The Story ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ by Roald Dahl
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In the story ‘Lamb to the slaughter’ by Roald Dahl, Mary Maloney is an ideal, dedicated, very caring and a loving wife whose world simply revolves around her husband, Patrick. Her only concern and desire in life is to keep her husband happy. She is madly in love with him. The story begins with Mary eagerly waiting for her husband. As usual she has taken every care to clean the house and keep the room ready, taking extra care like having the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight one for her and the other for her husband next to where he will be seated, two tall glasses, whisky and even fresh ice cubes in the thermos basket. Every now and then she glances up at the clock just to please herself with the thought that each minute has gone by which made it nearer the time when her husband will arrive. This shows that she is pleased and happy even while waiting for her husband, Patrick.
Finally at ten minutes to five as she begins to listen, a few moments later punctually as always she hears the tyres on the gravel outside and the car slamming, the footsteps passing the window and the key turning in the lock. She lays aside her sewing, stands up to greet her husband who has just arrived. She moves forward to kiss him. They both exchange hellos. She takes his coat and hangs it in the closet. She makes drinks for both of them, a strong one for him and a weak one for herself. For her this is always a blissful time of the day as she knows that he never likes to speak much until the first drink is finished, she takes extra care about it and is content to sit quietly on her side, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house. She loves to luxuriate in the presence of this man and to feel almost as a sunbather feels the sun, that warm male glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together. She loves every bit of him and everything about him.
For the way he sits loosely in the chair, for the way he comes in a door or moves slowly across the room with long strides, she loves the intent and far look in his eyes when they rest in her, the funny shape of the mouth and especially the way he remains silent about his tiredness sitting still with himself until the whisky has taken some of it away. This clearly shows that in spite of even being pregnant, she still continues to care for him the same way as she does and it does not become an excuse for her of not being able to work or make the same kind of efforts. On the other hand, Patrick, in spite of getting so much attention, care and love from Mary he does not reciprocate. He is a serious and a grumpy character who does not understand the value of love and romance.
When Mary, out of concern repeatedly asks him different kinds of questions such as whether he is tired or not or whether he wants his slippers or not, she even offers to make his second drink but Patrick gets agitated and snubs her instead. Then she repeatedly asks him whether wants something to eat or not and insists on fixing him some cheese and crackers. This angers Patrick further and he breaks the shocking news of him wanting to break up with her. He does not even consider the fact that she is pregnant. This shows that Patrick is not only serious, grumpy and temperamental, but he is also selfish and self-centered who only thinks about himself and his happiness and does not understand the importance of love, care and his marriage.
In the story ‘Hey you down there by Harold Rolseth, we come across Dora being a gentle, polite and a submissive woman. Whereas her husband Calvin, is dominating and bossy. On their day to day lives, he does not find it necessary to ask her opinion on things and if she has anything to say, he neglects it or is rude to her. He does not treat her with respect, love, care and kindness. Whenever Calvin would go to town, he’d burden her with chores that were to be done during his absence; coupling each order with a threat of what awaited her should his instructions not be carried out. Therefore, he was also cruel to her and did not bother much about her wellbeing and happiness. As a result, we genuinely feel sorry for Dora and sympathise with her.
Mary is a very sincere, caring and a loving wife, but on the other hand Patrick is a serious, selfish and self-centered person. Patrick does not reciprocate the love and care that Mary showers on him. When Mary asks him repeatedly whether he wants to have dinner or not, he refuses. He gets irritated at her and angrily shouts at her and tells her that she need not make dinner for him as he will be going out. At that point, Mary Maloney simply walks up behind him and without a pause; she swings the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brings it down as hard as she can on the back of his head. He then crashes to the carpet. The violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning helps bring her out of the shock. She comes out slowly, feeling cold and surprised and she stands for a while blinking at the body. Still holding the ridiculous piece of meat tight with both hands, it’s then she realises that she has killed him and tells herself, “Alright, so I’ve killed him”.
As readers, we have a great deal of sympathy for Mary Maloney because she does not get the love, care and affection that she should have got from her husband Patrick. Patrick was always rude, arrogant and irritated. He was a difficult man to handle and to please. Mary Maloney tried her very best, showering all her love and affection on him, but it did not help. Even though she killed her husband, we as readers are drawn into wanting her not to get caught. In fact we are relieved to find Patrick dead and out of her life. Hence, when she informs the police station about Patrick’s murder and when they finally arrive at her house to investigate, we in our heart of hearts, hope that they do not find any evidence to prove her guilty.
