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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Student Question

What three things indicate unease for both the wife and husband?

Expert Answers

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There are several indicators that tension is being built between husband and wife. In the orientation of the story, Dahl describes a peaceful home and a loving wife waiting for her husband.  She looks at the clock. This suggests that she is focused on his return, there is nothing else that occupies her mind.  When he does return, Dahl describes it in a way that creates unease in the reader, 'When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen, and a few moments later, punctually as always, she heard the tires on the gravel outside, and the car door slamming, the footsteps passing the window, the key turning in the lock.'  The exact time of his routine suggests monotony.  It creates the idea that there is nothing spontaneous in their lives. The idea of routine and unhealthy reliance on her husband is strengthened  when Dahl describes Mary as ' content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house.'  It would appear that she has no company during the days and closely watches the clock in anticipation of her husband's return at exactly the same time every day. Her life appears lonely, isolated and therefore she is too dependent on her husband's company.  This is proven when she loses her head and kills him after he tells her that he wants to leave her.

A  next indicator that all is not well is presented in the plot complication following the orientation.  The narrator informs us that Mary loved the fact that her husband never complained about being tired.  But on this night, the conversation states the opposite. She asks, '“Tired darling?” and he responds with, “Yes,... “I’m tired,” . Dahl then builds further suspense by describing Patrick's actions as he says these words. 'And as he spoke, he did an unusual thing. He lifted his glass and drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it, at least half of it left..'  The fact that he acknowledges his fatigue and drinks his whiskey quickly inform the reader that something is wrong. 

The tension is intensified when he goes for another drink and Mary offers to get it for him.  He responds rather rudely with, “Sit down”. This terse way of speaking contradicts the loving relationship painted from Mary's perspective.  It tells the reader that Patrick is not happy. He proves this by pouring himself a strong drink. The fact that Mary watches every move quietly and unnoticeably also indicates an unhealthy relationship, she is so dependent on him that she smothers him.

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