illustrated tablesetting with a plate containing a large lamb-leg roast resting on a puddle of blood

Lamb to the Slaughter

by Roald Dahl

Start Free Trial

In the story titled "Lamb to the Slaughter," what new ideas or insights does a reader learn from this story?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the things a reader might learn from "Lamb to the Slaughter" is that love can turn to hate. Unfortunately, this often happens to married people, but, fortunately, it doesn't happen as quickly as it does with Mary Maloney. A marital relationship is a sensitive one. We are told that something like fifty percent of marriages in America end in divorce. And yet most of these couples must have loved each other when they said their vows. I don't think the reader is entirely surprised when Mary Maloney suddenly bashes her husband over the head with a frozen leg of lamb. Maybe she loved him too much. Maybe she expected too much of him. Maybe she thought he loved her as much as she loved him and then came to realize that he really didn't love her at all. This would be a crushing realization and could lead to the sudden impulse to kill.

Another thing a reader might learn from "Lamb to the Slaughter" is that, as the old saying has it, "Still waters run deep." This is the same as saying that people who appear to be meek and mild may be like dormant volcanoes and may be capable of suddenly erupting without warning. That seems to be a good description of Mary Maloney. When she becomes a different person after her eruption, it may be that her new character traits were always there but needed that eruption in order to set themselves free. She exhibits cunning, foresight, duplicity, and a secret sense of humor.

The most impressive thing about Roald Dahl's story is the dramatic change in Mary Maloney's character. Patrick Maloney seems to have been doing her a favor in telling her he is leaving her. She becomes multifaceted and much more interesting after her impulsive act. She seems to become liberated. The reader must sense that Mary will be a different person for the rest of her life.

Mary Maloney might be compared with Mrs. Foster in Roald Dahl's story "The Way Up to Heaven." Mrs. Foster experiences a similar character change when she is responsible for the death of her husband.



Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that your question is asking about what a reader can learn from the story that may apply to real life and situations outside of the story.  

For me, one of the ideas that this story reinforces is to never doubt what a person is willing to do and capable of doing to protect their child.  I do not believe that Mary intended to kill Patrick.  I do not think that she was thinking clearly.  I do believe that she wanted to hurt him, but her blow ended up killing him.  From that point forward though, her mind is clear and her actions are intentional.  Additionally, her main motivation is to do whatever it takes to protect her unborn child.  

It was extraordinary, now, how clear her mind became all of a sudden. She began thinking very fast. As the wife of a detective, she knew what the punishment would be. It made no difference to her. In fact, it would be a relief. On the other hand, what about the baby? What were the laws about murderers with unborn children? Did they kill them both -- mother and child? Did they wait until the baby was born? What did they do? Mary Maloney didn't know and she wasn't prepared to take a chance.

The above quote shows that she is perfectly willing to take the punishment for her actions, but she is not willing to risk her child.  Instead she is willing to risk so much more in order to cover up her actions.  


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team