Nairobi Themes

Themes and Meanings (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The ostensible subject of this story, as the title suggests to the reader, is “Nairobi.” The story appears to be a detective story, investigating what is going on in Nairobi, where Zieboldt Foundation money is being wasted and is disappearing. When Oliver finally learns that the Zieboldt officials now know this from Herbert’s investigation, the mystery (from his point of view) is solved, and he can take the information to the people who wanted him to get it—presumably in order to perpetrate or cover up a crime, possibly theft.

Nairobi is metaphorically New York, and the story is about “Nairobi” in action—the scam, the cheating. It is going on in the actions of Oliver, one of Herbert and Marguerite’s friends. Most important, it is going on in the actions of Ginny, who wonders what she has lost at the end of her day. She does not have any idea of what she is doing or has done. Ginny is an unwitting accomplice. Her payoff is in her regular salary for the day as a model and actress, and her expensive gifts, for which Zieboldt has ultimately paid.

There are others innocently involved, Third World citizens, the reader may guess. There is the uniformed doorman who has the secret of a package of plain clothes being left with him (if he has any idea what has been left, which he likely does not). There is the black elevator operator, who hears Oliver tell Ginny how to act.

However, the primary accomplice to Oliver in the Zieboldt theft is Ginny, even though the reader can see how far her thoughts are from theft and cheating. Her two major concerns are whether she looks pretty enough and whether she should not have some sort of emotional involvement—maybe even a hug—with the man who bought her such fine gifts. It is this juxtaposition of the role Ginny plays in an evident crime and her lack of concern for the significance of the role she is playing that points to the story’s theme: the culpability of the willfully ignorant and innocent in the face of obvious wrongdoing.