Describe the main characters in "Lamb to the Slaughter".

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Mary Maloney is the main character of the story, a character that Dahl takes pains to establish carefully at the beginning of this masterful short story. Mary is clearly a devoted wife to her husband, Patrick. Dahl takes time to explain her care and love for her husband - her desire for everything to be ready for Patrick's return, her selflesness (in spite of being pregnant) in waiting on him and so on. What this carefully constructed portrait clearly does not prepare us for is the situational irony that comes when Mary kills her husband, her ability to plan the "perfect murder" and likewise her "giggle" at the end of the story, which rather disturbingly suggests a darker side to human nature that is in us all, even the most "perfect" of people.

Patrick Maloney, Mary's husband, is a character who we are made to feel dislike for. He treats his wife with disregard, and his act of leaving Mary, who we know is devoted to him, definitely does not endear him to the reader, thus the reader "sides" with Mary and secretly is pleased that Mary gets away with her crime at the end of the story.

Other minor characters include the policemen who come to Mary's house to investigate the murder and are easily duped into believing Mary's story and (a classic example of dramatic irony) eating the murder weapon, thus ensuring Mary's freedom.

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The two lead characters in the story are Mary and Patrick Maloney, a married couple who are not very high up the social ladder since they are a single income family with Patrick being the breadwinner and Mary a housewife. They probably live in a middle class neighbourhood since, Patrick works for the Metropolitan police, he is entitled to a number of social benefits such as subsidised accommodation, medical benefits and so forth.

The story's primary focus is Mary. Dahl's physical description of her in her pregnant state with the focus on her mouth and her eyes, accentuates how innocent and harmless she appears. It is the type of mouth one would expect to never utter a vindictive or disgusting word, and eyes which convey innocence and trust, like those of a young child: 

Her mouth and her eyes, with their new calm look, seemed larger and darker than before.

There is, however, a slight hint of some malevolence in the description of her eyes as being 'darker than before.' This, up to now, suppressed element of her nature, later shockingly comes to the fore when she murders Patrick, creates an alibi, has the investigators eat the evidence, and then giggles about it.

Mary is clearly a devoted, loving wife, who literally spends more than a fair portion of her day anticipating and preparing for her husband's arrival from work. She obviously dotes on him and has adopted a servile attitude. There is no mention of her having friends or family in the story, so her world naturally revolves around Patrick. He seems to provide meaning to her existence so she most probably is obsessive about him. It is clear that Mary lives quite a mundane life and she has developed an almost monotonous routine in preparing for her husband's daily arrival home. The author makes this quite clear: 

When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen, and a few moments later, punctually as always, she heard the car tires on the stones outside, the car door closing, footsteps passing the window, the key turning in the lock.

For her, this was always a wonderful time of day.

it is pertinently clear that she admired Patrick and had great affection for him and she at pains to ensure that he is satisfied, as Dahl illustrates: 

... she was satisfied to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house. She loved the warmth that came out of him when they were alone together. She loved the shape of his mouth, and she especially liked the way he didn't complain about being tired.

Patrick Maloney's insensitive, abrupt and brusque manner towards Mary's kindness immediately makes him an unlikable character. He is a policeman stationed at the local office and he is clearly not in an affable mood. Mary intimates that he is dissatisfied with his current position when she comments: 

"I think it's a shame, ... that when someone's been a policeman as long as you have, he still has to walk around all day long."

Patrick probably sought some kind of promotion which he hasn't received and he has to remain on the beat - a mind-numbing and frustrating position to be in. He is exhausted at the end of the day, for he has had to walk the same area he patrols. He has most probably become exasperated with this routine and the routine at home that he has gone to seek, and found, some excitement.

When Patrick tells Mary about his decision to leave, one assumes that he might have become involved in an extra-marital affair. Mary, like his job, has become too routine, too dull and he wanted out. His offhanded and uncaring manner informs of a cold and heartless individual. 

"And I know it's a tough time to be telling you this, but there simply wasn't any other way. Of course, I'll give you money and see that you're taken care of. But there really shouldn't be any problem. I hope not, in any case. It wouldn't be very good for my job."

Patrick clearly cares more about his mundane job than he does about his wife and unborn child. This makes the reader feel that he deserves his come-uppance when Mary retaliates (probably in a moment of temporary insanity) and kills him.

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morrol | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The main characters of "Lamb to the Slaughter" are Mary and Patrick Malone. Mary is kind, gentle, and in love with her husband police officer, Patrick. She is six months pregnant when he decides to end their marriage. Mary suffers through stages of shock, anger and rage that leads her to a murderous state.

Patrick uses alcohol to muffle his frustrations. He resents his wife for taking good care of him at home while his job does not seem to be advancing. He is generally discontented, and sees a break with his wife as the change he needs to move forward.

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mlsldy3 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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In Lambs to the Slaughter, Mary Maloney is a pregnant housewife. When we first meet her, she is spending her time waiting patiently for her beloved husband to come home. Our first glance of Mary is one of domestic bliss. She seems completely happy in her life. She is thrilled to be pregnant and thinks her husband, Patrick, is as well. However, as we look deeper at her, Mary is the kind of woman who devotes all of her time and attention to her husband. She smothers him with an attempt to show him just how much she loves him. We can see the beginnings of her snapping when Patrick tells her how he feels.

Patrick Maloney is Mary's husband. He is a police officer in the town. When we first meet Patrick, our first thoughts are to dislike him immediately. Patrick tells Mary that he wants a divorce and that is final. We the readers are left with a bad taste in our mouth for Patrick. How could a man leave his pregnant wife with no emotion at all? We begin to see that the years of Mary devoting all of her time to Patrick has made him feel stifled. He turns to alcohol to try to numb his feelings.

Both of the main characters in Lambs to the Slaughter are flawed. Patrick tries to numb his feelings of unhappiness. Mary completely snaps and goes off the deep end and gets away with it. 

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user624513's profile picture

user624513 | eNotes Newbie

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As everyone said that Mary and Patrick were the only main charchter but from my point of view even the sergent was the main charchter because he was a detective who came to find out the murders of Patrick. He was observant and intelligent as he saw the small patch of blood of congealed blood of the dead man. He was also hesitating to accept to eat at Mary's palace at work he first wanted to find out the murderer but then he did eat as he was very hungry this showed that later on he was so hungry that he didn't care about that he is eating where a murder happened!! 

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