Mary Maloney proves to be an interesting character in this story. She fits well with the dramatic irony, tone, symbolism, and the overall theme of the story because of the brilliant characterization done on her character. Dahl, at the beginning of the story, sets up the premise that the reader should solely empathize with her character. Continuously, he keeps building the pretense that she is a sweet, innocent lamb (which is a major motif); only capable of following the followers (previously mentioned under symbols). As the story progresses, the reader realizes that she is basically being slaughtered by her butcher of a husband. There are three parts to this slaughter. One is the emotional slaughter that her husband undertakes, which starts to slowly alter her character. The second part is the aftermath of the more physical part of the slaughter where Mary Maloney actually kills her husband with a leg of lamb.
The results of this also ‘slaughter’ her ‘lamb-like’ character even more, and that is the third and final part of this massacre. Instead of being a naïve, innocent slave to her husband, she is now a malicious, demented (evident in the latter part of the story where she giggles due to the fact that she got away with murder), and a free woman; a woman with no slight implication that she was ever under her husband’s power. Dahl makes sure to use tone to describe just how much her husband controlled her, and how uplifted she was when he was gone. Using dramatic irony, he highlighted the one end of Maloney’s mental spectrum. Overall, Dahl compacted many literary elements in such a short story, yet he composed it into such a way that everything is delicately related upon each other. Without the tone, one wouldn’t get such a powerful impact from the irony.
Mary’s characterization would have seemed less severe, and the idea of slaughter would be interpreted differently. Dahl uses this story to describe the extreme result of a common theme. Our main concern was to question if this was a worthy piece of literature that could convey a theme or a moral decision that could impact anyone. With the evidence previously mentioned, this piece was worthy of the Dahl name, and that the elements in this story hanged together in a delicate balance. Without one element, his message would not have been conveyed as strongly as it was.
Mary goes from slaving over her husband’s every move, to killing him! Expanding more on that, she goes from being a lamb, one who follows, to being the butcher, the one who rules. She finally takes control of her life, as if she has been resurrected from the depths of her despair, ironically, after her husband’s death. She goes from being weak to actually being in charge of her life and what she does. The point of a dynamic character is not to just change morally/physically, but to become more complex. Obviously, as this story continued, Mrs. Maloney is a prime example of a complex character. Her name (Mary Maloney), that she has a husband (Patrick Maloney- a police officer), how long she has been pregnant (six months), inferences on her home (rather comely, with a pleasant aura; classic feel of a late 20th century house), her status (housewife), and a description of her looks (translucent skin, large, dark, placid eyes), daily habits and personality (before and after her ‘realization’). *All occur during the exposition (paragraphs 1-33)
Symbolism: The club of lamb: The lamb in the story is the wife. She does everything for the husband. She gets his slippers, makes him dinner, and slaves over him. And to thank her for all her work, he gives her a divorce. Basically, the reader can obviously see she is the weakest one here. She has no say in it–he has his mind set. Her labors and efforts…her life is being torn apart by this guy. He wants it to be a hush-hush affair, for the sake of his job. And she’s just the wife to do it. His career will be intact, while hers (the loving housewife) will not be. She is a weak, pathetic lamb, and she is being slaughtered. Then, she just couldn’t take it anymore. She fought back, and that resulted in murdering her husband. When killing occurs in a story, it’s usually significant for some reason. It shows someone overcoming some obstacle. Here, the ‘lamb’ of a wife overcomes her ‘butcher’ of a husband (the fact that he is a police officer screams control freak) by killing him.
And with it, she kills her status as a lamb. The lamb [status] has been slaughtered, and a free woman is left. Due to the fact that her husband is leaving her for someone else, while she is pregnant, her innocent, worthless, and helpless self is exaggerated. Though, after the murdering of her husband, this ‘lamb’ status is slowly crumbling away to reveal a more strong, take initiative type person. The slaughter: This occurs when the police arrive and eat the lamb. That is the slaughter; it is the destruction of the leg of lamb. It, the leg of lamb, was the symbol of her meek status, for it was the only reminder of what she had done and what she was like back ‘then’. Once that lamb is gone, so is all evidence that she was ever under her husband’s power. Irony: There are two major examples of irony in this story.
1. Dramatic Irony: Where Mrs. Maloney feeds the police officers that were investigating her husband’s death, and were friends with the late officer, the club of lamb that she used to kill Patrick Maloney. One officer saying that the murder weapon could have been, “Probably right under our very noses?” (Paragraph 131). 2. Situational Irony: The title of the story is itself, a large pun! A lamb to the slaughter usually refers to someone who is unaware they are about to be harmed. This is from the idea that lambs are easily led to their slaughter since they trust the one leading them, and they are unaware of what is to become of them. In this story, the husband, Patrick Maloney, is killed like a lamb. He totally trusts his wife, Mary, and is completely unaware of his impending doom. However, the title is also ironic because it is actually a frozen leg of lamb that is used to slaughter the hapless victim.
Ironic- the lamb that was supposed to be served as supper to nourish Patrick was, in the end, the weapon used to kill him. And the said club of lamb was given to the cops to eat at dinner. Tragic- That a couple, who is expecting their first child, end up hurting each other. Patrick wants to destroy his wife mentally, while his wife destroys him physically. Comical- At the end, the sergeants who were supposed to capture the murderer, unknowingly cooperated with our murderer to destroy the evidence by eating up the murder weapon.
Tone played an essential part for the smooth transition from Mary’s innocence to a charming psychopath. To fit with the desperation of her upcoming divorce, Dahl dwells into the habitual life of Mrs. Maloney and every chronic detail of that period of time. He goes into describing every agonizing second of her life, and elongates those seconds into years when her perfect ritualistic life suffers a small change that snowballs into something catastrophic. The minute she kills her husband, the story seems to be more uplifting. As if the reader is no longer suffocated by simple, yet overbearing aspects of the couple’s life. Towards the end of the story, one could even take the tone as somewhat humorous. The childish giggle let out at the end not only emphasized what she had done and serve as a way to ease tension.
Theme: The universal theme is that you should not underestimate the power that the weak may hold. In this story, there was a clear indication how much power Mary held within the relationship between her and her husband. My interpretation was that even though the weak may seem powerless, they can be stronger than those in control when they claim their power. “She might just as well have hit him with a steel club.”(Paragraph 42) She swung the leg of lamb so hard; it had the strength of a steel club. Women are typically, small and not as strong as men, so being able to strike a man in the head with the force of a “steel club” is astonishing. “She stepped back a pace, waiting, and the funny thing was that he remained standing there for at least four or five seconds, gently swaying. Then he crashed to the carpet.”
(Paragraph 44) Crashed to the floor, that’s how much power she had, when driven by a strong anger. By power came intelligence, as soon as Mary realized she had killed her husband, she was able to devise a plan in order to ultimately get away with murder. Don’t underestimate the weak, because sooner or later, they’ll rise to become powerful. In this case, the consequence of such thinking resulted into murder. The control Patrick had on his wife became just an illusion after we saw the capability of Mary.
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