Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

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Lamb to the Slaughter Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

None of the characters is developed to a great degree. This is typical of a Dahl suspense story; the characters are developed only enough to move the plot along. For instance, Mary is a stereotype, with few distinguishing characteristics. She is the ideal housewife, serving her man and loving it. This stereotype is all the reader really needs to understand for the story's situation to be meaningful. Mary is nearly perfect, so when her husband dumps her, he seems a scoundrel. Her husband Patrick is hardly developed at all. He is shown to be wrestling with how to tell Mary that he wants their marriage to end, but exactly how he does tell her — whether gently or bluntly — is not shown. Nor are his motives explained; he might have fallen in love with another woman or he might dislike perfectly devoted housewives; he might have a perfectly good reason or a perfectly bad reason for breaking up the marriage. Similarly, the investigating policemen are not developed. They are Patrick's colleagues and a few know Mary; otherwise, they are just policemen following standard police procedures.


(Short Stories for Students)

Mary Maloney
Mary Maloney, the story’s protagonist, is six months pregnant and satisfied with her (from an external perspective) rather banal life with her policeman- husband Patrick, whom she adores. She had ‘‘a slow smiling air about her’’ and was ‘‘curiously tranquil.’’ Mary keeps a neat home, and busies herself with preparations for the baby. When Patrick unexpectedly announces that he is ending their marriage, Mary enters a state of shock. She automatically goes to the basement to remove some- thing from the freezer for supper. She takes the first thing she finds—a leg of lamb—carries it back up the stairs, approaches her husband from behind, and strikes him on the head with the frozen leg of lamb. He falls to the floor dead. ‘‘The violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning, helped bring her out of the shock.’’ Concern for the wellbeing of her coming child leads her to act quickly and efficiently to establish an alibi. She starts cooking the leg of lamb, rehearses a normal conversation with the grocer, and then goes to the store to buy vegetables. She hurries home, thinking that if ‘‘she happened to find anything unusual, or tragic, or terrible, then naturally it would be a shock and she’d become frantic with grief and horror.’’ In fact, when she sees her husband’s lifeless body again, she remembers her ‘‘love and longing for him’’ and cries over him quite sincerely. She then telephones her husband’s police colleagues and collapses in a chair while they search the house for the ‘‘heavy blunt instrument, almost certainly a large piece of metal,’’ that is believed to be the missing murder weapon. When a sergeant points out that the oven is still on and the leg of lamb is done, Mary urges the policemen—’’good friends of dear Patrick’s . . . helping to catch the man who killed him’’—to eat it bercause she knows they have missed their own suppers.The policemen consume the murder weapL on while speculating about the case. ‘‘And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.’’

Patrick Maloney
Patrick Maloney is a policeman still walking a beat. The reader learns that it is unusual for him to drain most of his evening cocktail in one swallow, as he does when he first comes home. He replies in short sentences or monosyllables as Mary watches him intently, trying to anticipate and fulfil his desires by offering to fix him another drink, bring his slippers, fix him a snack. He does not answer at all when Mary expresses her displeasure that ‘‘a policeman as senior as you’’ is still walking a beat—a suggestion that Patrick may not be especially successful at his job. On the...

(The entire section is 1,066 words.)