1.1  Background

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the short story, the six-months-pregnant Mary Maloney murdered her husband by
stabbing her with a big frozen lamb because her husband asked for a divorce
that made Mary angry. Those who have read this mysteriously unique and
classical short story might question why the author chose to use the word
‘lamb’ to become the main attraction of the story. This mini thesis is a study
to find the logical reason why does it necessarily be lamb? As we all know,
every detail in the story has a purpose of its own. So technically, there
really are subtle and indirect meanings behind the usage of word ‘lamb’; and of
course, on the other hand, using other word to replace ‘lamb’ would not give
the exact same meaning.


1.2  Significance
of Study

a reader, it is crucial to understand the truest meaning—both explicit and
implicit meaning from a reading passage. So, it is important that students who
have read the short story to fully deduce the meaning behind the usage of
certain vital words the author use to deliver specific messages. If not, the
readers will not benefit fully from the story as the meaning is not clearly
seen. In this piece of work, I would like to enlighten the readers of Lamb to
The Slaughter by Roald Dahl so that they are aware of the fact that when Mary
Maloney used the frozen lamb to kill his husband, there are some subtle
messages that are trying to be delivered to the readers.

To give an illustration, if someone reads an idiom such as ‘one man’s meat is
another man’s poison’, he or she might take the idiom literally, word by word
if the reader does not study the meaning behind it. In contrast, the idiom
itself means a person’s passion or interest is not always the same as others.
In this context, readers of this short story might think there is no message
behind the usage of lamb as a tool to kill someone. That being said, the author
obviously has a purpose why he wanted Mary to take the frozen lamb and stabbed
his husband. She didn’t even feel guilty to have murdered his husband. Not only
that, she also cooked the lamb and served it to the policemen who came to
investigate the murder case at her house to destroy the prime evidence. Due to
the signifcance of the study, I would like to make a thesis entitled What Does
The Word ‘Lamb’ Symbolize in Lamb to The Slaughter by Roald Dahl?


1.3  Methodology

this study, I will divide the symbolism of ‘lamb’ in the short story into three
main points—lamb symbolizes purity and innocence, lamb symbolizes sacrifice and
the irony of the ‘lamb to the slaughter’ itself as an idiom.





2.1  Lamb
Symbolizes Purity and Innocence

Christianity, lamb represents both suffering and triumphant; and may also
symbolize gentleness, innocence, and purity.1 A
lamb is delineated as an innocent, harmless animal. It is puny and tame, and,
dare we say, quite dull-witted. Mary, in this context, may be represented as
the lamb. Throughout the story, she presents a compliant, submissive, servile
attitude as she does her best to please her husband2 purely. Throughout history
in literature, spirituality and society, the lamb has been regarded or considered
as a symbol of innocence, purity and sacrifice. Mary herself could symbolize a
lamb, as she is the meek, innocent wife of a man who clearly has control over
her. Mary is shown to be at Patrick’s every beck and call, jumping at the
minute he wants anything.  She portrays
all the qualities a lamb is symbolically known for like meekness, gentleness,
innocence, unresisting, dutiful and submissive, as shown by the way she meets
his every need.3


2.2  Lamb
Symbolizes Sacrifice4

lamb is portrayed as a gentle submissive creature, associated with ritual or
religious sacrifice (especially in Judeo-Christian tradition). This may be due
to the fact that lambs were the most commonly sacrificed animal traditionally. In
this story, the lamb takes on two major roles: as both a victim and a source of
violence or sacrifice. Both Mary and her husband Patrick play roles of
figurative lambs as they sacrifice each other. To give an illustration, while
Patrick sacrifices Mary’s role as his wife by leaving the marriage, Mary
sacrifices Patrick’s life, killing him with a frozen leg of lamb. The alteration
of the lamb from a material of sacrifice to an object of violence indicates
Mary’s conversion from an acquiescent housewife to a pro killer. This gives in
the double meaning and black humour of the story’s title: while the Maloneys
are both portraying lambs to be slaughtered metaphorically or literally, the
lamb, or rather the frozen leg of lamb, is also unexpectedly used as an
instrument of slaughter. Once the policemen are called to investigate Patrick’s
murder, the lamb comes to represent both a sacrifice for the detectives as food
and a weapon against them as once the detectives eat the lamb, the evidence has
been destroyed.

2.3  The
Irony of Lamb to The Slaughter as An Idiom5

can be:-

1. Situational: actions result in a different outcome than expected or than
normally found appropriate.

Certainly, the main piece of situational irony is found when Mary Maloney, who
Dahl went to great lengths to picture as a loving wife who is devoted to her
husband, in a moment of madness, kills him. Consider how she was introduced: “For
her, this was always a blissful time of day…”, and “She loved 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”6. Mary Maloney is presented
as being so obsessed with her husband. However, it is a thorough shock to us as
readers when she killed him with the frozen leg of lamb as he indirectly asked
for a divorce even though Mary was pregnant. Mary Maloney simply walked up
behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in
the air and brought it down as hard as she could to the back of his head. This
action is completely the opposite of what we would expect a character like Mary
to be able to do. The second piece of situational irony comes when she manages
to act cool as if she did not commit any crime and in a calculating fashion,
she abled to organise an alibi and put an act to remove the murder weapon. Consider
the last line, where Mary celebrated the success of her plan: “And in the other
room, Mary Maloney began to giggle”. Once more, this nefarious behaviour and
outwitting of the policemen is not the kind of activity we would expect to see
from a lovely housewife. Both of these incidents serve to appal us through the
use of situational irony.

2. Verbal: sarcasm; when words mean the opposite of what they originally intend
   to mean.

The verbal irony is found in the title of the story. The phrase “Lamb to
the Slaughter” gives the idea of an innocent creature about to undergo
torture and death. Mary Maloney could represent such a creature, and she would
have met a similar fate if she had been found guilty of killing her husband.
More verbal and situational irony is represented in the murder weapon which is
the frozen leg of lamb, and what happens to it, without the knowledge of the policemen
investigating the scene of the crime. Mary hits her husband with it after
mentally struck when he announces to her that he will leave her. The hit kills
him then and there. Not long after that, Mary comes up with a genius way to
dispose of the murder weapon: she cooks it. Not only that, she feeds it to the
policemen who come to investigate the scene.

3. Dramatic: actions and events understood by the audience or readers, but not
the characters.
As the audience or readers, we know what is going on and needless to say, the fictional
characters in the story do not. That would be the dramatic irony. It starts when
the policemen fell to Mary’s tactic to dispose the murder weapon by eating the
lamb which Mary cooked for them deliberately. We realize that they are eating
the very thing they need to find in order to apprehend and perceive the person
guilty of killing their fellow policeman, Patrick Maloney. They even comment
that the murder weapon could be right “under their noses,” which it
is. Meanwhile, in the other room, Mary Maloney giggles at the situational irony
of it all. The lamb, after all, saved her from the slaughter of what could have
been a death sentence, or life in jail as a pregnant woman.

Retrieved December 29, 2017, from

To The Slaughter Symbolism. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2017, from

3 B,
A. (2017, March 26). Symbolism and Irony in Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the
Slaughter”. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from
Symbolism and Irony in Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter”

4 L.
(n.d.). Lamb/Leg of lamb Symbol Analysis. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from

5 What
kinds of irony can be found in “Lamb to the Slaughter”? (n.d.).
Retrieved December 29, 2017, from

6 Dahl,
R. (1953). Lamb to the Slaughter. Harper’s Magazine

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