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 does the lamb symbolize in "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

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In "Lamb to the Slaughter," the lamb symbolizes the character of Mary. She is the innocent creature that her husband is willing to sacrifice to suit his own desires. Along with this is an ironic twist in which the lamb is actually used to slaughter Mary's husband, as Mary is no longer the passive, innocent lamb that her husband perceived her as.

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The lamb in "Lamb to the Slaughter" symbolizes Mary. Traditionally, in Western culture, a lamb represents the innocent, spotless creature who is killed to atone for another's sin. Christ is often called the lamb of God in Christian theology because he is executed, though completely innocent, to wipe away the sins of humankind.

Mary is a sacrificial lamb. Her husband wants a divorce, even though she is pregnant with their child and is a loving and devoted wife to him. He is completely willing to sacrifice (metaphorically "slaughter") this blameless woman to satisfy his own needs. He selfishly expects her to identify with and support his desires even as he is casting her off cruelly.

Additionally, Mary, the symbolic lamb, literally slaughters her husband to save herself and her unborn child from social disgrace. She is meant to take the metaphoric fall for her husband, but instead, she turns the tables and forces him to take the literal fall for her. It is completely out of character for a lamb to fight back, but this is what Mary does.

Adding even more to the layers of meaning, a literal lamb slaughters Mr. Maloney, for Mary whacks him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb.

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In "Lamb to the Slaughter," why is the lamb a symbol of revenge?

In the story, the lamb begins as a symbol of plenty and shared domesticity. It is a frozen leg of lamb from the couple's freezer which Mary will prepare for their dinner together. After Patrick drops the bombshell about wanting a divorce, it becomes a symbol of their discord, her distress, and ultimately of her revenge: she uses the heavy frozen lamb as the murder weapon.

In another sense, the lamb stands for the husband. Patrick is the victim, so he is figuratively a slaughtered lamb. And literally, a real lamb has been slaughtered at some previous time so it could become their meal. This lamb is also a "sacrificial lamb," giving its life to protect her as all evidence of a murder weapon has been consumed by the police.

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In "Lamb to the Slaughter," why is the lamb a symbol of revenge?

The leg of lamb is a symbol of revenge in Dahl's short story, "Lamb to the Slaughter".

The weapon used to commit murder is the frozen leg of lamb which the police officers later consume.  The husband has obviously decided that he is not content with his marriage and feels it is time to move on.  The wife seeks revenge upon her husband as she is seemingly committed to him and their union.   

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