In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Mary Maloney is cool and calculating when it comes to murder. Discuss.

In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Mary Maloney is not cool and calculating when it comes to murder. She is, however, cool and calculating when it comes to covering up evidence of her crime and protecting herself and her unborn child.

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I would argue that Mary Maloney was cool and calculating when it came to covering up a murder, but not to murder itself.

Prior to the beginning of the story, Mary has no intention of bludgeoning her husband, Patrick, to death. However, when he tells her that he is leaving her and then adds insult to that injury by telling her that he does not want dinner, she goes into a blind rage and instinctively hits him over the head with the leg of lamb that she had planned to prepare for dinner.

The sound of her husband's dead body falling to the floor brings Mary back to her senses. She realizes that for her own sake, as well as the sake of her unborn child, she needs to think smart. As a result, she becomes very cool and calculating. She goes to the grocery store and plays out a rehearsed scene, then reaches home and pretends to be shocked at the discovery of Patrick's body. She then cooks the leg of lamb as planned and asks the police officers to eat it, which makes a very handy and irreversible way of disposing of the murder weapon.

Mary's ingenious method of concealing her crime is definitely the work of a cool and calculating mind. The actual act of murdering her husband appears to have been an impulse in the heat of the moment more than anything else.

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Mary Maloney feels nothing "except a slight nausea and a desire to vomit" immediately before she kills her husband. A short while before, she was utterly devoted to him. The murder is obviously unpremeditated: a crime of passion. Her attitude to committing murder is, therefore, far from cool and calculating. She sees a weapon and strikes. There is no reason to think that she considers how much trouble the police will have in identifying and discovering such an unlikely murder weapon.

It is only when she reflects on what she has done that Mary comes out of the shock which has enveloped her ever since her husband announced he was leaving her:

It was extraordinary, now, how clear her mind became all of a sudden. She began thinking very fast.

It seems that, always having subordinated herself to her husband, Mary changes fundamentally when she realizes she must lose him. She becomes numb and helpless, then snaps and commits murder. After this, she is cool, calculating, and even amused. Mary is far from cool or calculating when she commits murder, but she rapidly acquires these qualities when it comes to escaping detection.

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After Mary Maloney realizes that she has killed her husband, her reaction is very calm, considering the circumtances.  One might expect her to freak out, to go into hysterics, to weep and sob, to have a panic attack, to pace about, etc.  Instead, she calmly assesses the situation.  Dahl writes of her reaction,

"All right, she told herself.  So I’ve killed him.  It was extraordinary, now, how clear her mind became all of a sudden... What were the laws about murderers with unborn children?...Mary Maloney didn’t know.  And she certainly wasn’t prepared to take a chance."

As she realizes what she has done, she also realizes that her baby might be in danger.  She knew that she needed to cover up the crime to protect the child.  So, being a detective's wife, she realizes that she needs an alibi.  Dahl points out that she is a detective's wife, and that probably aids in her ability to remain calm and to assesss the situation more clearly in terms of what needed to be done.  She goes to the store, concocts a story about Patrick being tired so not wanting to go out.  This establishes an alibit--she was at the store, so couldn't have murdered him.  Also, it leaks information that Patrick is at home, alone--the perfect setup for a murderer to enter.  She even mentions the lamb in the oven, to cover any possible suspicions of it being the weapon.  Then, on the way home, she tries to psych herself out to get in the right mindframe for making the call to the police.  She needs to sound shocked; on the way home she thinks,

"And now, she told herself as she hurried back, all she was doing now, she was returning home to her husband...and if, when she entered the house, she happened to find anything unusual, or tragic, or terrible, then naturally it would be a shock and she’d become frantic with grief and horror. "

This little pep talk works, and as she walks in and sees him on the floor, she actually feels shock.  She has been so calm this entire time, and seeing him there really hits her.  She uses this emotion in the phone call to sound sincerely upset.  After that, it isn't hard--the house is swarming with policemen, asking her questions, and they take the lead.  The last bit of cunning on her part is getting them to eat the evidence; very clever, and it isn't until the cops mention that the weapon is probably "right under our very noses" that she loses it and begins to giggle.  The story ends there, so who knows if she got a grip or lost it completely, but at least through the story, she displays remarkable calm and cleverness.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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