illustrated tablesetting with a plate containing a large lamb-leg roast resting on a puddle of blood

Lamb to the Slaughter

by Roald Dahl

Start Free Trial

Who are examples of flat characters and round characters in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

Expert Answers

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

This story is full of flat characters. The grocery store clerk and the policemen (besides Patrick) are all characters that show no depth or change throughout their participation in the story. Patrick Maloney is a more prominent and pivotal character in this story; however, he is just as flat as the other characters. Readers do not see any depth to him as a character. This is partly because he is killed fairly early on in the story, but even before that, what we do see of him is very one-dimensional. He is direct and to-the-point with Mary, and he obviously cares more about his job than he does about his pregnant wife. The fact that he is such a flat, one-dimensional character is what makes him fairly uninteresting as a character. Mary's murder of him is brutally terrible, but many readers can't shake the idea that he got what he deserved. On the other hand, Mary is a much more interesting character to read about because she is such a dynamic and round character. When we are introduced to her, she fawns over every move her husband makes. She is a quintessential doting housewife. She greets him at the door and pours him his drink as he is entering the house. We are told that she loves to sit quietly and soak in his very presence. It's very gag worthy, and that is what makes it so amazing that this doting housewife could become so cold and calculating by the end of the story. She's capable of planning out an alibi and then calmly making sure that other people can corroborate that alibi. She is no longer a woman who fears life without her husband. Instead, she is now a woman that is thriving on her own free will in the absence of her husband. We even get to see a little bit of her sadistic side when she giggles as the officers are eating the murder weapon.

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

There are only two important characters in "Lamb to the Slaughter." They are Mary and her husband Patrick. Mary Maloney is a good example of a round character because she changes quite impressively during the story. She is introduced as a very passive, dependent, devoted housewife who lives for her husband. She fawns on him when he is at home and thinks about him when he is away at work. However, when he tells her, as he obviously does, that he no longer loves her, is bored with their life together, and wants a divorce, she kills him in a sudden fit of blind rage. This change is startling to the reader, who doesn't think she was capable of such direct, independent, decisive action. Then she displays her nerve and cunning when she establishes an alibi and gets the investigating police officers to eat the leg of lamb, the very murder weapon they have been looking for. In the end Mary seems to be enjoying her triumph and her new freedom.

And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle. 

Patrick Maloney, on the other hand, is a flat character, pretty much a stereotypical cop. He is the strong, silent type. He is devoted to his job. He doesn't appear to have much of a life outside of being a policeman, plodding the same beat day after day. The fact that he wants to get out of his marriage to Mary does not prove that he is capable of changing. He handles the breakup with Mary in the same fashion in which he might deal with a woman suspected of shoplifting. He may have feelings, but he is not in touch with them. He has to get drunk in order to say what he has to say to his wife. He does not show her any pity or sympathy at all. He is brutal. But maybe his job has made him that way. If he were leaving Mary because he was having an affair with another woman, that would suggest some change in Patrick's character. But evidently he is not emotionally involved with anyone else, as indicated by his keeping regular hours at home and by his concern about avoiding any hint of misbehavior reaching fellow officers and superiors. He ends his long speech to Mary with these words:

"Of course I'll give you money and see you're looked after. But there needn't really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn't be very good for my job."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial