Lamb to the slaughter – Road Dhal Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction This contemporary tells of how a pregnant woman

, when faced with the certainty of her husband leaving her, takes control of her situation. This story can be studied in comparison with Woman Unknown, Tagore‟s traditional short story, especially with the author‟s portrayal of a woman protagonist. While both of them break away from the usual stereotypes, they do so in different ways. The suspense and humour in the story, as well as the fast paced action, appeal to the mind of the readers. The author makes use of dramatic irony, especially the role reversals which lie at the heart of the story, to bring to a close his very plausible tale. The style and language employed are conventional and straightforward. Dramatic Irony: A type of situational irony contrasting what a character perceives, and what the audience and one more of the characters know to be true. Point of view: Third- person omniscient. This style is often frowned upon, and comes under fire from many writing style authorities. Nine times out of ten at least, it's a liability to the book. But there are a few stories that must use this style and come out better for it. Since these stories are few and far between, writers are encouraged to use careful judgment, and avoid omniscient viewpoint unless it would add something extraordinary. First, some definitions: third person omniscient is not to be confused with using multiple viewpoints. A writer can have multiple viewpoints in a piece of fiction and can be writing in third person without using third person omniscient. This is covered later on. Third person omniscient is an older narrative style in which a single viewpoint contains all characters and perspectives. The key point to remember in using third person omniscient narration is consistency. Narrative shifts shouldn't happen randomly; they should have a sense of order and rhythm that remains consistent throughout the story. Theme: Betrayal, Identity, Love and Passion, Passivity, and Justice and Injustice Technical device: Suspense and black humour Setting: The house of the protagonist, Sam‟s grocery shop Plot Summary Dahl commences with a picture of static coziness in a middle-class, domestic setting. Mary Maloney, six months pregnant, waits for her policeman husband Patrick Maloney to come home from work. The scene emphasizes domesticity: “The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn.” Matching chairs, lamps, glasses, and whisky, soda, and ice cubes await. Mary watches the clock, smiling quietly to herself as each minute brings her husband closer to home. When he arrives, she takes his coat and hangs it in the closet. The couple sits and drinks in silence — Mary comfortable with the knowledge that Patrick does not like to talk much until after the first drink. So by deliberate design, everything seems normal until Mary notices that Patrick drains most of his drink in a single swallow, and then pours himself another, very strong drink. Mary offers to fix dinner and serve it to him so that he does not have to leave his chair, although they usually dine out on Thursdays. She also offers to prepare a snack. Patrick declines all her offers of food. The reader becomes aware of a tension which escapes Mary‟s full notice. Patrick confronts Mary and makes a speech, only the upshot of which is given explicitly: “So there it is. . . . And I know it‟s a kind of bad time to be telling you, but there simply wasn‟t any other way. Of course, I‟ll give you money and see you‟re looked after. But there needn‟t really be any fuss.” For reasons which Dahl does not make explicit, Patrick has decided to leave his pregnant wife.

