Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
In Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl we have the theme of acceptance, gender roles, deceit, change and control. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Dahl may be exploring the theme of acceptance. Mary accepts what Patrick has said to her without questioning him about his motives. Though the reader never learns as to what Patrick has said. It is likely that he wishes to end his relationship with Mary and continue his life without her. Something that the reader expects Mary to have difficulty accepting but she doesn’t. Though her initial reaction is to reject what Patrick has said. Within a short period of time Mary appears to accept Patrick’s news. It is also noticeable that Mary with calmness kills Patrick as this too would play on the theme of acceptance. Mary at no stage in the story fights Patrick or anybody else. What is also interesting about Mary’s actions is how normal life continues for her. In order to create an alibi. Mary goes to the grocers and just as she acted normally when she killed Patrick she is also exceptionally calm when she goes to the grocers. This could be important as Dahl may be placing a spotlight on the fact that Mary is clever enough to realise what she has done. There is no sentiment or regret on Mary’s behalf. She accepts that having killed Patrick she must make it look like somebody else has killed him.
Dahl may also be exploring gender roles. Mary is expected to have the dinner ready (though not on Thursdays) for Patrick. Her day revolves around Patrick arriving home having some drinks and making sure dinner is ready for him. Similarly when Jack Noonan mentions that his wife could look after Mary rather than have Mary stay in the house. The reader senses that Noonan is attributing the role of comforter to the female. There is also an assumption by the police that the killer is a man which is something that suits Mary. At no stage in the story is she under suspicion. So good is Mary’s acting that all those concerned in finding the killer do not place their focus on Mary. She is an innocent. Something that the reader suspects is based on her gender. It would be considered highly improbable that a woman would be able to kill a man. At least not in the eyes of Noonan and the other policemen. However the reader is fully aware that Mary is a cold-hearted killer who is acting deceitfully throughout the story. Which may mirror how Patrick has treated Mary. He too has in a cold-hearted manner most likely ended his marriage to Mary.
Mary’s actions at the beginning of the story may suggest that she is also a submissive if not obedient wife. However as the story progresses it becomes clear to the reader that Mary is apt at thinking her way out of an awkward situation. If anything Mary changes from the submissive housewife to a woman who is independent and strong minded in her thinking. Mary is not emotional at any stage of the story. Unless she needs to be. Her thinking is not clouded. She knows what she is doing and what she has to do in order for others to not consider her to be a suspect. Everything is calculated and rehearsed with Mary. It is as though she has a role to play and she needs to play it well. Something she does succeed in doing in the story. It is also noticeable that Mary appears to control the murder scene. She is allowed to sit in the chair in the room where Patrick’s body is. Something that would not be good practice for an investigator (Noonan). The fact that Patrick also needs to serve himself a stronger whiskey than normal could be important. As Dahl could be highlighting the fact that Patrick doesn’t have the strength to tell Mary his news. He needs the stronger whiskey as a crutch. Yet Mary herself does not need anything.
If anything the weaker of the sexes in the story is the male. Patrick is a policeman and one would expect him to be strong. Yet when it comes to telling Mary the news. He needs to numb himself of feeling. The end of the story is also interesting as it is ironic that the four policemen are eating the weapon used to kill Patrick. Any evidence that Mary may be the guilty party is being eaten. It might also be important that Mary giggles to herself when she hears the policemen eating the lamb as this would give the reader an insight into how cold and calculated Mary is. She knows that she has successfully killed Patrick and will not be caught. It is also possible that Dahl by having the four policemen eat the lamb is ridiculing the policemen. At no stage in the story has Mary found her equal. She has managed to kill Patrick and get away with it. She has fooled the police. It is also not coincidental that all those who are fooled are male. Dahl most likely highlighting the superiority of the female over the male. Due to preconceptions of what a woman is Mary manages to get away with murder.