Review of" Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl

Essay by alextwo November 2003

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"Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl was a very enjoyable and witty short story. The story revolves around Mary Maloney, the loving wife of respected policeman Patrick Maloney. Life is bliss for the couple until one day when Patrick announces that he is leaving Mary. Mary kills Patrick and does her best to cover up her crime. Roald Dahl uses tension, surprising contrasts and twists to create an engaging short story.

Tension is an integral technique used by Dahl in "Lamb to the Slaughter" that helps to create a more interesting short story. Tension adds the idea of macabre and allows the story to develop at a steady pace. To create tension, Dahl describes some areas in great detail and in contrast he describes some scenes vary vaguely, allowing you to come to your own conclusions about what happens. When Patrick enters the house, it is very vague in the description and this creates obvious tension between the couple and makes the situation seem very uneasy.

Dahl is also clever in the way that he creates tension by describing scenes in detail with "the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight..." When is Patrick is sitting with Mary, just before he breaks the news, the time travels tremendously slow and there is an uncomfortable silence between Mary and Patrick. This shows that there is something is not right and that there is tension between the couple. The overall effect of the tension is a key reason to my enjoyment of this story.

The surprising contrasts that Dahl uses throughout the story keep the reader interested in the plot. Dahl builds up images from what different characters say, think and act. These images are then quickly shattered, making the whole story very ironic. It is ironic that Patrick is killed by his dinner, and when the policemen are discussing the murder weapon and say, "Probably right under our very noses". When in fact the murder weapon is under their noses and they are eating it and doing so, they get rid of any evidence that may lead to finding the murderer. At the start of the story Patrick is described as being a very loving and caring husband from what Mary says, including, "She loved the intent, far look in his eyes". But the reality is that Patrick is in fact rather selfish by deciding to leave his six-month pregnant wife.

This story is full of unexpected twists. The first major twist is when Mary "...swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head".

This pushes the plot of the story in a completely new direction showing how Mary reacts to the situation. This other side of Mary shows how devious she is and how she can wrap people around her finger, convincing the police that she has no idea about the earlier incidents. There are many other smaller plot twists including the sudden change in Mary's attitude from a loving wife to a cold-hearted murderer. The way in which the plot develops makes the reader want to read on and find out how things will fall into place as the twists eventually make the story fit together nicely.

"Lamb to the Slaughter" is macabre and deeply engaging. Roald Dahl uses tension, twists, and surprising contrasts to great effect to create a humorous short story with the serious subject of death. Dahl has created a very enjoyable and engaging short story that keeps the reader interested in the plot and how it develops.