Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

The critical reception of Dahl’s story ‘‘Lamb to the Slaughter’’ needs to be put in the context of his critical reception generally. First of all, Dahl achieved commercial success, and after a period of struggle, became wealthy on the basis of his writing. For this to happen, a writer must have talent and he must have a sense of how to make that talent appeal to large numbers of ordinary readers. There is, moreover, often a difference between what a large segment of the literate public wants and what academically trained editors, who stand between authors and the public, think that the public wants or what the public ought to want. Once his writing reached its audience, Dahl never experienced any difficulty; before reaching his audience, at the editorial level, however, Dahl often confronted obstacles. ‘‘Lamb to the Slaughter’’ was originally rejected by The New Yorker in 1951. In the meantime, Dahl had established contact with the publishing firm of Knopf, which brought out a collection of his previously published stories called Someone Like You in 1953. This collection was successful with the American reading public. Unpublished Dahl stories were now sought by magazines, and Colliers ran the stories that The New Yorker had rejected, including ‘‘Lamb to the Slaughter.’’

Critical reaction to Dahl’s first published collection, summarized by Jeremy Treglown in a biography of the author, makes the case. Someone Like You received a good number of...

(The entire section is 620 words.)