In "Lamb to the Slaughter," what reasons did Mary have to kill her husband?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Mary Maloney, the pregnant wife of a police officer, is the main character of Roald Dahl's short story "Lamb to the Slaughter". In the story her character is described, mainly through her actions, as a doting and devoted wife and homemaker.  The way in which she keeps her home, the manner in which she prepares for the daily return of her husband from work, and the excitement that she exhibits as she waits for his return leaves the reader with no doubt that Mary is a woman who is happy and in love. So much in love, in fact, that Roald Dahl is emphatic about the manner in which she feels about her husband.

She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man...  She loved him for the way he sat loosely in a chair, for the way he came in a door, or moved slowly across the room with long strides. She loved [the] far look in his eyes when they rested in her, the funny shape of the mouth, and especially the way he remained silent about his tiredness..

However, her actions come to a shocking halt when, after her husband tells her that he wants to leave her, she is in such a shock that she enters her kitchen, grabs the first big object that she finds, and then goes to her husband and crushes his skull with it.

What this denotes is that Mary has snapped. While she has no real reason to motivate her to kill her husband, it is obvious that the creeping fear, anger, hurt, and frustration of the news have come altogether dangerously. That, added to the fact that she is pregnant and already in a delicate state, may be the reasons why her reaction was so extreme. However, it is hard to blame a woman who is so happy and protected not to at least wish hurt upon whoever comes across her territory. Although her actions are not justifiable, it is almost understandable that Mary's world has come crumbling down by the choices of what seems to be a cold and callou husband.  Therefore her main motivation may not be to get rid of him altogether but certainly she would have wanted to exert all of her anger upon the person who caused it; her husband.

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