Question: Write a critical evaluation of a short story that you have read which features an unusual character. Say what the story was about, describe the unusual character and comment on how the author made the story interesting for you.
‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ by Roald Dahl is a short story which I have read recently. The story is written in third person, and is mainly set in the house of the two main characters Mary Maloney, who is expecting a child and her husband Patrick Maloney, who works as a policeman. The house as we are told is in a city in America. When Mary thinks her life is going fine it takes a turn for the worst when her husband arrives home from work one day acting somewhat unusual. We are not told the circumstances why, but he tells Mary that he is leaving her, presumably for another woman.
Mary at that moment acts perfectly fine and shows no reaction to the news she has just been told. She then calmly walks down to the cellar to get a frozen leg of lamb and then walks back upstairs and again into the sitting room where Patrick is and asks if he would like his tea. He then loses his temper and shouts at her with his back to her refusing to turn round. She consequently raises the leg of lamb high above her head and brings it down and strikes Patrick on the back of the head. She then takes a several steps back and he sways for a few seconds then crashes to the ground. Mary acts remarkably calm as she decides what to do. After going to the shop and buying some vegetables she returns home and phones the police as though she has just come back and discovered her dead husband. Whilst all the commotion is going on the lamb is in the oven cooking. In the end Mary suggests that the hardworking policemen should have some tea, after much persuasion from Mary the policemen go into the kitchen and are told to help themselves to the lamb, which unknown to them is the murder weapon used to kill Patrick Maloney.
The first point I would like to draw attention to is how the writer showed Mary as the unusual character in the story. He achieved this by using stimulating and thought provoking phrases. The first phrase is taken from the beginning of the book when the writer described how Mary acted when Patrick had just arrived home from work:
“She knew he didn’t want to speak much until the first drink was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house.”
The above example shows that Mary in her own way is quite unusual as it seems that she was so besotted with Patrick that she was content to sit and say nothing just as long as she was in his company and until she felt that he was ready to speak. The following extract is also from the beginning of the story when the author is illustrating how Mary was almost incapable of letting Patrick do anything by himself:
“He paused a moment, leaning forward in his chair, then he got up and went slowly over to fetch another. ‘I’ll get it!’ she cried, jumping up.’Sit down,’ he said.”
In the above example it was as though Mary was hesitant to allow Patrick to acquire his own drink which is very peculiar. The last reference is extracted subsequent to Mary striking her husband with the leg of lamb:
“All right, she told herself. So I’ve killed him.
It was extraordinary, now how clear her mind became all of a sudden. She began thinking very fast. As the wife of a detective, she knew quite well what the penalty would be. That was fine. It made no difference to her. Infact, it would be a relief. On the other hand, what about the child? What were the laws about murderers with unborn children? Did they kill them both- mother and child? Or did they wait until the tenth month? What did they do?”
The final extract above shows exactly what was going through Marys mind. The bizarre bit is that Mary was obviously very much in love with her husband so the reader asks themselves why did she kill him? The truth is in actual fact that nobody knows the answer except Mary herself. It was as though she was so much in love with Patrick that when he told her he was leaving her it drove her to insanity for a moment when she killed him. Then the moments subsequent to her killing Patrick was when she became somewhat stable again. Mary could have thought to herself well if I cannot have you then no one can but the actual reason nobody knows, it is left for our imagination to decide on. All of the above references show how Mary Maloney was the unusual character in this story.
After reading the short story my thoughts were that I did enjoy the story as it had a particularly bizarre scenario. As you would not expect someone who is very much in love with their partner be the one who is responsible for their homicide. Mary in the end was not thinking of herself when she invented the plan to get away with the killing but her unborn baby which in my opinion is very considerate due to her prior actions. It also shows the hidden depth to this strange, and unpredictable character Mary Maloney.