Choice of words

The language in the short story “Nairobi” by Joyce Carol Oates is casual and informal. The general tone of the narrative, which also appears to be Ginny’s inner voice, is in contrast with the character that she is supposed to embody at Oliver’s request, and with a couple of formal words used by other characters, such as “unerring” and “tangentially”. Oliver uses the word “tangentially” to express the fact that Ginny looks like a convent schoolgirl “only slightly” (ll. 28-29). Ginny uses it herself later, in an ironic sense, as she decides “not to feel even tangentially insulted. After all, she hadn’t been insulted” (ll. 231-233). The repeated use of this uncommon word may also suggest that Ginny is able to pass as upper-class “only slightly”, superficially, and for a brief period of time.

Especially in the last part of the story, many of the sentences have a fragmented quality, as if Ginny is not really listening to the conversation, and only picks up a few words here and there. For instance: “It couldn't be avoided that Herbert tell Oliver what he'd been saying - Oliver in fact seemed to be interested, he might have had some indirect connection with the Foundation himself - but unfortunately they were late for their engagement downtown” (ll. 213-218). Also: “They traveled a good deal, he was required to travel almost more than he liked, being associated with an organization Ginny might have heard of - the Zieboldt Foundation. He ...

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