SRHSS/For reference only

Page 1 of 6

Roshan.P

Mary goes into shock. At first she wonders if she imagined the whole thing. She moves automatically to retrieve something from the basement freezer and prepare supper. She returns with a frozen leg of lamb to find Patrick standing by a window with his back to her. Hearing her come in, he tells her not to make supper for him, that he is going out. With no narrative notice of any emotional transformation, Mary walks up to him and brings the frozen joint of meat down “as hard as she could” on his head. Patrick falls dead. She emerges from her shock to feel panic. Do the courts sentence pregnant women to death? Do they execute both mother and child? Do they wait until the tenth month? Not wanting to take a chance on her child‟s life, she immediately begins setting up an alibi. She puts the lamb in the oven to cook, washes her hands, and tidies her hair and makeup. She hurries to her usual grocery store, telling the grocer, Sam, that she needed potatoes and peas because Patrick did not want to eat out and she was “caught. . . without any vegetables in the house.” In a moment of truly black comedy, the grocer asks about dessert: “How about afterwards? What are you going to give him for afterwards?” and she agrees to a slice of cheesecake. On her way home, she mentally prepares herself to be shocked by anything tragic or terrible she might find. When she sees her husband‟s corpse again, she remembers how much she once loved him, and her tears of loss are genuine. She is sincerely distraught when she calls the local police station — the one where Patrick has worked — to report what she has found. Mary knows the policemen who report to the crime scene, and she casts Sergeant Jack Noonan in the role of her comforter. A doctor, police photographer, fingerprint expert, and two detectives join the investigation, while Noonan periodically checks on Mary. She tells her story again, from the beginning: Patrick came home, was too tired to go out for supper, so she left him relaxing at home while she started the lamb cooking and then ran out for vegetables. One detective checks with the grocer, who confirms Mary‟s account. No one seems to seriously consider her a suspect. The focus of the investigation on finding the murder weapon - which must be a large, heavy, and blunt. The detectives ask Mary about tools, and she professes ignorance but says that there may be some out in the garage. She remains in a chair while the house is searched. Noonan tries to persuade Mary to stay somewhere else for the night, but she refuses. She asks him to bring her a drink and suggests that he have one too. Eventually all of the police investigators are standing around, sipping drinks, tired from their fruitless search. Noonan notices that the oven is still on and the lamb has finished cooking. Mary thanks him for turning the oven off and then asks her dead husband‟s gathered colleagues-knowing that they have worked long past their own mealtimes — to eat the dinner she had fixed for Patrick. She could not eat a thing, she tells them, but Patrick would want her to offer them “decent hospitality,” especially as they are the men who will catch her husband‟s killer. The final scene of the story concerns the policemen eating in the kitchen and discussing the case while Mary listens from the living room. The men agree that the killer probably discarded the massive murder weapon almost immediately, and predict that they will find it on the premises. Another theorizes that the weapon is probably “right under our very noses.”

1. What is the significance of irony, foreshadowing, and black humor in "Lamb to the Slaughter"? "Lamb to the Slaughter" is a very clever tale of a woman's quick response to a difficult situation. Irony exists in the tale in Mrs. Maloney's reaction to the news of her husband leaving her. For the entire beginning of the story, Dahl paints her as a doting, overly-concerned, rather weak-minded character who lives only for her husband and his bidding. We would not expect her to brutally murder him just minutes later, but, that is what she does. It seems to surprise even her self. When something occurs that is the opposite of expectations that is irony. After the murder, she calmly and collectedly concocts a cover-up story, even finding a way to safely dispose of the murder weapon. This behavior, compared to her previous rather anxious and weak self, is ironic. The black humor exists especially at the end. It really isn't funny that she has killed her husband, but we can't help it but laugh as the cops cluelessly eat the lamb. It's a rather dreary humor, but, entertaining nonetheless. Foreshadowing is harder to find; there are few indications of Mary's behavior. When she puts the lamb in the oven that could foreshadow the cops eating it later; all of her preparations before the mirror, practicing what she would say

