Symbolism and Irony in Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter”

First published in 1953, the short story “Lamb to the Slaughter” is a dark comedy telling the story of a simple evening taking a morbid turn for a couple, as the wife murders her husband with their intended supper, a leg of lamb. Mary and Patrick Maloney’s evening started out the same as the rest, but when Patrick unexpectedly announces that he’s leaving Mary, whilst she is heavily pregnant,  it is too much for her to handle, and after always being a quiet, doting wife, she snaps (1-3).

There is a lot of clear symbolism in this story, but I want to focus on the most obvious being the use of the lamb throughout. Throughout history in literature, spirituality and society, the lamb has been viewed as a symbol of innocence, purity and sacrifice. The lamb in this story could be represented in several ways. Mary herself could symbolize a lamb, as she is the meek, innocent wife of a man who clearly has power and control over her in their marriage. Mary is shown to be at Patrick’s every beck and call, “(taking) his coat”, “(making) drinks”and jumping at the minute he wants anything (1).  She portrays all the qualities a lamb is symbolically known for like meekness, gentleness and following a leader, as shown by the way she follows Patrick around and meets his every need (1-3). Patrick could also been seen as a symbol, not just for a lamb, but for a “lamb to the slaughter”, a phrase well known to mean someone going about something calmly, totally unaware that something bad is going to happen. As Patrick delivers the devastating news to Mary, he is completely unaware that she soon will “(swing) the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and (bring) it down as hard as she could on the back of his head” (3).

Not only is there a lot of symbolism in this story, but along with the dark humour of it, Roald Dahl incorporates a lot of irony, in regards to the lamb as well. While Mary is symbolic of an innocent, meek lamb, it brings irony as she is the one to kill her husband, but is able to go unsuspected because of her pure and innocent known persona. As well, the idea of a lamb leg being used as a weapon, to bring harm is ironic, because it is so well viewed as a sign of innocence and purity, and the contrast is astounding. It can also be seen as ironic, because, diving into the spiritual aspect, biblically lambs were slaughtered as sacrifices to God, and now Mary used the lamb to ‘slaughter’, so to speak, and ‘sacrifice’ her husband for her own sanity, as she panics with the news that he is leaving her. Finally, towards the end of the story, Mary offers the cooked lamb to the police officers as a thank you, and they end up feasting on, ironically, the murder weapon, as they discuss that something used to cause so much damage must be “right under (their) very noses” (p. 6).

All that I just discussed supports the statement that Roald Dahl has the ability to use irony in a dark situation to create humour. As well he is able to incorporate deeper meaning in simple things throughout the story, to create a very engaging piece of writing.

Works Cited:

Dahl, Roald. “Lamb to the Slaughter”. Harper’s Magazine, Harper Publications, 1 Sept. 1953, Accessed from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/docview/1301547458/fulltext/79B87442DA114E1APQ/1?accountid=13800. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

Illustrated Lamb Leg Photograph. “The Lamb to the Slaughter”. Thinglink, https://www.thinglink.com/scene/713032639602229249. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

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Analyzing the Visual Aspects of “Slice” by Toby Litt

The short story, “Slice” by Toby Litt was very interesting to read,  mostly because of the format that makes it so unique, as it is written in a style of two blogs, one written by the main character Lisa, or ‘Slice’ as she goes by online, and the other by her parents, Ray and Lynn. The blogs depict two different perspectives on the family’s recent house swap from Florida to England, and the journey that follows in the next few days as Slice is fighting through a dark time, and her parents are house hunting for a permanent place.

I chose to create two boards on Pinterest to better represent the contrast in the experience for both Slice and her parents.

For Slice, she is in a very dark place, is angry at her parents for moving them across the world, and is overall just going through a hard time. She expresses feelings of annoyance throughout, and even suggests she is suicidal when she writes, “where’s my truck?”, in a response to her house swap family being killed by a truck (6). Her board consists of photos of the bands she is currently listening to, as well as quotes of depression, death and music. I also included several pins directly related to objects she mentioned, such as books, a diary and instructions for a rat trap, as she initially believes a hare to be a rat. With these Pinterest boards, I wanted to represent not only the physical objects mentioned and their importance, but also the underlying feelings throughout. Slice is looking for an escape, and when she finds a hole in the backyard, she expresses that “(she’s) going back for good (because) (…) it’s so much better there than here” (10). For that reason I chose to include a few whimsical pictures, including one representing the rabbit hole she discovers, as she sees it as her ‘truck’ and her chance to leave everything behind (10).

Ray and Lynn’s board is a lot more optimistic about the move, featuring photos of houses, the Victorian cemeteries they saw, as well as multiple posts about effective packing, things to see and do in London, and living on a budget. Ray and Lynn make it known that they decided on doing a house swap when they met the couple, Betty and Joey in “a support group (they) found for parents of ‘troubled teens'”, also stating that they knew the importance of getting Lisa/Slice “as far away from all the bad influences as possible” (1). To show that side of their story, I also included some pins about dealing with teenagers and the issues that can arise, as it’s clear that Lisa’s parents do want what is best for her, they may just be ignoring or oblivious to her growing depression at hand.

All of these objects and posts play an important role in the story, all displaying both the obvious characteristics, but some of the underlying feelings throughout the story as well. The clear pattern with them is how everything Slice thinks about, writes about and does is quite dark, and the photos I included reflect that. In contrast, Ray and Lynn’s board is very light and hopeful and I saw them as caring people who have a positive outlook on situations, so their board was a lot lighter, both visually and through the content.

I chose to demonstrate this through Pinterest boards because it offered me a chance to do a more in depth close reading of the story, and develop my own take on its overall mood. I also think it worked well with this story in particular because of the platform used in the original publishing, with the works being fully in the form of blog posts. Creating Pinterest boards for Slice and her parents is like adding a further look into their lives during this time, as though they were managing both their blogs, and posting to Pinterest.

You can view my Pinterest boards here:

https://www.pinterest.com/ashleighbal3081/

Works Cited:

Litt, Toby. “Slice”. We Tell Stories, Penguin Books, March 2008, http://www.wetellstories.co.uk/stories/week2/. Accessed 16 Feb.2017.

London Sunset Photograph. “The Top Tech-City Guide: London”, Westbourne, 24th April 2015, http://westbourneqt.com/2015/04/the-top-tech-city-guide-london-part-2-of-6/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.