Roald Dahl is a very famous British author, who had written many novels as well as short stories. One of such short stories is the darkly humorous story, “Lamb to the Slaughter.” This story talks about a woman in an almost oppressive marriage, who then, after hearing that her husband is planning to leave her, manages to successfully murder him, leaving no incriminating evidence for the police to find. “Lamb to the Slaughter” through the use of expected gender roles and their reversal portrays a successful escape of a woman from her oppressive marriage and the role that society had given her.
The beginning of the story sets the scene, showing how Mary Maloney and her husband fit their marital roles. The story starts with the pregnant Mary Maloney waiting for her husband to return home. She has embraced the role of a dutiful and loving wife wholeheartedly, seemingly feeling satisfied with fulfilling the duties that are expected of her. When her husband arrives from work, they act in the typical fashion of what is expected from a couple in this time period – the wife tries to do everything to make the husband happy, offering to help him and doing every little thing that she thinks might satisfy him. She is even completely content in this role, saying “She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel — almost as a sunbather feels the sun — that warm male glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together” (Dahl, 1). He, on the other hand, does not treat her with respect and acts entitled to her attention, which is again what was almost the norm in those types of relationships. The characters falling into their expected roles so easily is used as a contrast to the later part of the story, and with how normal and expected it seems, it puts focus on the sudden twist that happens.
The role reversal that shows Mary Maloney’s triumph starts after she finds out that her husband is planning to leave her. She goes to prepare dinner, but then suddenly, and unexpectedly, murders her husband with a frozen leg of a lamb. In that moment, Patrick Maloney goes from the dominant role of a successful man but uncaring husband to the role of the victim, and Mary Maloney goes from being a submissive wife to becoming a killer. However, instead of panicking, Mary Maloney embraces this role reversal. After the police arrive and after Mary manages to successfully hide the evidence, the way the policeman treat Mary can be compared to the beginning of the story. They do treat her with a bit of condescension, but still, they are the ones who are offering her drinks and trying to help and satisfy her. In this relationship, she is the one in control, which contrasts with how her husband was the one in control of their relationship in the beginning of the story. The way these interpersonal relationships are shown, between Mary Maloney and her husband, and Mary Maloney and the other policemen highlight the fact that Mary has manages to successfully escape the predetermined role that society has given her.
“Lamb to the Slaughter” is a short story written by Roald Dahl, that presents a typical relationship of a husband and a wife, which then goes sour when the husband decides to leave, and the wife murders him in retaliation. It shows the wife first in her typical submissive role, and then, after the murder, in the role of someone in control, showing how she successfully, albeit through murder, managed to escape her given role.
- Dahl, Roald. Lamb to the Slaughter. Harper’s Magazine, 1953.