Who is the lamb in "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl? Who or what is being slaughtered? 

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A number of different lambs are sacrificed in the story. Aside from the lamb literally sacrificed to provide Mary's dinner, there's Patrick, the husband she murders, who's a metaphorical lamb to the slaughter.

It may seem strange to compare such a man of the world to something so helpless and meek as a lamb, but it is an entirely appropriate description being as how in losing his life, Patrick also lost his innocence. Patrick had always believed that Mary was a meek and mild housewife who could easily be cheated on and abandoned without any repercussions. He never once thought that beneath that mousy, unassuming exterior there beat the heart of a cold, ruthless killer.

His understanding of the woman he married was as clouded by innocence as Mary's understanding of him. Both had been laboring under delusions for so many years that they never really understood each other. Such innocence—this lamb, if you will—is brutally slaughtered on that fateful night when Mary transforms herself into a murderer.

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The title “Lamb to the Slaughter” can be interpreted in multiple ways. Throughout the course of the story, the reader gains insight into how both Mary and her husband are “slaughtered,” though in different senses. The phrase itself is biblical, referring to an innocent lamb unknowingly being led to the slaughterhouse. Its figurative interpretation follows along these lines; the lamb is someone innocent going into a dangerous situation. In the story, the husband is literally slaughtered, so he can be seen as the lamb. He does not know that he is about to be killed. In another sense, however, Mary is the lamb. At the story’s start, she is innocent—oblivious to the devastating news she is about to receive. She waits calmly and contently for her husband to return from work:

Now and again she glanced at the clock, but without anxiety: She merely wanted to satisfy herself that each minute that went by made it nearer the time when he would come home. As she bent over her sewing, she was curiously peaceful. This was her sixth month expecting a child. Her mouth and her eyes, with their new calm look, seemed larger and darker than before.

Her appearance in this scene is described in such a way as to enhance her innocence. Her eyes are large like a child’s, and her pregnancy adds another layer of innocence to overall character. When her husband does come home, the mood of the story darkens and his news explains why. He relates that he is leaving her. For Mary, this is akin to ruining her life. Her husband is her happiness at this point, and he has destroyed that. At the same time, his words, the reality of his choices, are also what lead Mary to kill him. This act of murder is an end to her innocence.

Mary begins the story guiltless and unsuspecting and, by the end, she is a murderer. She, too, then can be seen as a lamb led to the slaughter, even though she committed the actual slaughter in the story. Her husband committed the metaphorical slaughter of her innocence.

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The title of this story is very clever because it has multiple possible interpretations. Only one person is really being slaughtered. That is Patrick Maloney. He goes to the slaughter as meekly as a lamb because he doesn't suspect what is going to happen to him. The leg of lamb is used for the slaughter but it is not slaughtered--although it was slaughtered a long time ago and then frozen. Mary Maloney is not slaughtered, but she does the slaughtering. She has been as meek and docile as a lamb up to the point where she succumbs to a fit of rage and uses the frozen leg of lamb to slaughter Patrick. The detectives who come to the Maloney house might be compared to lambs going to the slaughter of Patrick. These detectives are all led by Mary as easily as is they were innocent lambs. Patrick is the only one actually slaughtered. 

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