Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

Lamb to the Slaughter book cover
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Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 553 words.)