Lamb to the Slaughter Questions and Answers
by Roald Dahl

Lamb to the Slaughter book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What kinds of irony can be found in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

Expert Answers info

M.P. Ossa, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer, ESL/TEFL Instructor

bookM.A. from Chapman University


calendarEducator since 2008

write5,705 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Business

Irony can be:

  • Situational: actions result in a different outcome than expected
  • Verbal: sarcasm; when words mean the opposite of what they originally intend to mean
  • Dramatic: actions and events understood by the audience, but not the characters

All three examples of irony are evident in "Lamb to the Slaughter."

The verbal irony is found in the title of the story. The phrase "Lamb to the Slaughter" suggests an innocent creature about to undergo torture and death. Mary Maloney could represent such a creature, and she would have met a similar fate if she had been found guilty of killing her husband.

More verbal and situational irony is represented in the murder weapon and what happens to it, unbeknownst to the people investigating the scene of the crime.

The murder weapon is a frozen leg of lamb. Mary hits her husband with it after mentally "snapping" when he announces to her that he will leave her. The hit kills him instantly. Shortly after, Mary comes up with a way to dispose of the murder weapon: she cooks it. What's more, she feeds it to the policemen who come to investigate the scene.

As the audience, we know what is going on.The characters do not. That would be the dramatic irony. We realize that they are eating the very thing they need to find in order to apprehend the person guilty of killing their fellow policeman, Patrick Maloney. They even comment that the murder weapon could be right "under their noses," which it is.  

Meanwhile, in the other room, Mary Maloney giggles at the situational irony of it all. The lamb, after all, saved her from the slaughter of what could have been a death sentence, or life in jail as a pregnant woman.

 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write13,728 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

Situational irony occurs when something that happens is the opposite of what we would normally expect to happen or find appropriate. Certainly, the major piece of situational irony is found when Mary Maloney, who Dahl goes to great lengths to depict as a loving wife who is devoted to her husband, in a moment of madness, kills him. Consider how she is introduced:

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

Mary Maloney is presented as being so obsessed with her husband that nothing is too much to ensure his comfort and happiness. Then it is a complete shock to us as readers when she kills him with the frozen leg of lamb:

At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.

This action is completely the opposite of what we would expect a character like Mary to be able to do. The second piece of situational irony comes when she manages to very coolly and in a calculating fashion organise an alibi and the removal of the murder weapon. Consider the last...

(The entire section contains 6 answers and 1,080 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Kitty Sharp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write1,509 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

shauger eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2004

write49 answers

starTop subject is Literature

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Hong Thomas eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write254 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Math, and History

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Rebecca Owens eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2005

write163 answers

starTop subject is Literature

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial


sarajackson63 | Student

When Mary went to the grocery store and came back and asked her husband if he was o.k knowing that he was already dead.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
animegamer119 | Student
      • Verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony are used in this story.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial
kimyman | Student

The dramatic irony in the story is when the cops cannot find any weapon and one of the cops says, "Weapon might be right under our nose", because it really is, it's the lamb they are eating.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
spearnicholas | Student

One of the most important examples of irony in 'lamb to the slaughter' is when the detectives are eating the leg of lamb and say, "its probably right under our noses". This is an example of dramatic irony because you know the weapon they're looking for is literaly under their noses.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
bookwormgirl | Student

The irony is in life and in this story is there are many innocent who are led by individuals to harm unknowingly, some continue to be led by the same person, and then by others. It seems lambs or trusting, gullable people make easy targets, over and over again

Patrick Maloney is the very trusting individual that is killed like a lamb, he absolutely trusts his wife Mary and never would think of her as causing him harm. The other ironic thing that happens is the frozen leg of lamb is the murder weapon used to kill Patrick. Then the leg of lamb, the very evidence and murder weapon is eaten by the police.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial