A dagger-pierced heart is usually associated with the Catholic Sacred Heart of Mary. It is known to represent the grieving mother of Christ, who is also often called the Lady of Sorrows. However, the heart also migrated into a “darker” side; a modern day symbol of vengeance and cruelty. But the real power of the image of a dagger through the heart is a combination of both, each known in their individual rights. The heart is seen as the seat of emotions, the core of every person, as well as love and passion. The dagger has long represented a stealthy weapon of choice, which is easily concealed and quiet.
Roald Dahl’s, “Lamb to the Slaughter” tells us of one obvious betrayal: Patrick Maloney’s decision to leave his pregnant wife. This violation of the marriage-vows is obviously not the only betrayal in the story. If you look deeper you see that Mary’s killing of her husband is definitely the ultimate betrayal. Her strategically planned alibi and convincing lies all add up and go under the category of betrayal. Mary and Patrick Maloney are equally guilty of betrayal, as Patrick emotionally kills his wife, while Mary physically kills her husband. Both parties have hearts full of years’ worth of emotions, and both hearts have been stealthily and quietly killed.
SYMBOLISM: THEME – IDENTITY
The fingerprint is an impression on the surface of a person’s fingertip and is used for identifying individuals from the unique pattern of spirals and lines. Detectives, much like the ones in the chosen short story, use these prints to identify those that have taken part in a crime scene. It’s made clear through Dahl’s description of the Maloney house that Mary has committedly taken on the model of the perfect middle class wife. Ms. Maloney is a young mid-twentieth-century housewife, keeping a tidy home and catering to her husband.
The text states that she’s found pouring drinks when Mr. Maloney finishes his day at work and caters to his every need; which is what makes her sudden murderous action the incident to shatter her once perfect image. When dusting and scanning a fingerprint one owner is usually found, but when scanning Mary’s fingerprint multiple women appear; the on-task housewife, the loving and caring spouse and soon-to- be mother and finally the murderer. In the end, Mary Maloney will always have one print, but many identities.
SYMBOLISM: CHARACTER – MARY MALONEY
A white lamb is a young sheep, and is portrayed as gentle, meek and innocent, but is also seen as a weakling and as prey. The lamb is usually cheated or outsmarted. The white concept represents its purity. Mary Maloney is definitely a “lamb” in her innocence and devotion to her husband. When you act out of anger, more than a lamb is slaughtered.
It actually quite ironic that this “lamb” is capable of committing the most clean and cunning murder known of. She’s able to commit murder, get rid of the murder weapon, create herself an alibi as well as outsmart the policemen and is still is able to come out with a clean slate. After doing something so horrible and finding the nerve to scheme her way out of it, “[…] Mary […] began to giggle.” Her dark giggles at the end of the story, show a different character than the one who started. Murder has changed her from a lamb into a lion.
SYMBOLYSM: CHARACTER – PATRICK MALONEY
A mirror is generally defined as a reflective glass coated surface that reflects a clear image, but more importantly when looked into, you see yourself. Patrick is a very self-centered person, which is why I chose a mirror, as mirrors are associated with selfish people. When informing Mary that he was planning to leave her he gave her all the details and made sure to add, “[…] it wouldn’t be very good for my job.” It’s made obvious that Patrick didn’t think of his wife’s feelings at all, but made sure that everything was done so that it was in his favour. Throughout any situation, in the end Patrick is focused back on himself. Not only does he not consider the feelings of his wife, but he also isn’t thinking of his son. Of course he tells Mary that she can keep the baby, but does he think of what life would be for him without his Father?
QUOTE ANALYSIS: CHARACTER – PATRICK MALONEY
This character is stereotyped as an unhappy husband who is not pleased with his current marriage. He comes home tired and stressed, but his frustration seems to be coming from his home life rather than his work life. He’d made up his made and got up the nerve to say what he has to say, “This is going to be a bit of a shock to you […] I hope you won’t blame me too much.” This quote illustrates the author’s outlook on life, which is that people aren’t always what they seem. Patrick used to be well-liked, respected and the perfect husband; but after divorcing his wife he was probably seen as a dog, cheater and fraud. Just as his wife, his identity has changed because of a major complication in his life.
QUOTE ANALYSIS: THEME – IDENTITY
The author does an excellent job of clearly describing the setting in the first few lines of the story, in order to set the scene for the reader. The setting is seen when Roald Dahl introduces the Maloney home to his new readers, saying, “The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight – hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whiskey, Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket.” This quote suggests the Mary is the model housewife; perfect in all she does. Surprisingly, when Mary finds out that her husband is leaving her she, “[…] simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen lamb high in the air and brought it down on his head as hard as she could […] [killing] him.” This demonstrates how Mary’s identity changes from a sweet innocent wife into a killer after just hearing bad news from her husband.
An example of foreshadowing occurs when Patrick takes his drink after getting home from work. Dahl includes in this famous short story that, “[…] as [Patrick] spoke, he did an unusual thing. He lifted his glass and drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it[…] He got up and went slowly over to fetch himself another[…] When he comes back, [his]new drink was dark amber with the quantity of whiskey in it.” This quote suggests that Patrick doesn’t usually act like this. It’s quite obvious that he is very uneasy, and is most likely drinking and delaying in order to build the courage to say or do something he might regret. Patrick does this just before breaking the news to his soon-to-be ex-wife. His actions foreshadow the unfortunate things that are to come.
Courtney from Study Moose
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