Lamb To the Slaughter – Critical Evaluation “Lamb to the Slaughter” is a cleverly written short story by Roald Dahl. In this short story the reader is manipulated into feeling sympathy for the murderer by the author’s use of literacy techniques, such as setting and word choice. Dahl tells us of a story of a seemingly happily married couple called the Maloneys. The writer goes onto notify the reader of the main character, Mary Maloney, he describes her as a gently, warm, caring and loving person towards her husband, Patrick.
When Patrick returns from work he informs her he is leaving her. Despite this, she attempts to go about her everyday chores, but when retrieving a leg of lamb for supper, she calmly kills him with a blow to the head from the leg of lamb. Thinking quickly, she goes to the local store to purchase vegetables in order to create an alibi for herself, and when she returns home, she calls the police. They come quickly, and they begin the search for the murder weapon, unaware that it is cooking right in front of them. Mary offers the officers the cooked lamb.
As they discuss the location of the weapon Mary begins to giggle. In this story the murderer seems to face no consequences for her actions, Dahl does this to control the reader to create sympathy for Mary. We see Mary killing her husband without any thought, decision or delay. The author informs us she ‘simply walked up behind him’ and as she swung the murder weapon, the piece of lamb, at her husband ‘without any pause’. But by drawing readers into Mary psyche, Dahl demands that readers ask themselves some difficult moral questions.
Seen as a crime of passion, an emotionally distraught woman’s single impulsive act that ends in tragedy, Mary’s crime does not seem to require punishment other than her own lifelong remorse and knowledge that she has caused her child to be fatherless. But a woman with passion and jealous rage could not have behaved with forethought and self-control that Mary displays in the hours after the murder. Her orchestration of the investigation goes far beyond the knowledge she would have gained as “the detective’s wife. ” She appears to be a woman who killed her husband because he was no longer willing to submit to her control.
Readers begin to feel sympathy for Mary as soon as they realise Patrick has abrogated their marriage. This sympathy as the reader is manipulated into thinking Mary carried out the murder because she loved her husband. Her behaviour after the murder is made out by Dahl to be done out of shock and distress, this continues the reader to feel sympathy. Dahl cleverly uses word choice to force the reader to feel sympathy as hey read the first paragraph. In the narrative points clearly to the contradictions in the personality of Mary who wavers between her desires of freedom and obedience. The room was warm and clean, the curtain drawn, the two table lambs 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. ” If the reader examines this paragraph, they will notice that adjectives like “warm” and “clean” indicate desire for normal domestic pattern. While “the curtain drawn”, though may maintain the same atmosphere of domesticity, can be seen as a sinister foreshadowing of hidden subconscious desires that are yet to surface in the form of murderous action.
In “The two table lamps alight – hers and the one by the empty chair opposite”: the two lamps point to herself and her husband. The opposition between herself and her husband, as the word “opposite” indicates, whether occurs in the text innocently or not, brings to mind contradiction and extremes and foreshadows the impending change. And finally the “Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket” point to coldness and heat: ice is cold, thermos brings heat to the mind. The first paragraph is based on a series of oppositions – dark and light, full and empty, warm and cold – that embody the contradictions in the character of Mary Maloney.
These contradictions create sympathy for Mary as she appears as venerable. Mary Maloney emerges at the end as a feminist metamorphosed from a domestic wife. In this excellent short story, “Lamb to the slaughter” by Roald Dahl, the reader is manipulated into feeling sympathy for Mary by various techniques. Setting is used as a forewarning to what is going to happen, as Patrick ends their marriage. However, word choice place a vital part in the narrative as it gives us an idea of the difficulties Mary faces and helps the reader experience sympathy for her.