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Lamb to the Slaughter

This short-story written by Roald Dahl is about a woman – Mary Maloney – who murders her husband with a leg of lamb. It’s really interesting to read, since it shows us, how a crucial decision in a situation like this can lead to spontaneous life altering decisions. This story also portrays how the idea of a so called ‘nuclear-family’ (the perfect family) can affect a person’s mind – the whole role-playing game between the husband and wife.

This essay will interpret and discuss a characterisation of Mary and her husband Patrick, as well as a description of the setting, the title, and lastly, an attempt to put it into perspective to other crime-stories we’ve read. Good intro! As a wife, Mary Maloney is extremely kind, devoted and thoughtful. She is also an expectant mother. Her main problem though is being obsessed by the importance of acquiring the ‘nuclear-family’. The nuclear-family is essential to this story; the whole family is really just a ‘dollhouse’, where nothing really is what it seems like.

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Everybody is acting to achieve certain social norms; this is literally being told by Patrick Maloney as well on page 115: “But there needn’t really be any fuss. It wouldn’t be very good for my job”. All that matters is the way other people see them as a family. Mary works as the stereotype of the 1960’ies, where it’s all about soothing the husband – making him feel comfortable at home to forward his career. In this story, Mary is being portrayed in a way that deteriorates the basic values of women; she is described almost as a servant. She sets down her sewing… took his coat and hung it in the closet” – this quote tells us two things; one, that women stay at home the main part of the day, and two, she is ‘always there to serve’ (stereotype). Mary might also seem a bit psychotic/deranged in this story – besides murdering her husband and afterwards acting like nothing happened, the very intriguing and indeed noticeable ‘giggle’ at the end of the story (page 121 last line) just confirms the theory of Mary either being a bit psychotic or having a highly developed sense of humour.

There isn’t really much to say about Patrick; he’s in the police and seems like a man of few words. He is, obviously, the breadwinner of the family, seeing that Mary is unemployed. He plays a very important part of the story; it seems like he’s the one keeping Mary from going insane – this is illustrated when he actually leaves Mary on page 115, and she suddenly goes from a state of a wife-pleasing-husband to a self-observant woman, leaving herself depicted as very unstable.

The setting doesn’t have much effect on the story. It’s Thursday – probably around 1961. It’s in the afternoon/evening, and the whole story takes place within a day’s time. It’s more important to focus on the year of 1961, where women had a certain position in the society – as the ‘suppressed’ sex. The title, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, is truly surprising, creative and effective. You notice that this story is driven by the plot itself – not by character or mood.

With a title like this which holds a double-meaning, the reader is being offered several opportunities to interpret and explore ‘the surface’ of this story; you may find yourself rummaging through Mary’s personality to find out, how come a seemingly ordinary evening could end up in this mess. The expression itself describes an innocent person being led into danger – Dahl’s way of using it reminds us, that the lamb is led to a real killing – not a metaphorical one. Eventually, the reader also discovers that the lamb is not the victim; but the instrument.

When we encounter Mary sewing and awaiting her husband, you’d normally think she’s the lamb. Although, the husband is literally being the lamb led into slaughter. At last, Mary uses the lamb as a weapon – but in the metaphorical sense, the investigating officers are also the naive followers being led to slaughter by the dinner table. The title is really just a method for Dahl to express his ironic sense of humour. Good! I would disapprove of the fact that this story is able to be set in perspective to any other crime story we’ve read.

This story is hardly a crime-fiction one; the themes it explores is more like identity and devotion. Devotion because Mary is so devoted to her husband and child (since she creates the alibi) – until he announces he’s going to abandon them. Identity – and this could lead back to the thesis statement – because Dahl is making it ever so clear, that Mary has internalized the ideas of the middle class back then; maintaining a tidy home and nurturing the husband.

Mary was simply too committed to the ‘dollhouse’, that when the husband left the stage, the dollhouse wasn’t complete anymore – leaving Mary’s idealization of the perfect household in ruins: “Her first instinct was not to believe any of it, to reject it all. It occurred to her that perhaps he hadn’t even spoken, that she herself had imagined the whole thing”. This quote on page 115 can describe the demise of her whole belief-system better than I. Her standing in denial is confirming the agony which she’s experiencing. Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it. ” Words of wisdom A very good essay with an excellent language. However, I think you can discuss this in relation to other crime stories, if not by similarities then by differences. What about the role of the police, or if this is a crime story, what type is it then? Also, you need to stay within the limit of 700 words- this is quite a bit above. Otherwise, very good 12 pil ned


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