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 Roald Dahl use metaphor in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

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A metaphor is a comparison. This is a story leans heavily on descriptive details instead of metaphor, using imagery—description using the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell—to paint a picture of the scene going on, especially at the beginning of the tale when Mr. Malone arrives home from work.

The frozen lamb chop, an important item in the story, is described using a metaphor likening it to a "steel club." This murder weapon, unknown to the police, is also compared to a "sledgehammer." In the latter case, the police use a simile, a comparison employing the words "like" or "as," saying it was "like" a "sledgehammer" smashed Mr. Malone's skull. A simile is a subset of the larger category of metaphor.

Mary compares her husband, before his death, to the sun, warming her with the glow of his presence. This is an important metaphor as it provides a contrast to the ice-cold lamb chop she whacks him after he tells her he is leaving her. The frozen lamb chop functions in a larger sense, therefore, as a metaphor for how utterly chilled and hard she becomes once her husband withdraws his love. The title "lamb to the slaughter" is also a metaphor, comparing Mary, an innocent, to a sacrificial lamb her husband is about to destroy to promote his own interests.

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In this story full of ironies, Mary Maloney is introduced as a woman deeply in love with her policeman husband. She waits patiently for him to return home, fully expecting to metaphorically

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.

Patrick is the metaphorical sun around which Mary revolves before he tells her that their marriage is over.

The other metaphor in the story is the title, and it is a bit ambiguous. It could be interpreted that Patrick, while not innocent in his thought or actions—since, after all, he is planning to leave his adoring, pregnant wife—is innocent in the sense that he has no idea that Mary is upset enough to deliver a fatal blow while his back is literally turned. In this way he could be considered a lamb to the slaughter. Another way of interpreting the title is that Mary is an innocent, completely unaware of Patrick's true feelings about their marriage. Mary, the "lamb," turns to slaughter when she is confronted with an unacceptable truth: Patrick intends to leave her and their unborn child.

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In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Dahl uses metaphors in a number of ways. First, the title itself is a metaphor. On one hand, it relates to Patrick Maloney, who becomes a lamb to the slaughter when he is killed by his wife. On the other hand, it can also relate to Mary herself, who is figuratively slaughtered when her husband ends their marriage. Either way, the metaphor alludes to the story's action and is used to foreshadow some of the key events.

Secondly, Dahl uses a metaphor to emphasize Mary's love and devotion toward her husband. Dahl compares Mary's adoration for Patrick to the warm glow felt by a sunbather:

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.

By doing this, Dahl makes it very clear that Mary is deeply in love and utterly devoted to Patrick. This makes her murder of Patrick all the more shocking to the reader.

Finally, Dahl also uses a metaphor when he compares the leg of lamb to a "steel bar." He does this to emphasize the force of the blow to Patrick's head and to make sure that the reader understands the severity of this action.

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Roald Dahl uses metaphor to better describe Mary Maloney in his short story "Lamb to the Slaughter." 

A metaphor makes a comparison between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristics. Working with that definition, a simile is a type of metaphor, because it also makes a comparison in the same manner.  A simile simply uses "like" or "as" to make the comparison.  

The following is a simile from "Lamb to the Slaughter." 

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.

Patrick's very presence is equivalent to the life giving solar energy of the sun for Mary.  She practically bathes in his glow.  

As for a standard metaphor, the title hints at the extended metaphor of the story.  Mary is meek and mild like a lamb.  When Patrick delivers his awful news, Mary is devastated.  In a way, she and her life have been completely slaughtered by Patrick's betrayal.  Then Mary, the lamb, brings an actual leg of lamb to a new slaughter.  Patrick's slaughter.  The lamb has now become the slaughterer.  

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