What do you think Patrick said to Mary for her to react the way she did? What evidence from the short story would you use to support your answers?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would use direct quotes of Mary's dialogue to illustrate what I think Patrick said to Mary about why he was tired of their marriage and wanted a divorce. Here are the quotes I would use.

"Tired, darling?"

"I'll get it!" she cried, jumping up.

"I think it's a shame," she said, "that when someone's been a policeman as long as you have, he still has to walk around all day long." He didn't answer. "Darling," she said," If you're too tired to eat out tonight, as we had planned, I can fix you something. There's plenty of meat and stuff in the freezer."

"Anyway," she went on. "I'll get you some bread and cheese."

"But you have to have supper. I can easily fix you something. I'd like to do it. We can have lamb. Anything you want. Everything's in the freezer."

"But, darling, you have to eat! I'll do it anyway, and then you can have it or not, as you like."

Mary can't leave her husband alone for a minute. She is smothering him with her affection. He feels as if he is under a spotlight from the minute he comes home. He is not a little boy. He doesn't want all that mothering. She almost seems to be forcing food down his throat. She doesn't have any internal resources of her own. Patrick is her sole interest in life. She waits for the minute he will arrive home from work in the evening. She devotes herself to him like a slave. She thinks this is the way to retain his love, whereas it is the way to lose it.

In John Collier's short story "The Chaser," the old man who sells undetectable poisons for men to use to kill their wives warns his new customer Alan Austen that if he succeeds in getting Diana to fall in love with him, he will regret it and will want his freedom sooner or later. 

"She will want to know all you do," said the old man. "All that has happened to you during the day. Every word of it. She will want to know what you are thinking about, why you smile suddenly, why you are looking sad....How carefully she will look after you! She will never allow you to be tired, to sit in a draught, to neglect your food. If you are an hour later, she will be terrified. She will think you are killed, or that some siren has caught you."

Mary stays home alone all day. She has nothing to occupy her mind. She expects too much of her husband. She wants him to tell her all about his day's work as a policeman, whereas he would probably like to drink his two drinks and forget about his day. She would like him to "share" with her, but she has nothing to share with him because she has done nothing all day but run the vacuum cleaner and wash some dishes.

As the old man in John Collier's story tells his new customer, this sort of marriage can get worse than boring; it can become maddening. Patrick doesn't want to talk to anybody for awhile. He has been talking to people all day. But Mary has been alone all day and is dying to have some conversation. She is much too dependent, too demanding, too needy. There is an extreme danger in every marriage that it can become a prison if there is too much togetherness, too much mutual dependence. As King Claudius says to Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet:

There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it . . .

After the honeymoon stage of marriage is over, each spouse discovers that the other is not a saint, angel, god, or goddess, but a mere mortal with a mortal's faults. Some couples get divorced, while others adjust to reality and may stay together all their lives. Patrick seems thoroughly disenchanted with marriage, and expects the new baby to make his confinement even worse because it will be more binding. During the five or so minutes he talks to Mary in a speech which Roald Dahl doesn't feel is necessary to record, Patrick passes on his disillusionment and loss of love to Mary, which results in his getting clobbered over the head with a frozen leg of lamb. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

Read the study guide:
Lamb to the Slaughter

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