“Irony in Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl

Pages: 3
Words: 841

The irony, a literary device that provides a clashing of the choice of word and its intended meaning, features prominently within Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter. The utilization of irony in its various forms is often a component of allowing a work to illuminate the complexities and contradictions of the human experience. Prior to analyzing the instances of irony and their implications within the work, it is vital to understand the types of irony and their meanings.

Verbal irony refers to instances in which a speaker’s words do not match the intent of the speaker. A character may make a statement but is referring to an entirely different theme, idea, or motivation. This fosters irony between meaning and literal words within a narrative text. Usually, they may be seen as understatements or overstatements but not as sarcasm due to the clarity with which a speaker communicates. Dramatic irony, which often features in both literature and theatre, refers to instances in which the audience has more information than the characters. As such, the nature and actions of certain characters have a different impact on the readers than on some uninformed characters within the work. Due to this, this form of irony is often found within tragedies and dramatic works and is often also called tragic irony. It is effective in providing a narrative with suspense and tension as the readers have already often acquired vital information that other characters have not. It has early roots in works such as The Odyssey and Oedipus Rex which proves that it is a vital element of dramatic storytelling.

Situational irony refers to events in which something occurs that was unexpected or in cases where the opposite of an event was expected to happen. A commonly recurring example includes a fire station that burns down. Within the literature, it is often featured as an insight into specific thematic messages or even humor. The purpose of situational irony is often to introduce a surprising twist to a story. Similarly, it can introduce a thematic element or moral by shocking the reader or altering their perspective. All three forms appear within Dahl’s work and serve different purposes in communicating the narrative and underlying messages to the readers.

Lamb to the Slaughter introduces a couple, Mary and Patrick, a policeman. After a tiring day of work, Patrick reveals that he plans to leave Mary and as he relays that he plans to go out, Mary kills him with a frozen leg of lamb. Following this, she puts it in the oven and goes to the grocer, maintaining her composure in order to not give away that she has committed a crime. Upon her return home, she calls the police, who come to investigate. They find that Patrick was killed with a heavy object, such as a metal vase but did not consider the lamb leg. They discuss that the murder weapon is likely “right under their noses” (Dahl, 2012) as they eat the leg. Mary asks them to eat it as she cannot do it herself and they finish the leg, unknowingly destroying the evidence of the crime.

The use of dramatic irony is present in the conversations the policemen have regarding the murder weapon. They make statements that confirm that they “think its right ehre on the premises” while being completely unaware that the murder weapon is being consumed by them. During these exchanges, Mary giggles, communicating to the audience that while she and the reader are aware of the reality, the policemen are not. Situational irony can be found in the early scenes of the story with the initial introduction of Mary and Patrick. Mary is shown as meek and quiet, close to her husband. She is seen providing him with ingredients for his cocktail, being considerate of his tiring day, offering him slippers, and cooking in order to stay in for their dinner. However, this image is starkly contrasted with Mary later in the story as she is in denial of her failing marriage. Her calm and nurturing identity is changed when she commits the murder and becomes satisfied with not being caught by the end of the story.

Verbal irony is also a recurring feature of this work. When Mary goes to the grocer, she asks the man in the shop for something to be eaten with the lamb. The grocer suggests a cheesecake which he knows Patrick to enjoy. Mary agrees, stating that he loves it with the intention of referring to Patrick in the present tense when she knows him to be dead. It occurs once more upon her return home, when she calls out to Patrick to ask him if he’s home while knowing that he is dead where she had killed him. The theme of betrayal is the underlying driving force of the narrative that is elevated by the different forms of irony. Betrayal is a concept that is founded on deception, which can be seen in both Patrick’s behavior with Mary as well as her deceit of the policemen.

Work Cited

Dahl, Roald. Lamb to the Slaughter. Penguin Books Limited, 2012.