Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl Book Review
In “Lamb to the Slaughter'' Roald Dahl writes a story about an unassuming housewife, Mary Maloney, who murders her own husband in a moment of anger and suddenly becomes a master con artist. In this short story, Dahl utilizes the literary devices of role reversal, stereotypes, and ironies which fill the story with dark humor, conveying the message that nothing is how it seems.
As the story begins, very clear roles are laid out for Mary and her husband. Mr. Maloney is the dominant one, in charge of making money while Mary is responsible for keeping the house in order and serving her husband. Even after her husband reveals that he is leaving her, Mary is committed to cooking him dinner. Her role is so ingrained in her identity that once she loses her position as “wife” she snaps. Mary murders her husband in a moment of rage and panic, making her the dominant one and her husband powerless. Instantaneously, Mary takes on her new role by devising an entire scheme in order to get away with murder. As her detective husband lays on the ground lifeless, it is clear that Mary has taken on the detective role as well.
The story is filled with classic stereotypes: the doting housewife, the cheating husband, and the ignorant police officers. At first glance, the characters fit right into their stereotypes, but as the story goes Mary defies her stereotype as the police officers confirm theirs. In the beginning, Mary Maloney is the perfect example of a stereotypical housewife in the 1950’s. However, she quickly shows the readers that she has more depth to her character. She proves to be unsophisticated and manipulative as her long term goal is revealed to be no longer serving her husband, but to cover up his murder instead. It seems that Mary reverts back to the stereotypical housewife, but this is part of her devious plan to protect her image and cover up her crime. To her advantage, the police officers investigating Patrick Maloney’s murder confirm another stereotype that police officers are arrogant and careless. Certain that no woman could commit such a heinous act, the officers pity the widow and cross her off as a possible suspect. While doing so, they all become accomplices in destroying the evidence of the murder.
In addition to all of the unexpected turn of events in “Lamb to the Slaughter”, irony plays a huge role. The story begins by explaining how deeply Mary loves her husband and looks forward to him coming home every day. Yet when he finally returns from work, Mary kills him. The ironies continue as the police officers are at the crime scene searching for evidence. They treat Mary as a sad widow, completely unaware of the fact that she is guilty of murdering her husband. The most ironic scene in the story is when the officers take a break from their work and eat the lamb that Mary so kindly offers them. They continue to discuss how easy it will be to find the weapon because it must have been something big and metal, little do they know they are destroying the evidence as they speak.
Although “Lamb to the Slaughter” starts off as a seemingly happy and traditional story about a husband and wife, it turns into a tragic murder story where all norms are defied. Role reversals, stereotypes, and ironies are used throughout the story to show the readers that although things might seem one way at first, nothing is how it seems.