Explain the irony of the title behind the story "Lamb to the Slaughter."

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teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The irony in the title of Roald Dahl's story "Lamb to the Slaughter" has to do with the tension between the literal and figurative meanings of the phrase in the title.  At the beginning of the story, the main character Mary Maloney is trying to put together dinner for her husband Patrick.  She tells him that she has taken out a leg of lamb for dinner, but he does not really care.  Shortly after, Patrick tells Mary that he is leaving her.  By this point it is obvious that there have been problems in the marriage, and Mary clubs Patrick over the head with the leg of lamb--so she literally "slaughters" him with the lamb.  However, figuratively, the phrase alludes to the loss of innocence that occurs when people reach certain stages of life.  The lamb has been used throughout literary history to represent innocence and the slaughter to represent the moment when that is lost.  Mary suggests that her husband has not been the best partner for her, so it is also ironic that he decides to leave her.  Mary loses her innocence when she takes his life and has to then try to cover up her crime and atone for her actions.

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of Roald Dahl's story is ironic in a couple of ways. Lambs are symbolic of innocence, and though Mary Maloney's husband is slaughtered (with a leg of lamb, no less), he is far from innocent. He has, assumedly, been planning to desert his pregnant wife and announces his intention with no compassion. Mary can be read as the innocent—so perhaps she is the lamb who has been driven to slaughter, which subverts the usual reading of the titular phrase.

That the leg of lamb becomes the murder weapon is also ironic. Lamb is noted for its tenderness, and what should be the foundation of a comforting meal shared by a loving couple becomes the agent of Patrick's destruction. Compounding the irony is that the police who come to investigate unwittingly consume the physical evidence of their fallen colleague's murder.