Lamb to the Slaughter Questions and Answers
by Roald Dahl

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In Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter"       1. What did Patrick tell Mary? Evidence from text?       2. Why was it a bad time for Patrick to tell this to Mary? I think I might have read a shortened version of it or my teacher purposely cut some parts out. For #2, Where does it say she's pregnant? Text evidence please?

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Roald Dahl describes Mary Maloney in the first paragraph when she is waiting for her husband.

There was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did. The drop of the head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil. Her skin--for this was her sixth month with child--had acquired a wonderful translucent quality, the mouth was soft, and the eyes, with their new placid look, seemed larger, darker than before.

Why does Roald Dahl specify she is six months pregnant? This is an intricately plotted story in which every detail has a purpose. At six months she would be visibly pregnant but not physically handicapped. She would be able to act quickly and accurately when she swung the leg of lamb. Her pregnancy would gain her sympathy from all the policemen. It would also add to the picture of a happily married couple and detract from any possible suspicion that Mary could have killed her husband. If she hated him she wouldn't be having his child. She was dependent on him for financial support and would be more so with a baby.

What Patrick Maloney tells his wife is not revealed in the story. The reader is expected to deduce from the fact that he is drinking unusually heavily that  it is hard for him to tell his wife what is on his mind. This suggests, for one thing, that Patrick hasn't talked to anyone else about it. He is a strong, silent type. It is better for Mary if no one else knows Patrick wanted to leave her. Even the reader is only given suggestions of what he says to her.

"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." And he told her.

"So there it is," he added. And I know it's kind of a 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. I hope not anyway. It wouldn't be very good for my job."

He knows it is a bad time to be announcing that he wants a divorce. She is six months pregnant and the news is devastating. It is important to the perfect-crime plot that no one should have any cause to suspect that Mary had any grievance against Patrick. From his dialogue the reader can see that he is not a cruel man, although he may be cold and selfish. He is not a heavy drinker, which is shown by the fact that Mary is surprised to see him having two strong highballs  before breaking the bad news. He comes home regularly at five o'clock, so he does not appear to be having an affair with another woman. If the police start asking questions about the marital relationship, they will be told by everyone that Mary is a devoted wife and that Patrick is a conservative homebody who always treats his wife with consideration.

The reader may wonder why Patrick wants to leave his wife. The most probable cause is to be found in Mary's own behavior. She is too needy, too clinging, too possessive. He must feel suffocated with so much affection and attention. Her behavioir brings to mind John Collier's story "The Chaser," in which the old shopkeeper who sells love potions and undetectable poisons warns his young customer:

"She will want to know all you do. . . . All that has happened to you during the day. Every word of it. She will want to know what you are thinking about, why you smile suddenly, why you are looking sad. . . .How carefully she willl look after you!"


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missbc | Student

It says she's pregnant in the second paragraph of the story: "her skin - for this was her sixth month with child - had acquired a wonderful translucent quality, ...

1. Patrick tells Mary that 

"And he told her. It didn't take long, four or five minutes at most, and she sat very still through it all, watching him with a kind of dazed horror as he went further and further away from her with each word.

'So there it is,' he added. 'And I know it's kind of a 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. I hope not anyway. It wouldn't be very good for my job.' 

The story doens't really tell you what he tells her; but it's clear that he's leaving her, but will take care of her and make sure she's looked after. It's a very bad time to tell her this because she's six months pregnant, so she's probably in need of a good husband.

It's set in their house, Mary leaves the house for a while after having killed Patrick and putting the lamb into the oven to get groceries (and thus an alibi).