Lamb to the Slaughter

Themes and Colors
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
Role Reversals Theme Icon
Food/Consumption Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Lamb to the Slaughter, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Throughout the short story, Mary Maloney is firmly situated in a patriarchal society—that is, a system in which men hold more power than women politically, socially, and economically. Historically, women have been often consigned to the private sphere of domestic life, as they were deemed by men to be intellectually and emotionally unfit for the public sphere outside of family and home life. Men, on the other hand, were able to move through both spheres…

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Dahl subjects his characters to various reversals in their traditional roles. Most prominent of these role reversals is that of Mary Maloney, whose act of murder defies the policemen’s assumptions about her and about the culprit. By physically attacking her husband, with a club-like weapon no less, Mary subverts gender stereotypes and takes on the traditionally male role of violent attacker and murderer. Her quick thinking and ability to deceive others causes the policemen…

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Much of “Lamb to the Slaughter” is occupied with eating and food. At the beginning of the story, food is closely linked to domesticity and marriage. Mary’s repeated attempts to feed Patrick demonstrate not only her affection for her husband but also the role she plays as homemaker and housewife. Similarly, Patrick’s refusal to eat Mary’s food is a rejection of that affection and foreshadows his rejection of the domestic life Mary has built…

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Patrick’s betrayal of his marriage drives the rest of the story’s plot, leading to both his wife’s betrayal and that of his colleagues. When he leaves his wife, Patrick betrays not only the love Mary has for him but also the unborn child she is carrying and their private domestic life together. At the sudden breakdown of her marriage and the world she built around Patrick, Mary commits her own betrayal by killing her…

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