Literary Analysis Of Lamb To The Slaughter By Roald Dahl
“For nothing is more deadly than a woman scorned”, is a saying uttered throughout pop culture today, but this phrase was really brought to life with the story “Lamb to the Slaughter”. After agonizing minutes of silence the main character’s husband, Patrick, finally tells her what’s wrong and why he would not be staying for dinner. Receiving this news puts Patrick’s wife, Mrs. Mary Maloney, into a confused and stunned state. In an out-of-body experience, she laughs and goes and gets a lamb leg to make for dinner. She sees him in the living room and then hits him in the living room and with all the power in her body, strikes him over the head with the frozen lamb leg. This injury causes him to die, because his skull was shattered. This would shock the readers because she is a pregnant, stay-at-home wife. In “Lamb to the Slaughter” written by Roald Dahl, the theme that betrayal can cause people to act irrationally is supported by Dahl’s use of suspense, character conflicts, and contrast and contradictions.
Continuously throughout “Lamb to the Slaughter” the theme is reiterated the literary device suspense. Repeatedly suspense is used to further develop the plot and the mood of the story. Mary Maloney had been waiting all day for her husband to come home from his dangerous and high tension job. He finally comes home after the long and tiresome hours with this metaphorical bubble of tension with him. In the story, Roald Dahl wrote, “She knew he didn’t want to speak much until the first drink was finished, and she was satisfied to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house”. The readers truly see how much she misses him throughout the day, showing how much she cares about him. She has his schedule and his mannerisms memorized. She feels as if she is privileged and rewarded to sit in a room with him because she loves him that much. He makes her have a sense peace and tranquility when he is around and while he is gone, she is put into this state of unease and anxiety. She’s a pregnant wife of a cop, a man whose life is put in danger everyday to benefit the general public.
In addition to the suspense created with the waiting of her husband to get home, he is behaving stressed and seems to be upset, he is making her nervous but she just attributes this to the thought that work was stressful. Dahl goes on to set the scene with, “‘Sit down. ’ She lowered herself into the chair watching him all the time with large puzzled eyes”. It is more than obvious that he has never acted like this before and has never spoken to Mary like this. She not only is nervous but she’s scared. She is stressed because she doesn’t know what’s going to happen. After years of studying her husband and knowing everything about him, inside and out, he suddenly comes home after work with this new attitude and aura to him. She doesn’t understand what is going on and is put in this uncomfortable situation. She can sense that something is wrong with him but she cannot pinpoint what it is exactly. She knows definitively that something is going to happen but she doesn’t know what or when and this makes her panic.
The suspense is not the only thing that Dahl uses to emphasize the theme’s importance. Dahl also uses character conflicts to support the theme, that betrayal can cause people to do illogical or irrational actions, in the story. One of the main sections of the story, and arguably the most important section of the piece, is a character conflict. Patrick Maloney is telling Mary devastating news that he will be leaving her while she is pregnant. He is unhappy in his marriage and has decided to leave after spending a portion of his life with her already. Dahl frames the scene with “‘But I’ve thought about about it a good deal and I’ve decided that the only thing to do is to tell you immediately’ And he told her. It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at most, and she sat still through it all, watching him with puzzled horror”. He is betraying Mary for seemingly no reason other than the idea that he is unhappy. It comes out of nowhere for her but he has been thinking about this for a long time. He did not raise the concern to her when he first thought of it and now is springing the idea of divorce onto his pregnant wife. He is being reckless and carefree with this betrayal. This is unacceptable to Mary. He is not giving her any chance to make it better or to improve the quality of their marriage because he has all of it thought and planned out. He is betraying her love, trust, sanity, and the sanctity of their marriage and promise to each other. The relationship is obviously toxic and should have ended before this came to be. This is proven with the preceding events. Dahl continues with, “At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause, she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head. She might as well have hit him with a steel bar”. His betrayal resulted in his death. But not is it only a death to Patrick Maloney, it is a death to their marriage, and their family. She does not realize that she is also betraying him with this murder. He planned on leaving her, pregnant and alone, and she couldn’t handle being left. Either way, their marriage resulted in the same way. She is now a widow in contrast to being a divorceé. This conflict alone proves the theme that people’s actions become irrational when betrayed.
The story’s plot is also advanced by contrasts and contradictions. This entire story gives the reader a head spin with the amount of contrasts and contradictions used. An adoring wife driven to murder by her detective husband because he was planning of leaving her, is not an usual story written or read. This is what really brings that importance to the theme. He betrays her by planning to leave her. “‘And I know it’s a rough time to be telling you this, but there simply wasn’t any other way”. He is so unbothered by the idea of leaving his pregnant wife high and dry. He is neglecting her love and caring nature. She continues to nurture him and he was thinking of how to leave her and she did not even know. He did not fully think through this idea and it is more than obvious because he’s planning on adding stress to a pregnant woman. She goes on to do something that would shock anyone reading the story. “Then she washed her hands, ran upstairs, sat down in front of the mirror, fixed her makeup, and tried to smile”. After murdering her husband with a lamb leg she rushes up to the restroom and tries to make it seem like is not fine. She tries to fix her makeup and smile as if she did not just endanger her life and her unborn child’s life. This would have sane person concerned, calling the police and/or scared. But she is not scared. She knows what to do and follows through with her actions she just commited. She is ready to protect her life and her child’s life.
The theme, betrayal can cause people to act irrationally, is reiterated and solidified by Dahl’s use of suspense, character conflicts, and contrasts and contradictions. He uses suspense to set the scene and the tension in the air. He uses character conflicts to explain what not only is the utter definition of betrayal but also what the main actions of the story are. He also uses contrasts and contradictions to show how out of the general margin this entire situation is. This essay not only explains the literary device used and how they were used but also how they are connected to the theme that was expertly crafted by Roald Dahl. This story is a well written story which effectively establishes the theme that betrayal can cause people to act irrationally.
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