What is the setting of "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

The setting of "Lamb to the Slaughter" takes place primarily inside the Maloney home and likely during the early 1950s, as the story was published in 1953. Using a setting that is more or less unspecified creates a sense of familiarity for the reader, drawing them closer to the characters and implying that the story's events could take place just about anywhere.

Expert Answers

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

In a literal, physical sense, the bulk of the action in "Lamb to the Slaughter " takes place in the Maloney house. When we first meet Mary Maloney, she's waiting at home for her husband to return from work. When he does, he gives her difficult news, and she...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In a literal, physical sense, the bulk of the action in "Lamb to the Slaughter" takes place in the Maloney house. When we first meet Mary Maloney, she's waiting at home for her husband to return from work. When he does, he gives her difficult news, and she goes out to the grocer. This errand is small, but important: Mary Maloney is establishing an alibi by leaving the premises, and her interaction with Sam the grocer is crucial to her story's believability.

There is no exact location or time frame given, but we can infer from the story's publication date—1953—and the presence of an in-home freezer, uncommon until the 1940s, that it probably takes place around the year of its publication. Since this story follows what the Western world would once have considered "traditional" gender roles, and the author himself lived and worked in the United Kingdom, we can also guess—but not guarantee—that the setting might be the UK.

In another sense, the setting can be understood to be the figurative "home" of an unremarkable middle-class married couple. There's emphasis early on of the ordinariness of the day, the familiarity of the routine. This is a day like any other day, inside the perfectly average home of a perfectly average couple, which makes the ultimate turn of events all the more surprising.

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

Roald Dahl’s story is set in an unremarkable middle-class 1950s apartment in an unnamed city. The action takes place in the living room and the kitchen. Although Dahl does not go overboard with descriptions, specific features in each room are important in the story. The plot revolves around the disruption of domesticity to which the protagonist, Mary Maloney, tries to cling in the face of serious upset: her husband wants a divorce. This turn of events is particularly appalling because Mary is six months pregnant.

The domestic scene is emphasized by the details the author provides. ‘‘The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn.’’ It is a well-appointed, if not luxurious, room. The author mentions such things as two matching chairs, along with the type of lamp on the table. Mary has carefully set out the glasses and whisky for the drink she will make her husband, as she always does when he gets home from work. When Patrick gets home, despite his nervous behavior, she continues to behave as on any other day.

The next parts use the setting along with Mary’s actions to highlight the irony of the situation and to suggest things may not turn out well. When Patrick informs he is leaving but insists there should not “be any fuss,” the reader would expect a severe reaction from Mary. Instead, she calmly continues to begin preparing dinner: she enters the kitchen and removes a leg of lamb from the freezer.

After the murder, Mary’s short excursion out of the apartment to the grocery store heightens the domestic aura; while there, Mary chats briefly with the grocer about the supper she will cook. The store setting is generic with no outstanding details.

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

Let me begin by giving a little background info regarding this story in general.  The story is written by Roald Dahl.  He first published it in 1953 as a response to a challenge from Ian Fleming (the author of the James Bond books).   Jennet Conant's book, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, explains the specifics of the challenge.  Freezers had been around for decades, and by the 1950's they were quite common to have in homes.  Over dinner one night, Dahl supposedly asked Fleming what would be the best weapon that someone might have in their freezer.  Fleming's response was to suggest that Dahl write a story in which the main character commits a murder with a mutton leg. 

I can't give you a specific country, state, or city for the setting of this story, but based on the publication date and rumored inspiration of this story, I believe that it is set in the mid 1950's.  It was common for men to go to work and women to stay at home at that time in history, so the fact that Mary is dutifully waiting for her husband to get home fits the time period.  The specific place setting, while not specific to a city, is specific to the Maloney household.  The majority of the story takes place in Mary's home.  She makes a brief trip to the local grocer in order to establish her alibi, but the rest of the story takes place in various rooms of Mary's house. 

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

This question has been asked and answered. Please see the links below, and thank you for using eNotes!

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

The setting for this story is primarily in a normal middle-class home that is described as very warm and cozy. The murder takes place in the sitting room where the couple meets so that Mary can it with Patrick while he winds down for the evening with a drink.

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

"Lamb to the Slaughter" is primarily set inside the home of the Maloneys. As the story opens, Mary Maloney is occupying herself while anxiously awaiting her husband's arrival. Her actions indicate that this is a typical day for her; she knows the routine well and seems to perform rather cyclical actions after Patrick arrives. The name of their town isn't mentioned, and that anonymity lends itself to the ordinary feel of this suburban, middle-class couple. They exist together in a life that is as typical as most married couples; he works as a police officer while she works to care for her husband. This feeling of being ordinary and typical makes Mary's reaction to her husband's news even more shocking to readers.

The story was written in 1953, and there are several details that place the action around this same time period. You might note, for example, that Mary Maloney has a freezer for her leg of lamb, and this wasn't common in households until sometime in the 1940s. In this context, Mary Maloney's role as a wife is one of the only opportunities available to her, and she is determined to serve her husband well—until he completely dismisses those efforts.

The setting plays a crucial role in developing several themes of the short story, establishing the conflict between Mary Maloney and Patrick which will end with one fatal blow.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on