In what time period does "A Lamb to the Slaughter" likely take place?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There was a time period following World War II when home freezers were being marketed to the American public very effectively. These big free-standing freezers were usually kept in the garages of suburban homes. They were supposedly a good investment because the owners could buy meat wholesale and save enough to pay for the freezers themselves and the electricity needed to run them. The heyday for these freezers was in the 1950s. They are no longer popular with city dwellers or suburban dwellers because it was found that they had certain drawbacks. For one thing, it was questionable whether meat tasted as good after it had been frozen for a long period of time. There is some talk about this question in Roald Dahl's story.

"Oh, I don't much like cooking it frozen, Sam, but I'm taking a chance on it this time. You think it'll be all right?"

"Personally," the grocer said, "I don't believe it makes any difference."

People began to realize that they were not saving so much money if they had to pay to keep a big freezer running for twenty-four hours a day. The cost of electricity kept rising along with everything else. Also, there were occasional energy breakdowns due to storms and other factors. People would find themselves trying to use up a whole freezer full of meat before it spoiled, or else giving it away. Home refrigerators kept getting bigger and bigger, and they were offering more and more built-in freezer space which would be useless if people also had separate home freezers. Of course, the big home freezers took up a lot of room in garages, and there was not much room available if a family own two cars. They were too big to keep in the kitichen, and the typical services porches on suburban houses were just big enough to hold a washer and dryer. There was also a logistical problem of buying a huge quantity of frozen steaks, chops, and roasts and transporting them home to the freezer. 

Cooking a big frozen roast could be a big nuisance because it was thought necessary to thaw out the meat before starting to cook it. Thawing out a big roast could take a whole day, and so the housewife had to plan ahead, just as Mary was doing in "Lamb to the Slaughter."

One of the main reasons that Patrick Maloney wants a divorce is that he feels suffocated by all the mothering he is getting in their little tract house. The big home freezer is a kind of symbol of suburban life because it is an appliance designed to make it more likely that people will stay at home. They are less likely to go out to restaurants if they have a whole freezer full of meat which has to be eaten. The housewife will make fewer trips to the supermarket if she doesn't have to get meat, so she will tend to be stuck at home like Mary Maloney waiting for her husband to come back to share her boring existence. 

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linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Roald Dahl wrote his story "Lamb to the Slaughter" in 1953. The Maloney's kitchen has all the "modern" conveniences, most notably a "deep freeze." So it is safe to assume that the story is set in the time in which it was written: the early 1950s. One commentator has suggested that the story reflects the growing popularity of television and that the setting

puts the story in the glory days of American television, on which at the time gimmicky dramas of a slightly grotesque character frequently appeared. (Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, which would come along in 1957, represented the zenith of the trend.) With its two-setting structure (the Maloney household and the counter of a grocery store) and its limited dramatis personae, ‘‘Lamb to the Slaughter’’ has the feel of a teleplay scenario.

In 1958, the story did become a teleplay when it was used for an episode of the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" series.

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