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HOME

Short Stories

"Lamb to the Slaughter"

Information   Plot/Description   Teacher Resources


Information


Plot/Description

This is probably the most well–known of all Dahl's short stories, simply because (in my opinion) it's so simple. There isn't a single wasted word in it. It's gripping, shocking, and yet the story proceeds in such a rational manner that the reader's suspension of disbelief is never broken. We are with Mary Maloney from the first sentence of the story, and only at the end do we realize that we never really knew her at all.

Spoiler Warning! Mary Maloney is a devoted wife and expectant mother. She waits happily each night for the arrival of her husband Patrick, home from work at the police station. On this particular night, though, she can tell something is wrong. In disbelief, she listens as Patrick tells her that he is leaving her for another woman. [Actually Dahl never really says this; the details are left up to the reader's imagination.] Dazed, she goes into the kitchen to prepare their supper and pulls a large frozen leg of lamb from the deep freeze. Still numb, she carries it into the living room and without warning bashes her husband over the head with it. As she looks at Patrick lying dead on the floor, she slowly begins to come back to her senses. Immediately she realizes the ramifications of what she has done. Not wanting her unborn child to suffer as a result of her crime, she begins planning her alibi. She places the leg of lamb in a pan in the oven and goes down to the corner grocery to get some food for "Patrick's dinner" (making sure the grocer sees her normal and cheerful state of mind). She returns home and screams when she finds Patrick lying on the floor. She calls the police and informs them that she found her husband lying dead on the floor. Within hours swarms of officers are searching the house and conducting an investigation. Mary's story of coming home from the grocer and finding him is corroborated as she had planned. While the police are searching fruitlessly into the night for the murder weapon, Mary offers them some lamb that she had prepared for dinner. They are happy to oblige. While they lounge in the kitchen and discuss the case (their mouths "sloppy" with meat), Mary Maloney sits in the living room and giggles softly to herself.


Teacher Resources

  • "Lamb to the Slaughter"
    • Convince that Jury
      • A R.A.F.T. Writing Prompt involving identification of important quotes from the story and then writing a persuasive essay in the form of a closing argument from a defense attorney
    • Classroom Activities
      • Includes a reading jigsaw, ranking features of the perfect murder, and vocabulary matching task

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