Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Nairobi” is told in the third person, but entirely from Ginny’s limited and rather self-centered point of view. The reader thus begins to discern what is going on in the story only gradually, perhaps not until after the second or third reading: that Oliver is getting the corporate leak that he wants and that it is indiscreet of Herbert to reveal.

This limited point of view serves to heighten the impact of the story’s broader concern—with innocence and its corruption. By foregrounding Ginny’s superficial preoccupation with clothes and the romance of the adventure (to the exclusion of any concern for that with which she is involving herself) and leaving unstated the obviously sinister implications of Oliver and his objectives, Joyce Carol Oates shows her protagonist to be a fool, willfully blind to the significance of what is going on around her. It is no wonder that, on descending in the elevator with Oliver after their meeting with Herbert and Marguerite, she “felt a pinprick of disappointment” in her disheveled (and symbolically significant) appearance, whereas Oliver had found her nearly perfect on their ascent in the same elevator. Ginny has lost more that she realizes—not merely her old shoes but also her integrity, a part of herself.