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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What are some literary devices in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

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In the short story "Lamb to the Slaughter," the author makes use of literary devices such as irony, point of view, and simile to enhance the reader's understanding of the main character and to allow the reader to experience the story in a compelling way.

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The story "Lamb to the Slaughter" is filled with many literary devices. Two of these devices involve the element of irony . One type of irony seen in the story is situational irony, and another type is dramatic irony. The author also uses the literary device of limited...

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third-person point of view to allow the reader to more deeply understand the main character. In addition, the author usessimile to help the reader better understand the main character's feelings and to enhance the reader's understanding of events in the story.

The use of irony is perhaps the most dominant literary element in the story. One type of irony in the story is situational irony. Situational irony is when the reader expects one thing but something unexpected happens instead. For instance, the story begins with a lengthy description of how much Mary loves her husband. She excitedly anticipates his arrival home, describing their first moments together after he returns from work as a "blissful time of day." The story goes on to relay all the different things Mary adores about her husband. For example, it states that "she loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man." This is why the reader is shocked when Mary unexpectedly bludgeons her husband with a frozen piece of lamb.

Another instance of irony seen in the story is dramatic irony. This irony is when the reader knows something other characters in the story do not. For example, the reader knows that Mary killed her husband, but the detectives that visit her house are unaware of Mary's crime.

The author also uses the literary device of limited third-person point of view to allow the reader to see the story mainly from the thoughts of only one character. In this case, the reader's understanding is limited to the inner thoughts of Mary.

The author uses simile in the story. Simile is when an author makes a comparison between two things using the words like or as. This is seen in two instances in the story. For example, when Mary's husband is around, his presence fills her with happiness. This happiness is described as a feeling of intense pleasure "almost as a sunbather feels" when experiencing the warm and comforting heat of the sun. Another instance of the use of simile is when the detective says that the blow to Mary's husband's skull is "just like from a sledgehammer."

Through the use of these literary devices, the author makes the story an exciting read, one that is both entertaining and memorable.

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What literary devices does Roald Dahl use in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

The overarching literary device Dahl uses in the story is pun. A pun is a word or phrases that has two or more applicable meanings at the same time.

The title—and the most important act in the story—is a triple pun. "Lamb to the slaughter" is a phrase that means an innocent is being sacrificed for the needs of another. In this case, Mary is that lamb. Heavily pregnant and a devoted wife, her needs are being sacrificed to her husband's desire for a divorce. Mary is the one who is going to have to suffer because of his decision, and she has done nothing (as far as we know) to deserve this fate.

Yet the title of the story, lamb to the slaughter, is also literal. A leg of lamb is literally the weapon Mary uses to slaughter her husband. Much of the story turns on the police being unable to imagine this as they calmly eat the murder weapon she has cooked.

Finally, Mary is not only the lamb taken to be slaughtered, she is the lamb or innocent who goes "to the slaughter" of her husband.

Dahl also uses imagery to paint Mary with a Madonna-like glow, which builds reader sympathy for her. Further, he tells the story from her point-of-view, which makes her the most relatable character. Therefore, when she whacks her husband with the frozen leg of lamb, we are more likely to excuse what she has done than side with her murdered spouse.

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What literary devices does Roald Dahl use in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

The first technique Dahl employs is contrast. He juxtaposes Mary Maloney's actions and words with those of her husband. The contrast is introduced when Mary pours him a strong drink and a weak one for her. This in itself symbolizes the difference at this point between the two. When Mary, obviously a doting and caring spouse, speaks to her husband, she uses a caring tone. She is practically servile in her approach and is insistent that she wants to do good. Her husband, on the other hand, displays a brusque, off-hand manner marked by short, terse expressions. It is evident that he has something on his mind and one expects that he is about to tell his docile, loving wife exactly what it is.

In this regard, Dahl also foreshadows what is to come. It is easy to ascertain from Patrick Maloney's manner that he has nothing good to share with Mary. Dahl creates this expectation and we are not surprised when he tells Mary that he is going to leave her.

There is irony in what Patrick does since Dahl has painted his wife as an innocent and harmless individual who needs protection. This aspect is emphasized by the fact that she is pregnant with his child. She is in an extremely vulnerable position and Patrick should, therefore, be more supportive of her. This is not only true because he is a husband, soon-to-be-father, but also because he is a detective. This means that he is there for the protection of the weak and should be selfless. Patrick is, however, uncaring and thinks only of himself.

The irony is extended throughout the story. Mary commits a most heinous criminal act. She clobbers her husband to death and then deliberately proceeds to cover up her crime. Her actions speak of one who is cold-hearted and vengeful, not one who would exude a look of peace and calm as described earlier:

...she was curiously peaceful. Her mouth and her eyes, with their new calm look, seemed larger and darker than before. 

Mary convincingly plays a charade and fools everyone into believing her. The visiting detectives and other officers literally eat out of her hand, so much so that she lets them ingest the murder weapon. In this instance, Dahl uses both verbal and situational irony as well as sardonic humor to make the point that appearance and reality are not always one and the same thing; we may be easily deceived. 

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What literary devices does Roald Dahl use in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Dahl uses a number of literary devices. For example, he uses foreshadowing to build suspense as the story progresses.

And as he spoke, he did an unusual thing. He lifted his glass and drank it down in one swallow although there was still half of it left. He got up and went slowly to get himself another drink.

