What are the instances of black comedy in the story "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl?

One instance of black comedy in the story "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl is the particularly impulsive choice of a murder weapon: a frozen leg of lamb.

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Authors use black humor to help readers deal with a serious or gruesome issue in a lighter way. It allows us to consider subjects which are often taboo while feeling emotions that are somewhat less intense. Certainly the murder of a husband by his pregnant wife is a serious story,...

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Authors use black humor to help readers deal with a serious or gruesome issue in a lighter way. It allows us to consider subjects which are often taboo while feeling emotions that are somewhat less intense. Certainly the murder of a husband by his pregnant wife is a serious story, yet in the end, it's hard not to chuckle along with Mary Maloney for getting away with murder.

The story is straightforward and serious as it opens. Mary awaits her husband's return home from work and serves his every need once he arrives. When he drops the bombshell on Mary that he's leaving her, the mood is tense. When she says that she will get dinner and he cuts her off curtly, things are even more tense.

And then Mary Maloney takes that frozen leg of lamb she had planned to serve him and instinctively smashes her husband's head with it. That's a great example of dark humor. Ultimately, murder is not funny, but the fact that the unprepared dinner he refused killed him is worth a chuckle. Who dies by lamb, of all things?

Her response is also worth another chuckle. Immediately after killing him, Mary thinks,

All right, she told herself. So I've killed him.

Her response is simply so straightforward, without any emotion or panic. This presumed cheating husband who was leaving her is now dead. Mary simply acknowledges it and begins planning her alibi, which is humorous particularly because it stands in such contrast to her earliest descriptions in the story of awaiting her husband's arrival.

The detectives later search Mary's house as they eat the leg of lamb that she has now prepared as part of her alibi. As they eat and converse, one of them notes that the murder weapon used to kill Patrick is "probably right under our noses." This is the line that makes Mary laugh in another room as the story closes, and it is another example of dark humor. Mary calls these men Patrick's friends, and they have no idea that they are consuming the murder weapon itself, destroying all evidence that could link her to the crime. On one hand, it's quite a gruesome image, yet it's hard not to find it a bit humorous as well, because Patrick was a rather despicable character.

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The Cambridge Dictionary defines black comedy as a film/play/etc. that "looks at the funny side of things that we usually consider to be very serious, like death and illness." Dahl's story "Lamb to the Slaughter" works quite well as this kind of comedy, and I'm reminded of that every time I use it in class because students always find the story funny; however, they realize that what they are laughing at shouldn't be funny. Probably the best, specific example of this story incorporating black comedy is the story's ending. Mary laughs to herself after the one officer comments that the murder weapon must be right under their noses. Mary is laughing because she realizes exactly how literal the statement can be taken. Audiences realize this too and chuckle at the naive police officers, but we also hesitate from laughing farther because we realize it is slightly gross to be eating the murder weapon, and we realize that Mary is going to get away with murder/manslaughter.

The story's title is also darkly funny because a lamb is meek and mild. It is usually the animal being slaughtered, but it does the slaughtering in this case. That's symbolic of Mary who first appears to be much more lamb than lion, yet she very effectively becomes the person doing the slaughtering with a slaughtered animal.

What I've always found great about this story is the history behind it. Dahl and Ian Fleming were good friends with each other, and the two men were eating dinner together. The topic of the newly invented freezer came up and Dahl supposedly asked Fleming what frozen freezer item might make a good weapon. Fleming's response was to challenge Dahl to write a story that saw the protagonist commit murder with a mutton leg. The fact that Fleming could suggest such a thing is dark in and of itself, but Dahl's execution of the story makes readers chuckle at the situation because we ultimately hope that Mary gets away with it, and we love her creative disposal of the evidence.

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The main example of black comedy in the story happens when Mrs. Maloney offers the detectives, who are at her house looking for the weapon used to murder Mr. Maloney, the cooked leg of lamb for supper. The detectives eat up the murder weapon without knowing it. It is funny that they talk about the weapon while eating it up. One of the detectives even says that the weapon is “probably right under their noses,” to the amusement of Mrs. Maloney.

Another example of black comedy happens at the beginning of the story. It is funny that Mrs. Maloney, who comes across as a gentle loving wife, should strike her husband dead using the single leg of lamb which is intended for supper. Afterwards, Mrs. Maloney plans her alibi so well that all the detectives are quite fooled.

Also, it is darkly funny how Mrs. Maloney answers the grocer’s question on whether she would like to buy some meat. She says that she has meat, and adds that she has a “nice leg of lamb from the freezer,” knowing very well that she had just, a few moments before, used the same “leg of lamb” to murder her husband. Also, by saying that she “has meat,” she could mean that she has lots of meat, including her dead husband’s body.

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There are several instances of black comedy in Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter." When Mary commits the murder of her husband, for example, her reaction makes light of the violence which has just occurred:

All right, she told herself. So I've killed him.

Next, after committing the murder, Mary tries to make herself appear as normal as possible. She washes her hands, for example, fixes her make-up and practices her smile in the mirror. This scene is humorous because Mary does all of these things while there is a dead body lying next to her.

Finally, Dahl uses black comedy to add humour to the final scene in the story in which the police detectives are discussing the murder weapon. They have no idea that they are, in fact, eating the weapon which killed their colleague, Patrick Maloney. The sense of comedy is further reinforced by the image of Mary laughing in the other room. 

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