Lamb To The Slaughter Theme

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

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One main theme in this story is betrayal.  You have a housewife who is betrayed by her husband, who says that he is leaving her.  She thinks that everything is okay; she is pregnant, glowing, happy.  She makes meals for him, and doesn't have any reason to suspect that he is unhappy.  Then, he drops the bomb that he is leaving and to try no to make "any wouldn't be very good for my job."  This is an awful betrayal for her.  Ironically, she betrays his friends later, through her covering up of the crime.

There is also a theme of identity, of us not really knowing ourselves very well.  I bet if Mary had asked herself that day "Am I capable of murdering my husband in cold blood, even if he did something awful to me?" the answer would have been a definite no.  But, in the moment, she behaves much differently.  And then, even more surprising is her cool cover-up, her quick thinking, and how she got away with the crime.  Such duplicity was probably as much of a shock to herself as to anyone else.  So don't think you know yourself for sure, until you've been in the situation.

There are other possible themes to this story; I've provided a link below to a more thorough discussion of themes.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Lamb to the Slaughter" is just a humorous perfect-crime story with an unusual twist. Mary Maloney has to have a strong motive for killing her husband, but the best part of the story is how she kills him and how she gets away with it. Mary has to be known as a loving, devoted wife because this shields her from suspicion as the perpetrator. How could such a quiet, patient, domestic woman kill her husband? The investigating cops don't spend any time checking up on her—but they wouldn't have found anything incriminating if they had. The story might be compared (in some respects) to another famous perfect-crime story, "The Cask of Amontillado." Montresor takes such pains to make everybody think that he and Fortunato are very good friends that he can't help referring to him repeatedly as "my friend," "my good friend," "my poor friend," etc., while he is leading him to his death. When the investigation of Fortunato's disappearance gets underway, no one will consider Montresor a possible suspect because he was such a good friend of the missing man. The same applies to Mary Maloney. Spouses are always prime suspects in murder cases—but how could anyone imagine that Mary Maloney would kill the husband she adored?

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary theme of "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl is the unjust expectations and treatment of women by society.

This short story had the unique quality of having a pregnant, happy married woman waiting for her husband in a typical afternoon waiting for his arrival from work.

In typical Roald Dahl style, the outcome is surprising. The man nonchalantly tells his wife that it is over, and that he can help her out monetarily if she wishes to.

These topics could seem natural to a modern reader, but in Roald Dahl's time, it would have been highly controversial to see a man abandon his pregnant wife in such a chauvinistic way.

Yet, there is more at stake when the woman does not only snap, but also serves her murder weapon as a dinner entree to her husband's fellow police officers who are investigating the scene.

Sheer class!

brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Betrayal is the ultimate theme of the story: Patrick Maloney’s inexplicable decision to leave his pregnant wife is a violation of the marriage-vows; however, it  is not the only betrayal. Obviously “Mary’s killing of her husband is perhaps the ultimate betrayal.” She continues to perpetrate the ultimate betrayal as she weaves a more and more elaborate web of lies and deceit to develop an airtight alibi of convincing lies. There are several other themes within the story that help to make it a superior work of fiction:  Identity, Love and Passion, Passivity, and Justice and Injustice.  For more in depth information on the themes of “Lamb to the Slaughter” go the link below.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many themes, but to me, the most important theme is that people do not know what they are capable of until they are put to the test.

At the beginning of the story, would you ever have thought that Mary Maloney would be able to kill her husband and then cold-bloodedly make sure that she had a good alibi?  Would you have thought she would be able to feed the policemen the murder weapon?  Not me.  She seemed so meek and passive.

That is why I think this is the theme of the story.  When put to the test, Mary is able to do something that would have been completely unthinkable, even to her, a moment before.

janeyb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are various themes to the story "lamb to the slaughter" but the one that i think is the most prevelant is the theme of Betrayal. Patrick betrays his wife, his marriage vows, and himself by choosing to leave his wife. Mary betrays her marriage vows and certainly her husband and common rule of law by killing her husband. I think the lamb that she kills him with symbolizes herself. She is a meek thing, fetching her husband whatever he wants, until he decides he is leaving her, suddenly she is overcome and kills him with the lamb, in the process killing her old meek self as well

revolution | Student

The theme that it is the most important and relevant to the whole story is the theme "Betrayal", which the story tells of only one betrayal, which is the protagonist's husband, Patrick Maloney, who abruptly tells his pregnant wife that he is leaving, although he will still provide her with financial support. This unexplained marriage decision, which is underlying the importance of marriage vows. But there is still got more betrayals after that which is caused by her. Her richly thought of accomplice and convincing lies and fabrications to the detectives also constitute the theme of betrayal.

I think the protagonist is being symbolized as the lamb in the story (same name in the title- "Lamb to the Slaughter"), a weak and vulnerable lamb, always following her master's (husband's) order and commands until one day, he starts getting overboard and she could not take it anymore and killed him as a result. Her vulnerability had been exposed and to hide all that feelings and emotions, he had to killed her usual self and changed to another character, with a whole new perspective.


I believe one of the themes of this story is devotion. Patricks devotion to his job and wanting a quiet devorse, not wanting it to get in the way of his work that he is ever devoted to. And Mary's devotion to her husband (until she snaps.) And her devotion to stick to her alibi and not get caught murdering her husband. That is why I believe that one of the most important themes of the story "Lambs to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl is devotion.

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Lamb to the Slaughter

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