SRHSS/For reference only

Page 2 of 6

Roshan.P

at the grocer's, were foreshadowing of her performance there later. It was evident that she was planning an alibi. If we read closely, we can piece together the clues of her plan beforehand. An example of foreshadowing occurs when Patrick takes his drink: "...as he spoke, he did an unusual thing. He lifted his glass and drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it...He got up and went slowly over to fetch himself another...When he came back, she noticed that the new drink was dark amber with the quantity of whiskey in it". Patrick does not usually act like this. He is obviously uneasy, most likely trying to work up the courage to do or say something unpleasant. His actions foreshadow ominous things to come. Direct characterization- In introducing Mary Maloney, the author uses direct characterization, telling the reader plainly what she is like:” There was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did. The drop of a head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil...She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man...She loved him". 2. Briefly summarize the plot of "Lamb to the Slaughter". Mary Maloney is a cop's wife, and 6 months pregnant. She is happy in her marriage, and waiting for her husband to come home after work. He does, and informs her that he is leaving her. In a daze, she goes downstairs to get a leg of lamb out of the freezer to cook for dinner, goes upstairs, and without even thinking, bashes her hubby over the head with it, killing him instantly. Shocked, she realizes what she has done, and forms a plan. She puts the lamb in the oven, goes to the corner store to buy some food, making sure to talk to the clerk about how her husband is due home any time and she is making him dinner. When she gets home she calls the cops in a "panic" saying she came home from the store to find her husband dead. They come over, are confused, can't find a murder weapon. She feeds them the lamb for dinner, and they leave. 3. Describe the main characters in "Lamb to the Slaughter". The main characters of "Lamb to the Slaughter" are Mary and Patrick Malone. Mary is kind, gentle, and in love with her husband police officer, Patrick. She is six months pregnant when he decides to end their marriage. Mary suffers through stages of shock, anger and rage that leads her to a murderous state. Patrick uses alcohol to muffle his frustrations. He resents his wife for taking good care of him at home while his job does not seem to be advancing. He is generally discontented, and sees a break with his wife as the change he needs to move forward. 4. In "Lamb to the Slaughter" how does the author create suspense in the story? First of all, he shocks us when Mary knocks her husband over the head, killing him. This is incredibly surprising, because she was such a docile, sweet, loving character; she didn't even react emotionally when her husband told her that he was leaving her. She just calmly went downstairs to get something for dinner. Then, out of nowhere, bam! She nails him on the head. That initial shock to the reader really sets the stage for the suspense to come. We are jarred and left tense, wondering what she will do. Then, she is still calm, and we are thinking to ourselves, "Why isn't she freaking out right now? What is she planning?" That is very suspenseful. When she goes upstairs and practices smiling and talking in front of the mirror that creates suspense because we have no idea what she is planning. She is formulating some sort of scheme, but the author doesn't let us know what she is thinking, so we don't know what it is; this creates suspense. We are on the edge of our seats as she goes to the grocer, lies to his face, plays it cool; her calmness alone creates suspense. The author creates the most suspense when he has the cops come right to her house. We are anxious that they will find out what has happened; we wait, tense, as the questions are asked, as they search the house. Then, the final dose of suspense; Mary has the audacity to feed the officers the lamb. They are entirely clueless, but we are worried the entire time that they will figure it out. So, with an initial jarring shock at the murder, through leaving out her thoughts at key points, and through bringing the cops to the scene (and weapon) of the crime, Dahl creates suspense for the readers. 5. Identify a simile, metaphor, emotive word and a hyphenated word in "Lamb to the Slaughter"? Simile (A comparison using like or as): “to feel-almost as a sunbather feels the sun-that warm male glow" Metaphor (A direct comparison by saying one thing IS another): "There was a slow smiling air about her"
SRHSS/For reference only Page 3 of 6

