34 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

The Embassy of Cambodia

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2013

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Themes

The Consequences of Dehumanization and Stereotypes

Very few of the characters in the short story are allowed to be dynamic or hold dynamic views of the people around them. As a result, no characters’ fully lived experience is portrayed with any nuance or understanding, highlighting the danger of dehumanization and stereotypes.

Fatou lives in modern-day enslavement and is frequently dehumanized by the Derawals. The children use her name as a slur with each other: “Sometimes she heard her name used as a term of abuse between them. ‘You’re as black as Fatou.’ Or ‘You’re as stupid as Fatou’” (16). Fatou goes to great lengths to convince herself she’s not enslaved after reading an article about an enslaved woman. However, following Fatou’s life-saving action during Asma’s choking incident, the Derawals are forced to view Fatou as human for the first time. She is no longer the girl they have clean their home without pay; she is a woman who saved their child. They are unable to deal with this role reversal and struggle to maintain eye contact with her in the weeks leading up to her termination. Ultimately, they fire Fatou for no explicit reason, but it is implied that Fatou’s very human and generous help when Asma was choking is the cause.

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