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“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald is a fun story that uses irony and perspective to create a truly enjoyable story. Still, to get the greatest value out of this story, it is worthwhile to understand not only what happens in the story but why it happens. From the way the situations of the characters change them to the decisions they make, everything in this story must work together to create a masterpiece.
What Point of View Is “Lamb to the Slaughter” Told From and Why Is That Important? “Lamb to the Slaughter” is told from the point of view of Mary Maloney.
This choice to tell the story from the point of view of the murderer is an interesting choice and one that largely defines this story. The reader knows only what she knows. At times, such as the end of the story, this means that the reader knows more than the other characters, especially in relation to the leg of lamb.
On the other hand, the reader is not given access to the reasoning behind Patrick’s decision to leave. This makes it far easier for the reader to be on Mary’s side when she makes questionable decisions.
Early in the story, the reader discovers that Mary Maloney is pregnant. This understanding is important to the story on a number of levels. The most basic is that it helps the reader to understand just what it is that her husband is doing by leaving her.
This makes the story more ambiguous in morality by making the reader associate with the woman more. In addition, it almost certainly helps keep her from being suspected. The motherly instinct of protection is invoked by this understanding as anyone can understand the instinct of a mother protecting her child and the fear of execution is vital to making Mary a more positive character.
Why Are the Exact Words Patrick Says When Leaving Mary Left Out? In the middle of the conversation between Patrick and Mary, the narration changes for a single paragraph at the very climax of the conversation. Patrick leads into the conversation with the hope she won’t blame him too much. It then says that he told her, though not exactly what, and ends with him saying that he will take care of her. This change in narration is disconcerting and in large part that is the point. This helps the reader to understand the disorientation and detachment of Mary.
In addition to this, by not telling the reader exactly what happened, it gives far more power to the reader in the interpretation of her later actions. By not knowing exactly what he said, it lets the reader decide if Mary’s actions in the rest of the story are justified or not.
Patrick is a police detective. This bit of information is vital to the story in a number of ways. As a story in which the reader is supposed to empathize with the murderer, having the victim be a vital and trusted member of society creates even more conflict in the mind. In addition to this, it plays with two basic ideas, that the police will look for a killer more vigorously if an officer is killed, but also that she knows the officers who will investigate the crime. This means that they are more likely to be comfortable with her. Also important is the understanding that Mary is likely to have an escape of being arrested for the crime. As the wife of a police detective, she has almost certainly heard many stories about crimes that he has solved and how he has done it. Finally, this creates many other suspects that could have committed the crime because as a police detective he has many enemies.
There are a couple of moments of dramatic irony in “Lamb to the Slaughter.” These are cases in which the reader understands more than the characters. The most clear of these occurs near the end of the story. Mary has called the police and the detectives are in her house. As they are eating the lamb of leg, one of the officers says in relation to the murder weapon that it is “probably right under our very noses.” This statement is literally true though the officer who says it has no idea what he is saying.
What Is the Origin and Meaning of the Title “Lamb to the Slaughter”? The original use of “Lamb to the Slaughter” is found in the Bible. This phrase is located in both Jeremiah and Isaiah. It refers to someone who goes innocently and unconcernedly into a dangerous or life threatening situation. In the story “Lamb to the Slaughter,” it has a number of meanings though.
The first clear meaning is one that is a form of dark humor. The lamb in this case is actually a murder weapon. This twists the meaning of lamb to the slaughter into something that is not a metaphor but what actually happens. While the first meaning is clear, the metaphorical use of the statement is still valid and in fact there are two people who go into a situation like lambs to the slaughter. The first of these is the murder victim who, while knowing he is going to do something uncomfortable, has no idea what is going to happen to him. The second though is Mary herself. It is the shock because she doesn’t know what is coming and that shock is what drives her over the edge.
In the story, Mary asks the detectives to eat the leg of lamb she had made for her husband, and even when they turn it down, she insists that they eat this. This insistence is important beyond simply the idea that it is the murder weapon. By having the detectives eat the lamb, they have destroyed the evidence which will make them look stupid even if they later understand. This will discourage them from thinking of it as a weapon. In addition, because she ensures they have seen the murder weapon rather than hiding it, she defies the expectations as most criminals hide the weapon.
By understanding how Roald Dahl is able to build the tension and conflict in “Lamb to the Slaughter” and how the tension falls afterward is a great way for anyone to understand how to tell a better story or simply recognize the qualities of a good story.
The best stories are often those in which we miss most of what the author is doing. A good author is not only able to use the tricks and tools of language to tell a good story but able to hide those tools so that they don’t distract the reader. Yet in stories like “Lamb to the Slaughter,” there is a great deal of value in looking at and understanding what they have done. That is why the examination of the structure of a story is so useful. Understanding the rising and falling action of “Lamb to the Slaughter” can help writers to tell a better story and readers to understand and enjoy the skill of the author just as someone might enjoy the brush strokes of a master painter.
