illustrated tablesetting with a plate containing a large lamb-leg roast resting on a puddle of blood

Lamb to the Slaughter

by Roald Dahl

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Characteristics of Patrick Maloney in "Lamb to the Slaughter"


Patrick Maloney in "Lamb to the Slaughter" is depicted as a detached and unfaithful husband. He is emotionally distant from his wife, Mary, and is revealed to be planning to leave her, which triggers the story's central conflict. His cold demeanor contrasts sharply with Mary's initial loving disposition.

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What are Patrick Maloney's traits in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

Patrick Maloney is a pretty despicable husband, as evidenced by the details below:

He is a man who needs to be taken care of. In itself, this isn't the most horrendous detail of his character. But within the context of his deception, it is notable. When he gets home, he awaits his wife as she prepares his drink. He allows her to collect his coat. Mary quietly waits for him to acknowledge her, as "she knew he didn't want to speak much until the first drink was finished." He has established himself as the dominating presence in this household, and his wife is expected to cater to his needs.

He's a good liar. Mary did not see this conversation coming. Her stunned response captures the way her husband has been deceiving her for quite some time:

Her first instinct was not to believe any of it. She thought that perhaps she'd imagined the whole thing. Perhaps, if she acted as though she had not heard him, she would find out that none of it had ever happened.

We can assume (based on his wording) that Patrick has been involved in an affair for long enough that he's developed a bond strong enough to leave his wife, yet he carefully hid all the details from her, leaving her in shock when he finally tells her the truth.

He's a hypocrite. Patrick is a policeman, sworn to serve and protect citizens from harm. Yet in his own home, he is unfaithful to his wife and decides to leave her when she's six months pregnant. And to add insult to injury, he asks Mary not to make any "trouble," because "It wouldn't be very good for [his] job."

Patrick's character is inexcusable, especially considering his wife's adoration of him.

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What are Patrick Maloney's traits in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

Patrick Maloney is the essence of a consistent individual. Every day, he returns home at the same time and goes through the exact same routine—asking his wife for a drink and consuming it, never complaining about his day or much at all, just remaining seemingly content and complacent about life.

His ambivalence and consistency are what lead his wife to realize something must be wrong—because he breaks his routine ever so slightly. When he tells his wife he is leaving her, we learn slightly more about his persona. He seems to be an analytical person who thinks that having his soon-to-be ex-wife provided for financially is enough to mitigate the situation, and he seems to care little for her feelings. He is something of an automaton with little care or compassion toward his wife.

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What are Patrick Maloney's traits in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

The reader learns at the beginning of the story that Patrick is punctual and predictable. He arrives home at the same time daily and always has a drink when he arrives. His actions are so predictable to Mary that she notices subtle differences. For example, she is aware that he finishes his drink more quickly than he normally does. She learns the reason for this when Patrick announces his intent of leaving her. The reader also becomes aware that Patrick does not often complain or voice his displeasure. This may be part of the reason she is so surprised by his announcement.

Once Patrick makes his intentions known to his wife, the reader can make other inferences regarding his personality traits. He is straight-forward and only takes a few minutes to talk to his wife. Although he does say he will see that she is taken care of financially, one can assume that he must be somewhat selfish to leave his pregnant wife. This trait is also seen when he states that he hopes for no trouble because he doesn't want his job to be affected.

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What are Patrick Maloney's traits in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

This question is tougher than it first appears, because Patrick Maloney is barely in the story. Well, he's in the story the entire time. He just isn't alive for much of the story.  

I would pick cold and selfish as the two leading character traits to describe Patrick. The reason I think that Patrick has both of those character traits is because he bluntly tells Mary that he is leaving her or divorcing her. He knows that she loves him dearly. He knows that she is pregnant. He even admits that his news is bad timing.  

"And I know it's a tough time to be telling you this, but there simply wasn't any other way."

Despite knowing all of that information, he still is willing to just walk away from Mary and his life. I can only imagine that his reasons are self-serving. Leaving your pregnant wife for selfish reasons is the definition of cold.

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How would you characterize Mr. Maloney from "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

Although "Lamb to the Slaughter" has a third-person narrator, the story is told with a strong focus on the thoughts and feelings of Mary Maloney. Mary idolizes her husband, and the reader never learns what Patrick Maloney is thinking.

Despite this uncertainty surrounding Patrick Maloney and the lack of direct characterization, there are several things the reader discovers about him. He is silent, as he sits staring into space at the end of his working day, with an "intent, far look in his eyes." When Mary speaks to him, his answers are brief, and his manner is preoccupied. Although he has something specific on his mind, it is some time before Mary notices, suggesting that his silence and curt manner are habitual. This behavior, together with his work as a police officer, serves to identify Patrick as "the strong, silent type."

Patrick is also practical, unemotional, and rather selfish. He hates fuss and appears irritated as well as embarrassed by the idea of creating a scene. Almost the last words he says to Mary are

I know it's kind of a bad time to be telling you, but there simply wasn't any other way. Of course I'll give you money and see you're looked after. But there needn't really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn't be very good for my job.

The oblique reference to Mary's pregnancy shows that Patrick is squeamish about facing sensitive matters directly. He prefers to focus on practical details, such as financial support. His self-centered attitude appears in his aversion to fuss (by which he means strong emotion) and his focus on his job.

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How would you characterize Mr. Maloney from "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

The characterization of Patrick Maloney is given directly and indirectly. This means that we can get information about the way that he looks and reacts (direct characterization), and whatever we learn about him as a person,comes as we formulate our own assumptions, based on his actions (indirect characterization). 

From his direct characterization we learn that: 

  • "a warm male glow came out of him" and his wife felt it
  • he moved across the room "in long strides", and "sat loosely on his chair"
  • he is a police officer
  • he has a funny-shaped mouth
  • he likes to keep quiet when he is tired
  • he likes to have at least two drinks of whiskey upon getting home

These facts describe Patrick as a super masculine, archetypal male with quite a presence in his household; at least this is what his wife feels. The narrator, as a third person omniscient, knows this information and tells it to the reader using Mrs. Maloney's point of view. 

From his indirect characterization, we can make assumptions about Patrick's character based on the way that he behaves toward his wife. His behavior would be one of particular interest, since he tells his wife that he will leave her even though she is in her sixth month of pregnancy. His words alone (which I will make bold) are quite shocking, since they show his complete disregard from his wife's emotions and needs. 

So there it is," [...]"And I know it's kind of a bad time to be telling you, but there simply wasn't any other way. Of course I'll give you money and see you're looked after. But there needn't really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn't be very good for my job."

First, we see a man that is in no way moved by the fact that he will be a father. He is too focused on his own wants and needs to care for the fact that his only child (that we know of), one which he conceived with his own wife, will be born in a few months. This shows that his paternal instincts are disconnected from reality. He does not mention the child at any point. 

Second, he attempts to control the feelings of his wife by minimizing the situation. He is downplaying everything with the words "kind of", "wouldn't be very good" and "no need for fuss". What does he know about things being "very good" or "very bad" from the perspective of his wife? He hardly considers her emotions, let alone her opinion.

Third, he is obviously selfish: he only cares for HIS job, HIS opinion of the situation, and HIS outcome. He barely mentions what is at stake for his wife and child when he leaves. He is quite content with giving her "some money" as long as she doesn't cause "any fuss". Those things are enough for Patrick.

Since he focuses on himself as the center of everything, we can characterize Patrick as a narcissist (someone who makes every issue about them), a selfish man (someone who cares only for his own wants and needs), and someone who lacks empathy; he is not equipped with the ability to put himself in the position of his wife and make a clear decision based on how he will affect her. 

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