As the story ‘Hey you down there’ progresses, we find Calvin even more rude than ever. Whenever Dora has something to say Calvin completely shuts her up or replies very scornfully. For example, when Calvin goes to find out how far down the hole goes, the hole which was halfway between the house and the barn, Dora assists him for this. Calvin ties a flashlight securely to the end of the line of a large ball of binder twine; he switches it on and lowers it into the hole. He pays out the line for about 100ft and then stops. The light was only a feeble glimmer down below and reveals nothing. Calvin lowers the light another 100ft and this time it was only a twinkling speck as it swung at the end of the line. Calvin releases another long length of twine and releases more and more and now the light was no longer visible and the large ball of twine had shrunk into a small tangle, but the line did not come up with Calvin’s pull. It stretched and grew taut, but it did not yield to his tugging. Calvin gives the line a sharp jerk and in reply there was downward jerk that almost tore the line from his hands. In excitement, Calvin yells out to Dora, “The line…it jerked!” in a protested reply, Dora says, “But, Calvin”.
Calvin snubs her and replies, “Don’t Calvin me. I tell you there’s something on the end of this line.” Another example is when Calvin was away. He had gone to town. Dora had visited the well a few times burying the gold bars to her petunia bed beside the house which she had derived from the creatures that were living under the ground in the well. She had paid no heed to the sound of a car coming down to the highway at high speed until it passed the house and a wild squawking sounded above the roar of the motor. She hurried around to the front of the house, knowing already what had happened. She stared in dismay at the four chickens which lay dead in the road. She knew that Calvin would blame her and beat her into unconsciousness. This also brings about the fact Calvin was capable of violence since Dora was so confident about it. Another account of is rude behaviour is when he returns back from town.
He orders Dora to fix him something to eat. Dora hurries into the house and begins to prepare ham and eggs for him. She announces it to him when breakfast is ready and then Calvin replies, “Shut up”. While having his breakfast, Calvin throws the switch which controlled the winch. Then he gets an oil can from the truck and applies oil generously to the rod and cable. In a very short while the cable went slack and Calvin stopped the winch. He does all this in order to give the creatures an hour to load up the gold. At this, Dora gets almost numb with fear at the thought of Calvin getting to know about the gold she had received and very likely kill her. All these examples clearly reveal Calvin’s brutal, cruel and violent side. Dora is completely at the mercy of Calvin. Therefore we are invited to side with Dora, who is a very docile, gentle and a submissive woman and despise Calvin.
Roald Dahl, the author of ‘Lamb to the slaughter’ is right to treat murder in such a light hearted way. Mary is a wonderful wife who always puts Patrick first before herself. Whereas Patrick is a selfish man who does not value or understand Mary’s feelings, love and care for him. Even though Mary kills her husband, the author is very right in treating the murder in a light hearted way, so as to not put Mary into a problematic situation. Even we as readers do not feel any grief for Patrick’s death, rather relief and feel a great deal of sympathy for Mary and do not want her to get caught. Therefore, to prevent Mary from getting caught and to avoid creating drama and a sad ending, the author sensibly ends the story in a very light hearted way.
The author Harold Rolseth is right to treat death in such a light hearted way as in the story ‘Hey you down there’ we discover Calvin to be a heartless and a brutal man. While Dora, in spite of Calvin’s repeated rude behaviour always tolerates him and cares for him. Calvin’s death is an accident. He gets eaten up by the creatures who reside in the well. They mistake him to be the turkey which they had asked Dora to send them. When Dora learns about this through the thank you note that the creatures had sent her, praising the about the delicious, incomparable, live turkey which was actually Calvin. Neither Dora nor we as readers mourn his death. In fact we are relieved and feel happy about Dora getting back her freedom, happiness and all that she deserves. The author is sensible in treating Calvin’s death in a comic way to prevent the story on having a dramatic sad ending, especially since the whole story deals with Dora always being sad, depressed and stressed of life because of Calvin. For that reason, treating death in such a very light hearted way at the end brings a comic relief to the story.