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Theme Of Betrayal In The Lamb To The Slaughter

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Let’s be honest, that feeling of being betrayed by someone once thought of as trustworthy is like a punch in the stomach. This awful feeling, called betrayal, is defined as violating a person’s trust or confidence – and this is exactly the main theme of the story. A story in which the husband leaves the wife causing the wife to murder her husband. In “Lamb to the Slaughter” written by Roald Dahl, the damaging effects of marriage betrayal are conveyed through the use of characters such as Mr. and Mrs. Maloney, events like the murdering of Patrick Maloney, and through the repetition of dramatic irony.

The theme of betrayal is consistently revealed through characters such as Mr. and Mrs. Maloney. Dahl states that Mr. Maloney will “give you (Mary Maloney) money and see that you’re looked after. But there needn’t really be any fuss.” to demonstrate that Mr. Maloney is leaving his pregnant wife. This, especially, calls attention to betrayal. During a wedding, one vows to stick with their counterpart, both in good times and bad. Obviously, Mr. Maloney failed to do this. This goes to a bigger issue of intent. Did Mr. Maloney intended to stick to his vows or was this a ruse? The next question is if it was ruse…why? Was it because of instability, a mistress, money or some other nefarious means. Additionally, he did betray his future offspring. His actions clearly indicate that he gambled that he had made a determination that what he perceived he was going to gain was more than what he was going to lose. He tried to justify his potential actions, by providing money to his wife. This money demonstrates that he did feel some remorse and appeasement. His justification of the ends of the means is clearly played out when he was killed at the hands of Mary Maloney. The book also shows that Mary Maloney betrayed her friends writing that “In the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle” while her friends (husbands coworkers) were struggling to find the weapon. The weapon could have been easily disposed of either by a meat grinder, tossing into a river, burying it or letting an animal have a feat. Lying to friends is a violation of a person’s trust, also known as betrayal. What makes it even worse was that she was betraying her friends for her own benefit. The betrayal leads to bigger issues, although trust is a big issue. What was the benefit that she hoped to obtain. Therefore, it is clear to see that betrayal is shown through the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Maloney.

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Betrayal is especially prominent through the killing of Mr. Maloney. Dahl notes that “Mary Maloney walked up behind him and without any pause swung the big frozen leg of lamb… as hard as she could on the back of his head” revealing the brutalness of the killing. This brutality evidenced by this extreme rage and anger was deeply personal and without remorse. This is arguably the most severe type of betrayal because, although he was going to leave her, she vowed to always love him and this is not love; this is hate and selfishness. This hatred was not the first time in history(or the last) that this has been demonstrated. What also spotlights the brutalness of this is Dahl claiming “she might just as well hit him with a steel club.” The action of an “animal part” demonstrates the immediacy of her action and quick anger brought on by his betrayal. This shows the intent and the power of the swing showing that Mary was immensely mad. Thus, Mary clearly betrayed her husband by murdering him. The action in her mind was justified without prejudice and she literally wanted to act out “till death due us part” , although by her own hand. This is also ironic in every sense of the word

Roald Dahl showed betrayal exceptionally well with the use of dramatic irony. Throughout the story dramatic irony is present. Dramatic irony is where the reader or the audience knows something that the characters do not. After the murder, the audience knew who killed Mr. Maloney, where he was killed, and what weapon was used to kill him. The audience will still not know the full story, only the end result. The question remains…what caused this betrayal and how Mary Maloney did recognize his potential deceitfulness before their sacred vows. Mr. Maloney made a gamble that cost him his life. It is unknown of his intentions before marriage such as whether he intended to betray her or he was weak in a moment. The detectives (characters) do not; they are trying to determine that. Likewise when she calls the police she exclaims “ Quick! Come quick! Patrick’s dead!” when in reality both she and the reader knows that Mary already knew, but the police did not. Similarly, when she was at the supermarket she referred to Patrick in the present tense saying “Patrick’s decided he’s tired and doesn’t want to eat out tonight.” when he was actually dead, but the clerk did not know. At this point, she is aware of her actions and satisfied with her deadly results. One could also infer that she is satisfied and feels somewhat justified that the ends justify the means, especially due to a betrayal of vows. Therefore, dramatic irony played a crucial role in the story as well as conveying the theme of betrayal.

To conclude, in “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl, betrayal was a prominent theme throughout the short story. It was conveyed through the characters by Mr. Maloney betraying his wife and Mrs. Maloney betrays her friends. In her betrayal to her friends she is hypocritical by her actions. Through the main event of the killing of Patrick specifically with the brutalness of it. Lastly, through dramatic irony consistently giving the reader the advantage on other characters. Thus, betrayal was shown in three different ways throughout “Lamb to the Slaughter.”

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Theme Of Betrayal In The Lamb To The Slaughter. (2021, September 22). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
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