Roshan.P

Emotive (Words containing positive or negative connotations): "tranquil", "blissful", " frantic" Hyphenated word (A word with a hyphen separating the two parts...generally these are nouns): "bone-end" 6. This story ends with a dramatic irony. Explain the dramatic irony? Dramatic irony occurs when the audience has knowledge of something that some or all of the characters do not, and because of that words or actions have a different meaning. In "Lamb to the Slaughter" the reader knows that Mary Maloney, having been told by her policeman husband that he is leaving her, has killed him with a frozen leg of lamb. It occurs when she cooks the lamb and serves it to the men investigating her husband's death while they speculate about what the murder weapon might have been and where is could be. In fact, one of them remarks the evidence they are seeking is probably "right under their noses." The reader knows they are eating the very weapon they are seeking! That is dramatic irony. 7. What is the setting in "Lamb to the Slaughter"? The author clearly describes the setting in the very first lines of the story: "The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight - hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whiskey. Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket". The setting for this story is primarily in a normal middle-class home that is described as very warm and cozy. The murder takes place in the sitting room where the couple meets so that Mary can it with Patrick while he winds down for the evening with a drink. 8. What is the theme in the short story "Lamb to the Slaughter’” by Roald Dahl? One main theme in this story is betrayal. You have a housewife who is betrayed by her husband, who says that he is leaving her. She thinks that everything is okay; she is pregnant, glowing, and happy. She makes meals for him, and doesn't have any reason to suspect that he is unhappy. Then, he drops the bomb that he is leaving and to try no to make "any fuss...it wouldn't be very good for my job." This is an awful betrayal for her. Ironically, she betrays his friends later, through her covering up of the crime. There is also a theme of identity, of us not really knowing ourselves very well. I bet if Mary had asked herself that day "Am I capable of murdering my husband in cold blood, even if he did something awful to me?" the answer would have been a definite no. But, in the moment, she behaves much differently. And then, even more surprising is her cool cover-up, her quick thinking, and how she got away with the crime. Such duplicity was probably as much of a shock to herself as to anyone else. So don't think you know yourself for sure, until you've been in the situation. 9. At what point in the story "Lamb to the Slaughter" does the rising action take place? The rising action in a story is known as the events in the plot that lead up or build up to the climax, or the highest point of action in the story. The rising action in the story actually comes very early because the climactic point in the story comes very early, the resolution takes up a larger than normal part of the story. The rising action takes place when Patrick tells, a very pregnant Mary, that he's leaving her and she goes into shock. She acts like an automaton, it's as if she hasn't heard what he's said, or at least the statement he's made has yet to make its full impact. This event is what rises to the climactic point in the story in which Mary emerges from the basement with a frozen rack of lamb with which she uses to bludgeon Patrick to death with in one fell swoop. 10. What is the narrative in "Lamb to the Slaughter"? It is the tale of Mary Maloney and the perfect murder. It is also the story of Mary's transformation from a docile wife whose very existence is devoted to her husband, Patrick, to a woman who is now able to take charge of her life. Mary learns that Patrick is leaving her. The reason is never clear. This is distressing because she is pregnant and has no real means of income, though Patrick states he will look after her. Not knowing what else to do, she begins to make supper, which happens to be a leg of lamb. However, before she is cognizant of what she is doing, she bashes her husband over the head, killing him instantly. Then she begins to plot how she can get away with the murder. She rehearses what she will say to their butcher and heads to the store. Appearing calm and collected, she gets the necessary things for supper. When she returns home, she calls the police, who all happen to be friends of her late husband, who was an officer himself.
SRHSS/For reference only Page 4 of 6

Roshan.P

She states that she found him dead when she came back from the butcher. The butcher is questions, but he states that she seemed quite normal to him. It is clear they thing she might have done it, but she acts so genuine, they quickly underestimate her and rule her out as a suspect. As the story ends, Mary asks the detectives to stay for supper and feeds them the murder weapon. 11. What are the examples of literary elements in the story "Lamb to the Slaughter"? Internal conflict is best shown in Mary. She is at war with herself when she finds out her happy home is not happy and about to disappear all together. She solves this conflict by killing her husband. Then she has to figure out how to hide the evidence, also an internal conflict. The external conflicts are Mary vs. her husband and Mary vs. the police. In both situations, Mary must defend herself against what she views as an attack. When her husband says he is leaving, she fights back by killing him. When the police arrive to investigate, she fights back by deceiving them. A metaphor in this story is in the title itself. Mary is a lamb due for slaughter - her happiness is slaughtered by her husband, even though she is innocent. The lamb that she uses to kill her husband is a metaphor for herself. The tension in this story comes from dramatic irony - we as readers know that Mary is guilty, and are concerned that the police will find out. We also know that the police are eating the murder weapon, even as they discuss what the murder weapon is - more tension and more irony. 12. What is the main idea in "Lamb to the Slaughter"? The story is a brief portrait of domestic violence and betrayal. I'm not sure if there is one main idea beyond writing an entertaining story with a bit of a twist ending, but one might say that the central theme is betrayal. First the husband betrays the wife by announcing his plan to leave, then the wife betrays his basic human trust by murdering him. Other themes are identity, especially shown in the way the wife has internalized the identity of a 'normal', middle class wife. 13. How does Dahl use irony to bring back humor to the plot? The story starts tame, gets serious, and then lightens up in the end. When Mary kills her husband and coldly goes about the business of covering it up, there is an eerie and off-putting feel to the story. However, the ironic scene of the policemen eating her prepared leg of lamb dinner - in other words, eating the murder weapon - and commenting that the answer must be "right under their noses" allows readers a light-hearted ending to what could be a troubling story. 14. What ideas are being symbolized and what is the theme of the story, Lamb to the Slaughter? There are various themes to the story "lamb to the slaughter" but the one that i think is the most prevalent is the theme of Betrayal. Patrick betrays his wife, his marriage vows, and himself by choosing to leave his wife. Mary betrays her marriage vows and certainly her husband and common rule of law by killing her husband. I think the lamb that she kills him with symbolizes herself. She is a meek thing, fetching her husband whatever he wants, until he decides he is leaving her, suddenly she is overcome and kills him with the lamb, in the process killing her old meek self as well Betrayal is the ultimate theme of the story: Patrick Maloney‟s inexplicable decision to leave his pregnant wife is a violation of the marriage-vows; however, it is not the only betrayal. Obviously “Mary‟s killing of her husband is perhaps the ultimate betrayal.” She continues to perpetrate the ultimate betrayal as she weaves a more and more elaborate web of lies and deceit to develop an airtight alibi of convincing lies. There are several other themes within the story that help to make it a superior work of fiction: Identity, Love and Passion, Passivity, and Justice and Injustice The theme that it is the most important and relevant to the whole story is the theme "Betrayal", which the story tells of only one betrayal, which is the protagonist's husband, Patrick Maloney, who abruptly tells his pregnant wife that he is leaving, although he will still provide her with financial support. This unexplained marriage decision, which is underlying the importance of marriage vows. But there is still got more betrayals after that which is caused by her. Her richly thought of accomplice and convincing lies and fabrications to the detectives also constitute the theme of betrayal. The protagonist is being symbolized as the lamb in the story (same name in the title- "Lamb to the Slaughter"), a weak and vulnerable lamb, always following her master's (husband's) order and commands until one day, he starts getting overboard and she could not take it anymore and killed him as a result. Her vulnerability had been exposed and to
SRHSS/For reference only Page 5 of 6

