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In Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter," a great deal of what the reader learns about Patrick Maloney comes from the reactions of Mrs. Mary Maloney.
We learn that Patrick is a man of steady habits; he seems satisfied that his wife take care of him in that it appears the ritual they follow has been established over time:
She knew he didn't want to speak much until the first drink was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house.
As she sits, Mary is aware of Patrick's need for solitude upon returning home from work.
At first it would seem Patrick is a good husband. Mary "luxuriates" in his presence. Being with him makes her feel "blissful."
When Patrick expresses no desire to go out, have his slippers or have his wife provide anything to eat, he simply answers, "No." His responses must be out of character. When Mary asks him questions, she waits for a usual response:
Her eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nod, but he made no sign.
We might infer that he is a gentle husband. He does not raise his voice. When he delivers his news, he appears ill at ease, as if he does not want to hurt her more than what cannot be avoided:
"This is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I'm afraid," he said. "But I've thought about it a good deal and I've decided the only thing to do is tell you right away. I hope you won't blame me too much."
However, at the same time, Patrick's hesitancy in telling his wife that he is leaving could be the result of selfishness—a desire to avoid feeling bad about himself.
Patrick insists that after he has left he will give her money and see that she is taken care of. This might seem kind behavior until one considers that he is leaving his wife who is six months pregnant.
Perhaps Mary's husband could have waited until a better time to break the bad news: the reader never knows why he is leaving. However, his final comment of the conversation leaves one feeling that his priorities are not where they should be:
But there needn't really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn't be very good for my job.
In light of the fact that Mary is carrying his child and that the upset in their change of circumstances could be unhealthy for her and/or their baby, Patrick seems more concerned about his job and his reputation at work.
Dahl is not known for deep character development. As the eNotes study guide states:
None of the characters is developed to a great degree... [Mary's] husband Patrick is hardly developed at all.
Most of what we gather is information provided by Mary. From what little Patrick says, the reader could assume that he is less a concerned husband and more a self-centered career man.
This flat character is stereotyped as the disgruntled husband who wants out of a marriage gone stale. He comes home 'tired,' but his dissatisfaction evidently stems more from his home life than from his professional one. His mind is made up - he will fulfill his conjugal and parental duty but no more. He doesn't hesitate to take a shot of whiskey to get up the nerve to say what he has to say. Then he does, rather curtly, but expresses some regret: "I hope you will not blame me too much."
Patrick Maloney doesn't live long enough to develop as a character, but we see another side to him through the dialogue with the police officers and Mrs Maloney. He was on a first name basis with his colleagues and was evidently both respected and well-liked. The policemen agree to drop protocol and have dinner at Mrs Maloney's because that's what Patrick 'would have wanted.'
The duplicity of this character reinforces one of the themes of the short story, that of appearance versus reality. As situations, people are not always what they seem to be.
The reader is not particulary empathetic with this character. That's why at the end of the story, one can almost giggle along with Mrs Maloney...
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