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 does Mary Maloney feel about her marriage at the beginning of the story "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Mary Maloney is blissfully happy in her marriage at the beginning of the story. However, she is unrealistic in her attitude to her husband, regarding him as a godlike being and arranging every aspect of her life around him.

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At the beginning of "Lamb to the Slaughter," Mary Maloney is described as luxuriating in the presence of her husband, like a sunbather worshipping the sun. His homecoming is a blissful time of day, and everything in her life is directed towards it and towards him.

The scene is tranquil as Mary waits for Patrick, and Dahl specifies that she is not anxious. However, there is something subtly uncomfortable about the situation, even at the very beginning. Mary's feelings for her husband are too intense. Her marriage is too central to her life, excluding anything else. Although Mary is pregnant, she is always jumping up to fetch things for her husband, first a drink and then, almost incredibly, his slippers. She does not seem greatly concerned for the baby and views it principally as an extension of her husband.

The author's comparison with the relationship between sun and sunbather is telling. Mary does not love her husband as a man: she worships him as a god. She also seems not to notice how he feels about her. All her focus on him is obsession and adoration, without much attempt at understanding. If she had looked at him in a more critical and realistic manner, she might not be so shell-shocked by his decision to leave.

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At the beginning of the story, Mary Maloney seems to be very happy and comfortable in her marriage. Dahl describes an idyllic, cozy domestic scene, and Mary is described as "curiously peaceful." Mary, Dahl writes, is also "satisfied to sit quietly, enjoying [her husband's] company after the long hours alone in the house."

Although ostensibly happy in her marriage, there are indications that perhaps Mary is not as happy as she seems. For example, the word "curiously" (when she is described as "curiously happy") implies that she is not used to this state of happiness. We are also told, shortly after, that Mary is in "her sixth month expecting a child," suggesting that perhaps the child is the source of her happiness, rather than her husband. Also, the quotation describing Mary as "satisfied to sit quietly" in her husband's company is undermined somewhat by the next part of the sentence—"after the long hours alone in the house." This second part of the sentence implies that Mary is lonely, and it also implies that Mary is dependent on her husband. She is perhaps only happy when he is at home with her because his company is an antidote to her loneliness.

It is also worth noting that when Mary's husband arrives home, there is no affection between them. There is no kiss, for example, and he speaks to her in a rather cold, perfunctory manner. She does call him "darling," but he doesn't respond in kind. When thinking about how happy, or otherwise, Mary Maloney might be in her marriage, it's worthwhile thinking about how happy anyone could be in a relationship without any affection, where one partner spends many "long hours" in loneliness. It's difficult to imagine that anyone, in these circumstances, could really be as content, or as happy, as Mary Maloney appears to be.

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At the beginning of the story "Lamb to the Slaughter," Mary Maloney is perfectly happy in her marriage. She is pregnant, and she is in love. She has every reason to believe that her husband is as in love with her as she is with him. That's why she's so startled when he asks for a divorce that she whacks him in the head with the leg of lamb she's holding. The other police officers, her husband's colleagues, who respond when Mary finally reports her husband's surprising death, also show the reader how devoted Mary was to her husband. They consider Mary completely above suspicion because of their familiarity with her and her husband. This is a good thing for Mary, too. Her love for her husband, at least before he asked for a divorce, is probably what lets her get away with his murder!

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When the reader first meets Mary Maloney, she is sitting in a state of peacefulness in her living room, sewing and waiting for her husband to come home from work. She is very calm and happy; not anxious for Patrick to return, but satisfied at the knowledge that he will. And as soon as he arrives, she stands to kiss him hello. Mary is clearly very much in love with her husband, and they seem to have a happy, comfortable life together. As the couple have a drink together in the living room, Mary reflects on how wonderful it is to have Patrick home at the end of the day—“She loved the warmth that came out of him when they were alone together,” Dahl writes. “She loved the shape of his mouth, and especially liked the way he didn’t complain about being tired.”

Mary adores her husband, it’s plain to see—small details like these of their life together comfort her, and she takes pleasure in knowing Patrick’s habits and being able to both attend and adapt to them. She makes the drinks as soon as he arrives home; she keeps quiet until he has finished his first drink; she knows how tired he is after a long day and does her best to make him happy. The couple usually goes out to eat every Thursday night; they have clearly been together long enough to have established a routine (plus Mary is six months pregnant). They know each other well and are comfortable in each other’s presence.

Of course, all these details simply add to the shock and horror of Patrick’s confession this Thursday night, and to the impulsive, violent events that follow.

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