Roshan.P

hide all that feelings and emotions, she had killed her usual self and changed to another character, with a whole new perspective. 15. What is the climax in the story, “Lamb to the Slaughter"? The plot of a story is made up of the exposition, rising action, falling action, and resolution. The climax is a key part to the plot because it indicates the highest point of action in the story including the highest point of emotional response from the characters. In Lamb to Slaughter the climax is upon the reader almost right at the beginning of the story when Mary Maloney the six months pregnant wife of Patrick the policeman murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb. She had just been told that he is leaving her, he no longer loves her. She is in such shock over what he has just told her that she does not respond to what he says; instead she asks what he would like for dinner. He tries to tell her again to listen, but she descends the stairs to the freezer and retrieves the leg of lamb. When she ascends the stairs he tells her not to bother, he is going out. While his back is turned she smashes his head in with the frozen meat, still in shock. After she sees what she has done her height of emotional response comes over her and she begins to panic. This is the highest point of action in the story, the conflict is at its height and Mary's emotions are at their height. Everything that happens after the murder are the falling action and resolution to the conflict that Mary has murdered her husband that was going to leave her while she was six months pregnant. 16. What literary device is presented by the outcome of this story? Why is this story an example of this literary device? Black humor is the literary device used in Lamb to the Slaughter. Black humor is the use of the grotesque, morbid, or absurd for darkly comic purposes. The ultimate example of black humor in "Lamb to the Slaughter" is at the end of the story when the policemen and detectives are sitting around the Maloney kitchen table, speculating about the murder weapon while they unwittingly devour it. Study questions:  What kind of wife was Mary Maloney? What examples are there to support your answer?  Sketch the character of the protagonist?  Describe Mary‟ behaviour before and after the murder.  What did Mary do with the frozen leg of the lamb? Was it done with purpose?  Is Mary Maloney a victim and at the same time a villain?  Briefly describe the setting of the story?  Do you think „that evening‟ would be unusual in the life of the Maloney‟s?  Describe the main characters?  Comment on the technical device used by the author?  Discuss the various themes of the short story?

SRHSS/For reference only

Page 6 of 6

Roshan.P

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful