Human nature is a mystery in today’s modern world. One may understand the difference between right and wrong but their actions are sometimes unpredictable. Roald Dahl’s short story, Lamb to the Slaughter, illustrates the transformation of one’s morals and sanity when faced with certain circumstances. This is evident through the use of characterization of the protagonist, Mary Maloney, who drastically undergoes a significant change. Equally important are the types of irony which impart a unique perspective in the transpiring events to the reader. Beyond that, the symbolism of the title and various objects reflect the main message of the story. Although some may think one’s values restrict their choices, Roald Dahl proves that one’s morality does not define the decisions may arrive at.
Initially, Patrick’s declaration that he wants a divorce results in his murder, by his wife. While one can say this proves that Mrs. Maloney does not love her husband, the author emphasizes her adoration for him using characterization in the opening passages. One paragraph in particular illustrates Mary’s attachment to her husband after he returns home, “For her this was always a blissful time of day…. She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man….especially the way he remained silent about his tiredness, sitting still with him until the whiskey had taken some of it away” (Dahl, 1). Additionally, when Mary commits murder it is apparent that she is not thinking clearly. In other words, “everything was automatic” (Dahl 2). Beyond that, she is willing to suffer the death penalty that is until she remembers she is with child. Nevertheless, seeing her husband dead on the floor after she returns from the grocer causes her to “cry her heart out…. No acting necessary” (Dahl 4). To summarize, the shock of her husband’s betrayal sends her into a state contrary to who she is. However the love for her child allows her to carry on.
Similarly, the irony throughout the story indicates that Mrs. Maloney’s actions are unforeseeable. Specifically, situational and dramatic irony are present so that the plot develops. The characterization of Mrs. Maloney creates shock and surprise when she murders her husband; as it contradicts the character that the author establishes. Mary’s, surprise even her, “the violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning” (Dahl 3) brings her out of her astonishment. Equally important is the dramatic irony which illustrates the transition of Mary’s character from loving housewife to a cunning criminal. Her change is so drastic that the detectives do not even remotely suspect her. The irony allows the reader to understand that Mrs. Maloney’s actions do not reflect the character the author creates and therefore are unpredictable.
The author frequently justifies Mary’s actions to protect her innocent image and ethical morals. Although Mrs. Maloney is easily comparable to a modern day murderer, her actions are continuously justifiable in the attempt to portray her as the victim. Namely her husband’s choice to leave her while she is pregnant lessens the extent of the reader’s judgement of Mary’s actions. This portrays Patrick as the enemy rather than the victim that he is. The author uses a third person limited omniscient point of view so that the reader only witnesses Marie’s side of the story and identifies with her pain and sadness. The two detectives also only identify with Mary by questioning her and doing their job while “always treating her kindly” (Dahl 4). They are “exceptionally nice to her” (Dahl 5) because they already view her as the victim. Above all, the title reflects Mary’s role in the story as an innocent lamb that faces slaughter and the end of the life she knew. However, her actions betray her innocence as she does whatever she can to preserve a life for her and her unborn child.
Mrs. Maloney has a sincere affection for her husband, for that reason she devotes many hours of her day to him. However, am unfortunate event reveals a contrary to her nature. Her reaction causes her character to alternate between loving and sinister. Yet, the author persistently portrays Mary as faultless to protect her innocent image even though she strays away from it. Fundamentally, there are no limits one’s actions- whether positive or negative. Regardless of one’s morality, their behaviour can be contrary to what was once thought about a person. Mrs. Maloney’s murder her husband is not violent retaliation but instead her way of taking control of her life by not letting the man she loves cause it to crashing down. Though one should not model Mary’s actions, her experiences teach the lesson to not take life at face value. Rather it is essential to create a life path for one’s self, even if it defies one’s own values.
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