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First, Dahl holds the reader's attention through the opening setting. Billy is in an unfamiliar town; it is dark, and he needs shelter from the "deadly cold" of the air and the wind that is "like a flat blade of ice on his cheeks" (Paragraph 1). The setting puts Billy in the position to choose the quickest form of shelter available.
Secondly, Dahl paints a cheerful picture at the Bed and Breakfast but then begins building suspense as Billy Weaver cannot seem to walk away and rings the bell without thinking. Adding to the Bed and Breakfast's seemingly charming and warm ambiance are the numerous animals and the welcoming landlady. The suspense begins, though, with the landlady's comment that Billy's room is "already ready" for him as he enters the house. As she leads Billy upstairs, she mentions that she is always read for someone who is "just right" causing the reader to wonder "just right for what?"
Dahl also uses foreshadowing to hook his reader's interest. As Billy looks over the guestbook, he sees only two names--names that seem strangely familiar to him. When he mentions this to the landlady, she says that the boys were not famous but that they were "tall and young and handsome" just like Billy. The reader wonders at this point why she boards men who are all similar, why she has had only three guests (including Billy) sign the guest book, and why Billy knows the names. Another example of foreshadowing is the landlady's manner of watching Billy's reaction to the tea and the strange odor emanating from her. Additionally, she mentions that the two guests are still at her house, but then refers to them in the past tense: "Mr. Mulholland was also seventeen. . . . Mr. Temple, of course, was a little older."
Unfortunately, while these examples of foreshadowing alert the reader to Billy's danger, he does not pick up on them and most likely meets the same fate as the landlady's parrot, dog, and two other guests. My, what a talented taxidermist!
Theme, tone, and purpose of the short story The Landlady by Roald Dahl.
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