In "Lamb to the Slaughter," what sort of household do we imagine the Maloney home to be?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fact that Patrick Maloney is a policeman suggests that they have a  modest house in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. The story was written in the early f950s. There had not yet been an exodus of whites to the suburbs, so the Maloney house is located in a big city, most likely New York, judging from the fact that most of the cops seem to be Irish. It might be in Brooklyn or the Bronx. Mary  shops at a small neighborhood grocery store rather than a supermarket, and the proprietor takes time to have long, friendly conversation. The policemen are all city cops, not suburban ones driving around in patrol cars covering large areas. In fact, Patrick Maloney would appear to be an old-fashioned beat-cop who patrols on foot.

"I think it's a shame," she said, "that when a policeman gets as senior as you, they keep him walking about on his feet all day long."

This home has a basement, an indication that it is an older house in a city rather than a suburb. The so-called California ranch houses, which have no basements, had not yet begun to sprawl across America. One interesting fact is that they have a whole freezer full of meat. There was a period when Americans were buying big freezers which could hold as much as two hundred pounds of frozen meat. The incentive for doing this was that they could buy assortments at wholesale prices if they bought in quantities. The idea of keeping frozen foods on hand was one of the innovations being offered to the American consumer after World War II, along with a magical device known as television.

Television flourished, but the big "deep freezers" have lost their popularity. There were multiple reasons for this. One was that a long-term power outage could be catastrophic. All the meat would be spoiled and would have to be thrown out. Another reason was that electric power became more expensive, so the cost of running a big freezer full-time was detracting from the saving in buying meat and poultry wholesale. Meat and poultry were also becoming more and more expensive, so the financial risk of a power shortage became increasingly greater. Furthermore, supermarkets were rapidly replacing the little neighborhood mom-and-pop grocery stores and butcher shops. The supermarkets offered lower prices, wider selections, and greater convenience.

Mary Maloney would not have had a frozen leg of lamb if the story had taken place some decades later. Nowadays most householders have freezer compartments in their refrigerators, but these are not large enough to store large quantities of frozen roasts, turkeys, steaks, and chickens, along with frozen vegetables and TV dinners. It is also questionable whether meat that has been kept frozen for a long period of time tastes as good as fresh meat.

Apparently the Maloneys do not yet own a television set. Otherwise, Mary would almost certainly be watching a news show when her husband came home. It seems a little odd that Mary is pregnant for the first time in her life when her husband, as she says, has been a policeman for a long time. They are not a young couple. They appear to live a simple life. He usually takes her out for dinner on Thursdays, as she tells Sam the grocer. Otherwise, judging from the opening paragraphs of the story, they  sit quietly in the living room. She sews. He is tired from his patrolling, and she is content just to be with him. He does not explain why he wants a divorce, but it seems likely that he is bored with her and with their humdrum lifestyle.