This change in Patrick's usual behavior suggests something extraordinary is about to happen. As such, Dahl not only hints at Patrick's announcement of his decision to divorce Mary, but also at her violent reaction to the news.

In addition, Dahl uses irony towards the end of the story when the police are investigating Patrick's death. They eat the lamb, for instance, as they muse over the whereabouts of the weapon:

"Personally, I think the weapon is somewhere near the house."

"It's probably right under our noses. What do you think, Jack?"

The police have no idea that they are, in fact, eating the murder weapon. This use of irony adds an element of dark humor to the story which is not wasted on Mary, who is described as "laughing" in another room. 

For more information on Dahl's use of literary devices, please see the reference link provided.

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Aside from foreshadowing, what literary devices does Roald Dahl use in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Roald Dahl uses a number of literary devices. Here are a few examples:

  • Imagery: Dahl employs an auditory image to describe Patrick's return from work: Mary hears the car tyres on the stones, the car door closing, and his footsteps outside.

"...she heard the tires on the gravel outside, and the car door slamming, the footsteps passing the window, the key turning in the lock."

  • Mood: Dahl creates a dreamy and idyllic atmosphere in the first paragraph by referring to the drawn curtains and low lighting. The mood shifts and becomes tense, however, when Patrick tells Mary that he wants a divorce. This is reinforced by Dahl's references to Mary's "puzzled horror" and "slight sickness."
  • Irony: Mary loves that Patrick never complains about being tired but, in the next paragraph, he says that he is "thoroughly exhausted." There is also irony in the closing lines since the detective had no idea that they are eating the murder weapon. This is also an example of black (or dark) humour.
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Aside from foreshadowing, what literary devices does Roald Dahl use in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

Looking at this story, I see a simile towards the beginning, when Mary has first sat down to hang out with Patrick.  The narrator is talking about how sitting with Patrick makes Mary feel.  We are told

She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel-almost as a sunbather feels the sun-that warm male glow that came out of him

So "as a sunbather..." is a simile because it is directly comparing her to someone soaking up the sun's warmth.

I also think there's a bit of hyperbole in a couple of places.  One is where she can't feel her feet as she is going down to the freezer.  The other is where the one policeman says that Patrick's head was like it had been hit with a sledgehammer.

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What are literary devices in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

“Lamb to the Slaughter” is a short story written by Roald Dahl. It deals with the murder of Patrick Maloney. Mary, Patrick's wife, kills him with a frozen leg of lamb, which had been intended to be their dinner.

The short story is written from the perspective of a limited third-person narrator. The narration includes descriptions of events and dialogues, and gives insight into Mary’s thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, the narrator does not have any knowledge of Patrick’s thoughts. This allows the author to make the reader feel more sympathy for Mary.

The mood of the story at the beginning is rather calm. The story appears to describe the life of an average family. However, tension soon begins to build, especially as the reader begins to realize that Patrick is contemplating to leave his heavily pregnant wife. This tension is underlined by the use of tense language, for example Mary is described as “watching (Patrick) with a kind of dazed horror.”

Another literary device used in this story is irony. At the end of the story, the policeman suggests that the murder weapon is “probably right under our very noses.” This is clearly ironic. The murder weapon is indeed right under their noses—they are in the process of eating it, and thus are unwittingly helping Mary to destroy the evidence.

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What are the main techniques that Roald Dahl has employed in the short story, "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

One technique that R. Dahl employs in "Lamb to the Slaughter" is referred to as black humor:

Black humor is the use of the grotesque, morbid, or absurd for darkly comic purposes.

Mary Maloney is pregnant enough that she moves slowly. She welcomes her husband home, from work—a policeman—ready to wait on him hand and foot. Even though his wife seems to be in her latter stages of pregnancy, he decides that this is the best time to tell her that he is leaving her, in a very matter-of-fact way...worried more about himself than his wife, who is moving ever closer to giving birth to their child:

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

Something in Mary snaps. She goes into the basement and brings up a leg of lamb, a common main course in the 1950s (when this story is written); he stands with his back to her—at the window—telling her he doesn't want anything to eat, but dinner is not what she has in mind: she brings the frozen meat down on his skull hard enough to kill him. 

This, however, it not the occurrence of black comedy. FirstMary cooks the meal. She has taken care of details to supply her with an adequate alibi, having visited the grocer for the rest of the things she needs for dinner, while her husband's corpse rests on the floor in the livingroom of their home.

Mary arrives home, as if the murder occurred while she was out, calls the police and they set to work. As the meal is finished, the policemen are tired and hungry, so she encourages them to have a drink and sit down to dinner. 

This is the moment of black humor: she feeds the murder weapon to the police. This is also an example of irony.

[I]rony of situation is a discrepancy between the expected result and actual results.

Irony of situation is the other major technique Dahl uses. For certainly, the reader does not expect that the police would not only be consuming the murder weapon, but also the only piece of evidence that could possibly implicate Mary. So this segment of the story is not only ironic, but also serves to further the intent of the author's use of black humor. The murder weapon (as one policeman surmises) is right under their noses, though they are completely unaware.

One of them belched.

“Personally, I think it’s right here on the premises.”

“Probably right under our very noses.  What you think, Jack?”

And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle. 

This classic short story always seems to elicit a creepy kind of surprise, and perhaps that is why it is highly anthologized, even a favorite story in high school classrooms; in our district, it is on the final, and an excellent choice because it is so compelling—grabbing the reader's interest until the very end.

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