In order to understand what happens after the climax, one must first be able to pinpoint the point of maximum tension in the story. In the case of “Lamb to the Slaughter,” there are in some ways two climaxes. The first of these is at the point in which Mary attacks her husband and kills him. This is the culmination of everything that has happened to this point in the story. The story then pulls back and allows the action to fall.
The second and main climax of the story occurs when the detective notices that the oven is still on with the leg of lamb cooking. This is the point at which the detectives are closest to discovering the murder weapon and Mary has to keep from being caught. The conflict then begins to rise again as she creates an alibi and brings in the police to catch the murderer.
Just as there are two climax in the story, there are two major conflicts in this story. The first of these conflicts is between Mary and Patrick as Patrick tells his pregnant wife that he is going to leave her. This conflict ends as Mary hits her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and leads into the main conflict of the story. This second conflict is in Mary’s attempt to avoid being caught. She knows that if she is caught she will be executed and fears that her unborn child will be killed as well. This becomes the main conflict of the story and leads to the ultimate resolution of the story in which the detectives eat the evidence of her crime.
The action of the story begins to rise as Mary waits for her husband to return in anticipation and continues to increase as it becomes clear that he is preparing to tell her something. It reaches its climax as he explains that he knows that it is a bad time and as he turns his back Mary hits him with the leg of lamb.
The falling action for the first of these climaxes is interesting because it has to set up the action for the second half of the story while releasing some of the tension of the first half so that it can be rebuilt. The line which carries the load of this work reads “All right, she told herself. So I’ve killed him.”
This line pulls back the emotions not only of Mary who is telling the story, but also the reader. It is a well created note to the reader that the story is now going to slow down and change. The next paragraph continues this as the woman, who was moments ago out of control, begins to think through the possibilities. She knows that the penalty for murder is execution, but fears for her unborn child and decides that she must protect that child. This then leads into the action beginning to rise again as she focuses on avoiding being captured.
The second climax of “Lamb to the Slaughter” is the true climax of the entire story. With action that continues to rise as Mary tries to cover up her crime from seconds after she commits it until the moment the detective sees that the oven is still on, the tension spikes. At this moment, Mary is very close to being caught. Yet she is able to think clearly and doesn’t react out of fear. The character herself creates the falling action as she offers the officers something to drink and asks them to help her get rid of the meal that she had been cooking for her husband.
This leads not only into the irony of “Lamb to the Slaughter” as the officers eat the evidence that would have likely put Mary into the electric chair, but also the falling action. The officers have clearly decided that she is the victim of the crime and not the perpetrator as they try to console her.
The last of the action disappears as the police officer, while eating the leg of lamb says of the murder weapon, “Probably right under our very noses,” a literal truth that makes it entirely clear that the police have no idea what happened and are unlikely to discover the truth. In the other room, the last line of the story shows Mary free of tension as she begins to giggle.
The resolution of “Lamb to the Slaughter” is largely implied by the final line. The assumption of the author and reader is that with the murder weapon gone, Mary will not be captured for the crime. Yet none of this is actually said in the story. The story simple ends with the police commenting on the lack of murder weapon and Mary giggling presumably at the irony of them looking for the weapon while eating it.
“Lamb to the Slaughter” is an excellent example of a story that is able to create and release action expertly. It builds up slowly, adding tension on top of tension, until it reaches a crescendo and then releases that, creating a powerful story in the process. Understanding where and how that the author has created that rising and falling action can help to create a greater appreciation for this story and the masterful brush strokes of a master artist as he created the story.
The symbolism Dahl uses to etch the theme of the story begins most obviously with the title of the short story itself, “Lamb to the Slaughter” and the instrument used by Mary Maloney to kill her husband. Lambs have been used for thousands of years as a symbol of innocence, meekness, and purity. The phrase “like a lamb to a slaughter” represents something innocent happily making its way towards a negative situation in which it will most likely get hurt. Looking at the story, this phrase could be relevant to either character. Mary Maloney could represent the lamb in the sense that even after her husband told her some seemingly terrible news, she continued on being a gentle and caring wife by trying to make dinner for him as though nothing is wrong.
She has apparently been completely blind to these events and has been being led around to this ultimate severance of her marriage like a small fluffy animal to be killed and served with mint jelly. Having the murder weapon just so happen to be a leg of lamb, it is also a symbol of the lamb retaliating against the force attempting to take its innocent and light. Patrick Maloney, however, could also be recognized as being unaware, if not innocent, to a demise. After telling his devoted wife the bad news, he continues on. While he does fight her making him dinner with anger, he is still continuing to stay and talk with her while she essentially goes into a frenzy about her beloved husband. His murder was as easy as that of a lambs, he was completely unaware her retaliation would be fatal. Dahl’s symbolism is interesting and clear and weaves a great layer into the story.
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