"Lamb to the Slaughter" is a tale of love, betrayal, and revenge. In this context, discuss how the author brings out those themes of the story.

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of love can be seen in Mary Maloney.  Dahl makes it clear early on in the story that Mary is completely devoted and in love with Patrick.  When the reader is introduced to Mary, she is quietly sitting down and waiting for Patrick to come home.  

Now and again she would glance up at the clock, but without anxiety, merely to please herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come. 

Once Patrick arrives home, Mary becomes the quintessential doting wife.  She anticipates Patrick's every need, and she is made happy simply by being in his presence.  

For her, this was always a blissful time of day. She knew he didn’t want to speak much until the first drink was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house. 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.

It is absolutely clear to readers that Mary is completely and utterly in love with Patrick.  Unfortunately for Mary, Patrick no longer feels the same about her.  He betrays her love, and his news completely blindsides Mary.  The reader never learns exactly what Patrick says to Mary, but it is clear that the marriage is over.  He either wants a divorce or tells her that he is just going to leave her. It doesn't matter though, because the news completely devastates Mary.  

When she walked across the room she couldn’t feel her feet touching the floor. She couldn’t feel anything at all – except a slight nausea and a desire to vomit.

In a way, Mary also betrays Patrick.  He trusts that his meek wife is going to sit back and politely take his bad news.  I assumed the same thing when I read the story for the first time too; however, Mary betrays that trust when she clubs him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb.  

Mary's act of violence against Patrick is evidence toward the theme of revenge, but I think there is better evidence. I don't like only using Patrick's death for the revenge theme.  The reason is because I don't think Mary planned her revenge.  For me, revenge carries the connotation of a planned act.  I personally believe revenge is premeditated.  I don't think Mary planned to kill, or even to hit, Patrick.  Mary is still operating in a daze as she hits and kills Patrick.  Readers know this because the text says that Mary came out of her daze after Patrick crashed to the floor. 

The violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning, helped bring her out of her shock. She came out slowly, feeling cold and surprised, and she stood for a while blinking at the body, still holding the ridiculous piece of meat tight with both hands.

For me, the revenge theme's best evidence is what Mary does after Patrick hits the floor.  From that moment forward, Mary is planning and plotting to get away with her action.  Patrick is a cop, and many of their friends are cops.  The fact that Mary is able to get away with killing a police officer by fooling other officers that are her friends makes Patrick's death sweet revenge.  

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Lamb to the Slaughter

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