes Nick to New York City, where he encounters his long-time mistress, Myrtle Wilson. When the party starts, Nick is not comfortable being surrounded by many wealthy strangers. It always makes him feel out of place. He decides to drink some whiskey so that he could relax a bit. However, it doesn’t help, and he still wants to leave the apartment.
While trying to escape, Nick gets into several conversations with random people there. All of them lead luxurious lives filled with money, parties, and alcohol. Later, he leaves the place and acknowledges that neither the party nor the outside makes him feel good enough. Nick keeps wondering what is happening in that apartment. Saying this phrase, he means that all the people having fun at the party are fascinating. But they are still obscure to him.
These conflicting feelings are represented in the phrase starting with “I was within and without.” It proceeds by showing both his excitement and disgust with an excessive lifestyle. Despite their excellent manners, they are too extravagant and immoral. Nick cannot accept it due to his humble way of life. Even though Nick tries to get involved in the chats with the elite society members, he still feels appalled. The experience he received in the Middle East does not let Nick approve the luxury and redundancy. It keeps him away from wealthy strangers.