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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Discussion Topic

The genre of "Lamb to the Slaughter" and its alignment with genre criteria


"Lamb to the Slaughter" is a dark comedy and crime fiction story. It aligns with the criteria of dark comedy through its use of irony and macabre humor, particularly in the unexpected and grim twist of the murder weapon. As crime fiction, it follows the investigation of a crime, showcasing the elements of suspense and the unraveling of a mystery.

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What is the genre of "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

This question is tough, because "Lamb to the Slaughter" probably fits into a few genres.  It also depends on how specific the genre category is.  In the broadest sense, the genre of this story is fiction.  But my guess is that is way too broad for what the question is really asking.  

I believe that the story crosses over into crime fiction, suspense/thriller fiction, and even a bit of dark comedy fiction.  First and foremost, I support the suspense fiction.  Even though I know that Mary is guilty of killing her husband and trying to get away with it, I just can't help but root for her.  I sympathize with her way more than I sympathize with Patrick.  I want to see if she can get away with her crime.  For that reason, the story is quite suspenseful, because a reader is always on the edge of his/her seat wondering if she really will be able to pull it off.  

Crime fiction fits as well, because the final third of the story is essentially a detective story.  The police go about making calls, having whispered conversations, interviewing Mary multiple times, and searching for a murder weapon.  Most of the members of my family are law enforcement, so deep down I also want to see the police be successful in this story.  

Finally, dark comedy is present in the story because of the final lines.  The police are literally eating the murder weapon and make the comment that it is probably right under their noses.  Then . . . Mary giggles.  That's dark.  She just killed her husband and is feeding the weapon of choice to the police officers in her own home.  And she laughs about it.  

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What genre does "Lamb to the Slaughter" belong to and how does it meet the genre's criteria?

"Lamb to the Slaughter" fits most neatly into the genre of a crime story, albeit with a twist of dark humor. It isn't a murder mystery because we know exactly who committed the murder and why. Though, as we've noted, there's an element of black comedy in the story, a humorous tone is not really sustained to any sufficient degree throughout the course of the story.

A more promising subgenre would be that of the psychological thriller, which ,as the name suggests, deals with the state of mind of its characters. It is particularly appropriate here, as much of the action in the story relates to Mary's psychological states. It was the imminent collapse of her marriage that provided the catalyst for Mary to lash out at her husband and kill him with a frozen leg of lamb. In the aftermath of this sudden loss of control, Mary's psychological state remains center stage as she soon quickly adopts the mindset of a professional criminal, clinically setting about covering her tracks and devising a novel way of disposing of the murder weapon.

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What genre does "Lamb to the Slaughter" belong to and how does it meet the genre's criteria?

This short story by Dahl crosses a very fine line between two genres, that of comedy, more in the sense of black humor, and that of crime fiction. Mary "giggles" at the end of the story when she has actually succeeded in getting away with the murder. Of course, the crime is the killing of her husband, Patrick, with the frozen leg of lamb. The reader is forced to see the humor in the situation as the murder is investigated and the detective is stumped, for how bizarre would it be to discover  frozen meat as a murder weapon? 

Mary outsmarts the detectives and is absolved of the crime. The absurdity is highlighted by the title of this work, "Lamb to the Slaughter." Ironically, one must question whether Patrick is also the metaphorical lamb which would make Mary's choice of murder weapon, the leg of lamb, even more ridiculous!

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