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In "Lamb to the Slaughter," why is Mary so happy when her husband comes home?

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nilylily | Student, Grade 9 | eNoter

Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:35 PM via web

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In "Lamb to the Slaughter," why is Mary so happy when her husband comes home?

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:16 PM (Answer #1)

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Mary Maloney is an exceedingly domestic, dependent woman. She stays home all the time. Apparently she rarely sees anybody except her husband, to whom she is slavishly devoted. She is always happy when he comes home, not only because she adores him, but because he is her entire world. She has no one to visit or to visit her. She has no inner resources. She has nothing to think about but Patrick. She doesn’t realize that her excessive love and emotional dependence are precisely what is pushing her husband away.

Roald Dahl does not have to explain why Patrick wants a divorce. Any man would get sick and tired of having to come home to a wife who was smothering him with her attentions. She wants Patrick to feel as much love for her as she feels for him, but this is impossible. From the author’s description of Patrick, the reader can tell that he is tough, strong, silent, undemonstrative, self-contained, introspective. Mary’s love, devotion, interest, and attentiveness are driving him away. At the same time, her adoration will help her commit the perfect crime, because no one would suspect that such an affectionate wife could murder her husband.

For her, this was always a blissful time of day. 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. She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel--almost as a sunbather feels the sun--that warm male glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together. She loved him for the way he sat loosely in a chair, for the way he came in a door, or moved slowly across the room with long strides. She loved the intent, far look in his eyes when they rested on her, the funny shape of the mouth, and especially the way he remained silent about his tiredness, sitting still with himself until the whisky had taken some of it away.

This excerpt is from her perspective. From a more objective perspective, they really have nothing to talk about. Notice the phrase about "the far look in his eyes when they rested on her." She really doesn't understand her husband,  It is significant that Patrick has to have a couple of drinks in order to be able to tolerate his needy, demanding, smothering wife.

Dahl’s story depicts what goes wrong with so many marriages. Two people think they are in love and that all they need to make them happy forever is each other. After the “honeymoon period” is over, both get bored. It’s always the same old same old. They have talked themselves out. If their income is small, they have to spend their free time in their little home. There is too much “togetherness.”

Spouses don’t usually kill each other, but excessive drinking, quarreling, and extramarital affairs are not uncommon—and neither is divorce. Two people who stay happily married and in love for a lifetime are something of an enigma to those who know them. How do they do it? What’s their secret? There are such married couples. Everybody can think of one or two examples—but that’s about all. Most love stories end at the altar.

Mary's violent reaction to her husband's rejection is surprising but understandable. She has been ignoring his coldness and repressing her resentment because she is so dependent on him. But then all her built-up anger comes out in one spontaneous, unpremeditated act with the most convenient weapon, which happens to be a frozen leg of lamb.

 

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