illustrated tablesetting with a plate containing a large lamb-leg roast resting on a puddle of blood

Lamb to the Slaughter

by Roald Dahl

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How do stereotypes and biases affect the behavior and perception of the characters in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

The detectives have a natural bias to believe a man committed the crime, as statistics show that men commit most murders, and they also have an innate perception that pregnant women are not capable of committing such an act. Mary is able to trick them both into believing her story because she fits the stereotype of the traditional male perception of the perfect housewife and mother.

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Who would want to believe that a pregnant woman could carry out a brutal murder by bludgeoning her own husband, the father of her unborn child?  In addition, the police in the story have sympathy for her, as she is a pregnant widow who just lost her provider and husband,...

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so she is not a natural suspect.  In general society carries a stereotype of pregnant women as defenseless and in need of protection, a stereotype that goes back perhaps to the dawn of man.

We also get the idea, though it is mostly unspoken, that the police detectives automatically believe they are looking for a male perpetrator, a bias that does exist in real crime investigations, as the statistics of female murderers are much lower than that of males.

Lastly, the reader is shocked by the murder by Mary, who we also assume to be innocent and the victim from the opening scene.  We assume her husband is leaving her for another woman, though it is never stated specifically.  And lastly, Mary fills the stereotypical traditional role of a wife, taking his coat, keeping the house clean and fixing his dinner.

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How do stereotypes and bias affect the behavior of the characters in this story?

Stereotypes and bias play a huge role in the short story, "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl.  At the start of the story, the main character, Mary Maloney, is presented as the epitome of a stereotypical housewife- she waits patiently in the living room for her husband to come home from work, ready to serve him his drink and cook him dinner.  She appears to have accepted this role.  It is clear from the way that her husband speaks to her that he also sees her in this light, and treats her accordingly.  He sees her as weak and obedient, and expects to be able to walk away from her with out any "fuss" as long as he gives her some money.  

It is because he views her as this stereotype that he is caught unawares when she reacts violently to the news of his betrayal.  He hollers at her to stop making his dinner, completely oblivious to the fact that she is walking up behind him wielding a weapon of frozen meat.  

From that point, Mary uses this bias against her to her advantage.  She knows that everyone in town, including her husband's fellow police officers, views her as a sweet and simple woman, and so she continues to play this part.  She fixes her makeup, puts on a happy smile, and goes to the grocery store feigning a need for potatoes and peas for her beloved husband's dinner. She makes small talk with the grocer to establish an alibi.  She then goes home and calls the police to say that she had just come home to find her husband dead.

Mary continues to play this part while the police are searching her house for evidence.  When the first officer entered her home, "she fell right into Jack Noonan's arms, weeping hysterically."  There is another bias at play here because she knows these men, and immediately reminds them of this by reacting in such a familiar way when they arrive.  She continues to play the victim, weeping while feigning frailty and illness.  One officer, completely convinced by her charade, asks, "if she wouldn't rather go somewhere else, to her sister's house perhaps, or to his own wife who would take care of her and put her up for the night."  Instead of questioning her, they care for her, because it is the way that they have been trained to treat a delicate woman, especially a grieving widow.  It is because of these biases and stereotypes that Mary is able to get away with her crime; it is impossible for these men to imagine this stereotypical housewife committing any sort of violent crime.  

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How do stereotypes and bias affect the characters in the story "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

The story "Lamb to the Slaughter" is about a woman named Mary Maloney who kills her husband in a fit of anger. He has just told her that he has been having an affair and that he plans to leave her, and she reacts instinctively, without thinking, and clubs him to death with an unusual weapon.

If these characters are affected by any type of stereotype or bias, it may lie in the fact that the husband is a police officer. The stereotypical cop may be gruff, may drink too much, may take out the stress of the job on his wife and/or children. His wife is the stereotypical meek, mousy housewife who jumps at his every command. Because of who the Mary and her husband are, when the detectives question her about the murder, they never suspect that she may have killed her husband. She adored her police officer husband. Besides, she is too small and too weak to have killed such a strong man. Also, there doesn't seem to be a murder weapon. The killer must have taken it with him.

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