How is language used to subvert our expectations in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The language used in the story is deceptively simple.  A man's skull "was smashed all to pieces", yet the reader, like Mary Maloney who actually "(begins) to giggle" at the story's conclusion, ends up rooting for the murderer with macabre delight.  Mary's ingenuity overshadows the moral implications of the fact that she has just killed her husband in cold blood; the author succeeds in completely subverting the reader's expectations by creating a mood of lightness in a situation that is in reality totally dark.  From the very beginning, Dahl describes a mood of domestic tranquility, setting the tone by using descriptive phrases such as "the room was warm and clean", "without anxiety", "slow smiling", "curiously tranquil", "placid look", "blissful time of day".  The murder itself happens quickly, and is described almost routinely - "Mary...simply walked up...and without any pause...brought (the frozen leg of lamb) down as hard as she could on the back of his head".  After a brief moment of panic, Mary begins to plan her alibi, and her actions are described with short, simple sentences corresponding with her almost blithe efforts to "do everything right and natural".  Mary's plan is devilishly simple, and she does what she has to do "brightly", with her "brightest smile", "humming", and "smiling".