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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In "Lamb to the Slaughter," how does Mary react when her husband declines to go out?

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Mr. Maloney never actually says he doesn’t want to go out to dinner, yet Mary is able to infer this based on his behavior.

It is clear from the descriptions of Mary’s actions that she is used to a particular routine with her husband. When he arrives home from work, she waits for him excitedly and prepares a drink, being careful not to speak too much before he has had time to decompress. She is so attached to this routine that she is unsure of what to say or do when she picks up on her husband’s odd mood.

She repeatedly offers to fix him something to eat at home, which indicates her desire to please him. Rather than being angry, as one might be if plans were changed so suddenly, Mary seems eager to do whatever her husband wants. This shows both her subservience and her dedication. She is happy as long as her husband is happy.

Of course, relying on her husband’s emotions to dictate her own is the reason the events of the story transpire as they do. Her confusion coupled with a desire to please is what pushes her over the edge after he yells at her.

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This is a critical moment in the story as it marks a transition from what we expect to be a happy story focussing on the love of Mary Maloney for her husband to something much more interesting. Reading the text carefully tells us that normally on a Thursday night they go out to dinner, which is why Mary Maloney has not prepared anything for her husband to eat. However, even when she says that she could prepare something quickly for him if that is what he would like, he says that he is not hungry at all and asks her to sit down. Note how the narrator describes her feelings:

It wan't till then that she began to get frightened.

Of course, this is when he decides to tell her about his decision to leave her at this particular moment, even though she is pregnant. Thus the mood of the story changes suddenly and we see Mary Maloney for the first time getting scared.

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