The Landlady by Roald Dahl
In The Landlady by Roald Dahl we have the theme of appearance, identity, acceptance, loneliness, innocence and conflict. 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 appearance. Not everything is as it seems in the story. The Landlady who remains unnamed has the appearance of a gentle old woman yet in all likelihood she may in fact be responsible for the killing of several young men who have had the misfortune of staying at her lodgings. Though Billy finds it difficult to remember who both men are that have signed the guest book prior to his arrival. He still nonetheless is sure that he knows them and that they may have met an unwelcome fate. This may be important as Billy’s inability to remember exactly where he saw both men’s names raises suspicions with the reader. Suspicions with regard to exactly who the landlady may be. If anything the reader never gets a true sense of who the landlady may be. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Dahl is exploring the theme of identity.
It is also possible that Dahl is exploring the theme of conflict. At first Billy is in two minds as to whether he should stay at the Bed and Breakfast. Preferring instead to stay at the Bell and Dragon. However due to the physical appearance of the Bed and Breakfast Billy ends up changing his mind. Though only slight Billy is still nonetheless in conflict with himself. Something that becomes clearer to the reader by way of the fact that Billy tries his best to remember where he has previously seen Mr Mulholland and Mr Temple’s names. It is also interesting that despite the landlady saying that both Mr Mulholland and Mr Temple are staying on the fourth floor. The lodgings themselves are absent of any items like coats or umbrellas that might be left in the hallway by either man. If anything the reader would expect Billy to be suspicious but the reality is he isn’t. He accepts in totality everything that the landlady is telling him. Something that the reader realises may eventually cost Billy his life. It is as though Billy’s youth lets him down. He is after all only seventeen and may not necessarily be wise to the ways of the world.
The fact that the landlady is also a taxidermist and still has her dead parrot and dog in the lodgings might also be significant as there is a sense that the landlady is unable to let go of either animal. Though they have died she still wants them as they were. It is as though the landlady is afraid to be alone. Which might explain as to why she is so kind to Billy and the other gentlemen who have stayed in her lodgings. There are also other warning signs that Billy doesn’t seem to pick up on. The fact that there is such a long gap between his visit and Mr Temple’s should arouse suspicion but it doesn’t. As mentioned on the surface the landlady’s lodgings are perfect and as such appeal to an innocent Billy. The reader left to suspect that they also appealed to Mr Mulholland and Mr Temple. It is also clear to the reader that the landlady has a preference for young, good-looking men. This too could be important as the landlady may feel rejuvenated in their company. If anything she thrives on the lives of those who are younger than her.
It may also be significant that the landlady is unable to remember Billy’s name as Dahl could be using this omission to further highlight the theme of identity. It is also possible that the landlady simply can’t remember the names of others because she may have killed so many young men. The reader after all is only given a glimpse of one page of the guest book. The page that contains Mr Mulholland and Mr Temple’s names. It is also clear to the reader that the landlady may have in fact poisoned Billy with the tea that she has given him. He does after all get a taste of bitter almonds. Not the type of taste that one would expect from tea. Though the story ends in a rather casual way the reality for Billy will be very different. He will not make it to work the following day. Just as Mr Mulholland and Mr Temple never made it to their intended destination. By way of appearance the landlady has managed to fool Billy (and others). With the reader left wondering who will be her next victim. Such is the landlady’s persuasive manner there is sure to be another victim and the landlady will only stop killing people when she is caught.