Why does Mary Maloney go ahead and make supper after all in "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl begins with a seemingly pleasant domestic picture that becomes murderous.  The author creates twists in this ironic story both dramatic and situational.

When a pregnant woman has an adulterous husband, beware! Mary Maloney was six months pregnant and waiting for her husband to come home.  Mary looked forward to welcoming her husband Patrick home.  This was her favorite time of the day when she could sit down with her husband.

On this evening, Patrick was not in a good mood. Finally, he told her that he wanted a divorce. [The author did not share any details about the problem.] Since Mary was pregnant, he admitted it was not a good time; and, he would take care of money since he did not want a big fuss because of his job.  Mary acted as though she had not heard him. 

He told her not to fix him any supper because he was going out.  Mary felt nauseated. Without much thought,  Mary picked up the large frozen leg of lamb, hit Patrick on the head, and killed him. 

Why did Mary go ahead and make supper?

Mary ran the possibilities through her mind of what might happen to her.  She was not going to be punished for this crime. She decided to put the meat in the oven.  Needing to make an alibi, Mary went to the local grocery store to get peas and potatoes and tell Sam, the grocer, what she was doing. 

When she returned to the apartment, Mary acted like she knew nothing; then, she spotted her husband on the floor and called the police telling them that she found her husband dead when she returned from the grocery store.

Playing the part of a bereaved and devastated wife, Mary gave a great performance.  The police investigated with two detectives, a photographer, and the doctor.   They asked her many questions but treated her with respect.   

After searching the apartment, the primary detective told Mary that her husband had been killed by a blow to the head with a heavy blunt instrument.  They looked everywhere in the apartment for a possible weapon.

“It’s the old story,” he said. “Get the weapon, and you’ve got the man.”  They did not have any heavy metal vases, she said.

One of the policeman reminded Mary that her meat was still in the oven cooking. Mary asked the detectives and policemen if they would do her a small favor.

“We can try.” “Well, here you all are…Patrick would never forgive me, God bless his soul…Why don’t you eat up that lamb that’s in the oven?” As they ate the leg of lamb, the woman [Mary] stayed where she was, listening…their voices thick and sloppy because their mouths were full of meat.

As they ate, the policemen discussed what kind of weapon could have been used to kill Patrick Maloney.  Mary giggled.

Mary provided the meal for the policemen for two reasons: to show that she had been preparing a meal for her husband which was part of her alibi; and to get rid of the weapon so that nothing could ever be proven about her killing her husband.  What a clever woman!


The irony comes in to play because the reader knows about the lamb being used to kill the husband.  Thus, the eating of the weapon is dramatically ironic and sardonically funny.  The situational irony comes from the use of the leg of lamb to kill her husband.  This was supposed to be enjoyed as a family meal; instead, it is used as a murder weapon.

Read the study guide:
Lamb to the Slaughter

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