Lamb to the Slaughter Characters
The main characters in “Lamb to the Slaughter” are Mary Maloney, Patrick Maloney, and Sergeant Jack Noonan.
- Mary Maloney is six months pregnant and devoted to her husband, Patrick. When Patrick announces he is leaving her, however, Mary kills him with a leg of lamb and feeds the murder weapon to the police.
- Patrick Maloney is Mary’s husband and a beat policeman. He tells Mary he is leaving her but will continue to provide for her financially.
- Sergeant Jack Noonan is a policeman at Patrick’s precinct. He answers Mary’s phone call and unknowingly consumes the murder weapon along with his colleagues.
Last Updated on May 31, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1082
Mary Maloney is the protagonist of the story. She is the quintessential 1950s housewife: a devoted homemaker, pregnant with her first child, who revels in her domestic duties and lives happily with her husband, Patrick Maloney, a police officer. Readers quickly learn that her life is structured around and tailored to the whims of her husband. She loves him dearly, and her world revolves around loving and serving him. She works diligently to cultivate domestic bliss and views the life she and Patrick have built together as one of successful contentment. However, her happiness is shattered when he ends their marriage unexpectedly. Shaken, she begins to make dinner, an attempt to find normalcy and familiarity despite the circumstances.
Choosing the first thing she finds in the cellar freezer, Mary carries a frozen leg of lamb upstairs. In a moment of dazed confusion, she rejects the passivity that so defines her life and strikes her husband in the head, killing him. Her impulsivity quickly subsides, and she begins to formulate a plan to protect her unborn child from the legal consequences of her actions. Even after Patrick’s death, Mary’s actions throughout the remainder of the story reflect his influence. Her decisions are a product of her position: she disguises her misdeed for the sake of her child; chooses an alibi—grocery shopping for a home-cooked meal—which suits her domestic role; and continually refers to herself as Mrs. Patrick Maloney to others and in her internal monologue. Mary intertwines her sense of self with her husband and home; when Patrick disrupts this order, he interrupts her way of understanding herself and the world, leading to drastic action. She is a caricature of the housewives of the 1950s, satirizing their single-minded homemaking and its influence on their personhood. While considering the potential consequences of her actions, Mary muses that the death penalty is preferable to life without her husband, an absurd notion only tempered by the thought of what will become of her unborn child. In short, she caters to the social expectations of the time, a performance she uses to her benefit while arranging circumstances to prove her innocence.
Patrick Maloney is a senior police officer still walking a beat. His less-than-prestigious position—and exasperation with his wife’s nagging focus on it—implies that he is not particularly good at his job. Through Mary’s actions, readers learn that he is a creature of habit whose schedule and preferences determine their lives. Arriving home from another tiring day on the beat, Patrick’s interaction with his wife starkly contrasts with her loving internal monologue. He responds to her adoring ministrations dismissively and impatiently, summarily rejecting her kindness. Unexpectedly, he finishes his first drink in a single swallow, an act that disrupts their domestic habits and foreshadows the cold, callous conversation to come.
Shortly after, he explains to Mary that he intends to leave her and their unborn child, though he will ensure they are adequately cared for. Patrick has only a single moment of expansive dialogue, spoken in the immediate aftermath of his decision to leave Mary. This moment frames him as an uncaring husband with little respect for his six-months-pregnant wife. He seems to dislike her for precisely the reasons she loves him; Mary is the perfect housewife, tailoring her home to suit every whim of her hardworking husband. Yet when she asks to pour him a drink, fetch his slippers, and prepare his dinner, Patrick responds dismissively and disdainfully. Readers notice that he finds her adoration, servility, and dependency grating; his death, ironically, is the catalyst for Mary to (briefly) reject the passivity he so dislikes. Patrick is a more present narrative figure in death than in life. His lifeless body, crumpled awkwardly on the living room floor, is just as important to the narrative as was the living man capable only of responding in cold monosyllables.
Sergeant Jack Noonan
Jack Noonan is an officer at Patrick’s precinct. Alongside his partner, O’Malley, he is the first officer to respond to Mary’s panicked phone call. One of Patrick’s coworkers, Noonan is familiar with the Maloney family and friendly with Mary. He offers her a number of kindnesses, opening his home—and his sister’s home—to her, speaking to her kindly throughout the investigation and allowing her to remain on the scene in an effort to keep her comfortable. Noonan accepts her innocence as a point of fact; his willingness to only see her as a grieving, newly widowed housewife blinds him to her careful manipulation of his kindness. She offers him a drink, which he accepts on the grounds of social expectation. This first professional lapse leads to a second: his inability to see Mary as anything other than an innocent victim results in his consumption of the now-cooked lamb, the destruction of the murder weapon, and the denial of justice to his murdered friend.
O’Malley is one of the police officers that responds to Mary’s tear-stricken call. He is first on scene at the Maloney residence, alongside his partner, Sergeant Jack Noonan. His role in the story is limited; he investigates Patrick’s body, aids in discovering evidence of foul play, and phones the precinct to request backup in the form of a doctor, police photographer, and two detectives. O’Malley’s presence soon fades into the background. He is yet another officer on the scene who will, after an evening of fruitless investigation, unwittingly consume the long-sought murder weapon.
Sam, a local grocer, appears in the story to corroborate Mary’s quickly constructed alibi. She visits his store shortly after the murder under the guise of purchasing vegetables to prepare a home-cooked meal for her husband. They make small talk, and Sam suggests she purchase cheesecake for dessert, a recommendation he provides on the basis of personal familiarity. It is clear that the couple often frequent his store; he knows them well enough to guess at their tastes, a realization which makes Mary’s successful deception even more compelling. When a detective questions him, Sam’s descriptions of his interactions with Mary that evening are powerful evidence that affirm her innocence. She overhears fragments of his interview spoken in cut-off whispers, describing their conversation as “quite normal” and claiming it was “impossible that she . . .” Sam’s role in the story is to provide a believable alibi for Mary, and he more than delivers.