Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter”: The Character of Mary

Pages: 5
Words: 1541

Is Mary a Good Spouse?

At the beginning of the story, Mary has that plume of the perfect wife waiting dutifully for her husband. She looks at her watch to “delight herself with the thought that with every passing minute, the time is approaching when he will come” (Dahl 1). She seems happy to wait for him: her smile is always calm, and her eyes kindly follow the daily routine. She meets him joyfully and runs to kiss him: in addition, she quickly abandons her hobby (sewing) to please her husband. Mary immediately pleases her husband by taking off his coat and preparing a drink for him. She is also silent because it is a “blissful time of day” that does not belong to her (Dahl 1). There is no room for her now, and she knows it: Mary is the perfect wife, submissive and quiet by those temporal standards. Glasses of wine, tidying her coat, silence, and downcast gaze are her attributes of a good wife.

Mary’s Behavior before Bad News

At the beginning, Mary acts as a good wife: she prepares drinks and tries to take care of her husband. She tried to find out from him what was troubling him; simultaneously, she was probably afflicted even by the way the ice cubes in her husband’s glass were tinkling against its walls (Dahl 2). She tried to serve herself and serve a new drink, but the man was rude to her. He did not reciprocate her care; Mary’s actions were habitual and did not arouse any feelings in him. He refused her rather rudely and did not try to talk to her: there was no nod or smile (Dahl 2). Mary’s husband behaved unacceptably and did not care for his wife, even though she sought his attention.

Mary’s Feeling after Husband’s Death

After Mary kills her husband, she is cold and calm: she looks at the body of her murdered husband and admits what she has done. She believes that her “mind has cleared,” which has allowed her to make swift decisions about the problem (Dahl 3). Mary calmly put the leg of lamb in the oven and then, with some trepidation, practiced in front of the mirror to save face. She went to the store to freshen up and deal with the initial shock (Dahl 4). Perhaps this was the right decision for her: this way, she could cope with the stress she had experienced and figure out how to behave next. In addition, a realization came over her, and because of her feelings for her murdered husband, she was able to behave perfectly from now on.

Mary and Police Officers

At first, Mary’s behavior is anxious: she is a little worried that the policemen will realize what she has done. But when she sees all the men in the room, she is at ease and copes with herself (Dahl 5). She calmly asks one of the police officers for a whiskey and even offers it to him as the exemplary wife of a good murdered husband. Her behavior is unsuspicious and cold: her acting is only a mask under which she hides her appeasement (Dahl 6). She no longer has to worry about dinner, about how her husband would behave with her – life has changed, and she accepts it readily.

Mary through Men’ View

Mary’s husband saw her only as an amusement through which he got what he wanted. Mary served him, and she seemed to him as foolish as any other woman. Her husband probably left her for a new woman and found Mary’s care unnecessary (Dahl 3). The grocer thinks Mary is a good wife: she cooks dinners, carries a child, and generally conforms to ideal women. Her submissiveness pleases Sam, and he always enjoys talking to her, albeit in a commanding tone (Dahl 4). To the officers, Mary is not a threat-they knew her and her husband; and she has always been a simpleton woman to them. Instead, she was as a waste to them as the officers’ wives were. It is fundamentally different from Mary is: she is smart, can keep her face, and handles adversity with a cool head.

Wives in the 1950s

Wives in the 50’s probably suffered from many factors: husbands returning from the war had the PTSD, which made them mistreat their women. It forced women to live in fear for themselves and their children, and attempts to escape were cut short by the article’s rules. A single woman was perceived as an inferior being because the 1950 rules created a particular image of a wife. She was to be submissive, obedient, and obeys her husband’s every wish (Dahl 1). In addition, wives were never supposed to offer their solutions to problems. Mary initially fits the bill of a model wife: she cooks dinner and puts up with her husband’s late arrivals. She also carries his child and tries to create “a haven of rest and order” (Dahl 1) and a comfortable environment. However, her husband’s potential divorce and estrangement eventually spoil this romantic picture.

Myself as 1950s Wife

The housewife rules look like a mockery of modern realities: they completely level the female image and diminish women’s importance, identity, and visibility in society. The post-war time of the 50s was difficult due to the losses of the male population, but it would have been for me that such rules would have been excruciating. For one thing, I would have felt like an empty place: I especially dislike rule 4 about my husband’s leisure time – “your duties are to provide it” (quote). My job as a human being is to enjoy my life, not constantly serve my husband. I would hate to have my feet rubbed off on me and used to satisfy my needs. Rules 10 and 11 are awful: women’s opinions are not considered, and problems cannot exist because our only job is to wash our socks and make dinner (quote). Maria’s act is hard, and murder is wrong: but I understand her because it is terrible to endure humiliation. I could not have done as she did, but I would try to get away from such a husband with all my might.

Title of the Story

The story’s title is telling and interesting in that it answers the central question of the story about who is responsible for their actions. In addition, the title refers to the murder weapon and the same manner of killing before the evening meal. The lamb in this story is a twofold image: first, Mary herself was “given” to her husband for his whim (Dahl 3). She was to please him and be his companion throughout his life, including in other meals – with another woman. But her husband also became the lamb that Mary sacrificed for her future: she used a leg of lamb (again, the title is telling) and killed him (Dahl 3). Such complex metaphors condition the title: the use of part of a lamb, essentially torn from Mary’s heart, to obtain justice for her destiny.

The Character of Mary through a Feminist Lens

A feminist lens is a helpful tool for analyzing a story from a new perspective. It seems unnecessary in today’s world, but it allows us to look at a level in a new way. Perhaps this is why Mary in Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter is revealed not as a murderer but as a woman’s breakthrough. Analyzing this story from a feminist perspective, it is clear that a culture of female oppression can turn against men.

Mary seems to be an exemplary wife, conforming to the rules: she cooks her husband’s dinners, serves him drinks and slippers. But in murdering her husband, she feels free and her mind cleansed (Dahl 3). It shows how much she was burdened by being a good wife and how she resisted the post-war world. The motive for the murder was an inner desire to throw off the oppression of a husband who put her in no position to do anything. After the murder, she behaved politely with men, wearing the mask of an exemplary wife. She cried when she saw the body of her husband, but she laughed while the police officers ate lamb’s leg (Dahl 7). She smiled at the grocer and roughly heeded his wise advice about cheesecake. This behavior reveals Maria’s character: she is a strong woman. Sewing was her hobby, but it resisted her: instead, she wanted something new – like whiskey in her husband’s glass. She is clever, and her ideal image as a wife allowed her to get away with murder and watch the discouraged police officers with derision.

Thus, with a feminist critical view of the Lamb to the slaughter, it becomes clear that it is not Mary who is the unhappy Lamb at all. The men are the policemen, the murdered husband, and the grocer who treats women with contempt. But Mary feels free to kill her husband; she cleverly leads the men by the nose; she is strong and brave. This story is an example of how men, by their lack of intelligence and respect for women, become hostages to a fate with a woman’s face.

Work Cited

Dahl, Roald. Lamb to the Slaughter. Harper’s Magazine, 1954.