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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Ideas for Group Discussions

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Almost no one who reads this story ever forgets it. The policemen eating the evidence stands out in the mind as fresh as the day it was first read. The challenge in generating a discussion about "Lamb to the Slaughter" will be pointing it in a productive direction. The admiration of the stark emotional impact of the story's resolution needs to give way to thought about its contents. One aspect to focus on would be the system of values inherent in the story; is it good that a woman murders her husband and gets away with it? Can anyone's fawning adoration of another instantly become murderous hate? Would the woman really feel no grief over her deed?

Another workable approach to discussing the story would be to focus on its technical aspects. "Lamb to the Slaughter" is representative of a popular form of literature, the very short, tightly focused mystery story (what some writers and critics call the "shortshort story"). To be successful, such a story must have a brief, sensational event at its center, with easily recognizable stereotypes for characters. The story needs to be startling and in someway surprising, either by defying the conventions of its genre (in this case the mystery genre), by defying social conventions, or by supplying an ingenious and artful turn of the plot. Which of these does "Lamb to the Slaughter" supply?

1. When subjecting a brief entertainment like "Lamb to the Slaughter" to close inspection, it may be too easy to find holes in its logic and plot. After all, the story was not meant to be a profound thesis on marital murders; it was meant to please. Even so, a group of people interested in becoming short story writers might find it fruitful to search out the begged questions of Dahl's story. For example, would the victim not have told anyone else — a fellow police officer, perhaps — about his plans to divorce his wife? Would she not be the first suspect in the crime? (Answer, even if she becomes a suspect, the murder weapon is gone; besides the grocer can provide an alibi.)

2. What are the qualities that make the story memorable? It is not enough to say that it has a good plot twist. What makes the twist memorable? What are the aspects of the story that support the twist, making it striking when read?

3. Some readers who are familiar with Dahl's other writings are surprised to learn that "Lamb to the Slaughter" is his work, even though he wrote other mysteries. If this is the case with you, why are you surprised? What about his other work would lead one to think that "Lamb to the Slaughter" was someone else's work? What does "Lamb to the Slaughter" suggest about his versatility as a writer?

4. "Lamb to the Slaughter" invites its audience to enjoy the delicious irony of the police eating the very murder weapon that they need to find. What are the moral implications of this? Are we the audience enjoying a murder? Why are we not repulsed instead of delighted?

5. Does "Lamb to the Slaughter" have staying power? That is, will it still be read and admired in a hundred years? Or are its qualities unique to the 1950s, and as our culture changes, will it cease to mean anything to readers?

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