“Lamb to the Slaughter” – Course Fighter | coursefighter.com


“Lamb to the Slaughter” – Course Fighter | coursefighter.com

Question and story below. Any questions or concerns regarding assignment please ask.

What does the domestic setting contribute to this story? What, specifically, do you think is being said about men and women?

Find at least one quotation from the story that helps to support your answer and use proper MLA to cite it.


Lamb to the Slaughter

Short story, 1953


Roald Dahl

British Children’s writer ( 1916 – 1990 )


The World’s Best Short Stories: Anthology & Criticism

. Vol. 5:

Mystery and Detection


The World’s

Best Series

Great Neck, NY: Roth Publishing, Inc., p58.

Document Type:

Short story

Full Text:

COPYRIGHT 1991 Roth Publishing, Inc.

Original Language:


Text :

THE ROOM WAS WARM and clean, the curtains

drawn, the two table lamps alight — hers and the one by the empty chair opposite.

On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whiskey. Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket. Mary Maloney was wai


for her husband to come home from work. No

w and again she would glance up at the cloc

k, but without anxiety, merely to please

herself with the thought that each

minute gone by made it nearer

the time when he would come. Th

ere was a slow smiling air abou


her, and about everything she did. The drop o the head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil. Her skin — for this

was her

sixth month with child — had acquired a wonderful translucent qu

ality, the mouth was soft, and

the eyes, with their new placid


seemed larger, darker than before. When th

e clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen, and few moments later, punctua

lly as

always, she heard the tires on the gravel

outside, and the car door slamming, the footsteps passing the window, the key turning

in the

lock. She laid aside her sewing, stood up, and went forward to kiss him as he came in. “Hullo darling,” she said. “Hullo,” he a


She took his coat and hung it in the closet

. Then she walked over and

made the drinks, a strongish one for him, a weak one for


and soon she was back again in

her chair with the sewing, and he in the other, opposite, holding the tall glass with both his h


rocking it so the ice cubes tinkled against the side. For her, this was always a blissful time of day. She knew he didn’t want

to speak

much until the first drink was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long

hours alone

in the house. She loved to luxuriate in th

e presence of this man, and to feel — almo

st as a sunbather feels the sun — that wa

rm male

glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together

. She loved him for the way he sat loosely in a chair, for the wa

y he

came in a door, or moved slowly across the room with long strides.

She loved the intent, far look in

his eyes when they rested

on her,

the funny shape of the mouth, and especially the way he remain

ed silent about his tiredness, sitting still with himself until t

he whiskey

had taken some of it away, “Tired, darling?” “Yes,” he said. “I’m

tired.” And as he spoke, he did an unusual thing. He lifted h

is glass

and drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it,

at least half of it left. She wasn’t really watching him, bu

t she knew

what he bad done because she heard the ice

cubes falling back against th

e bottom of the empty glass

when he lowered his arm. He

paused a moment, leaning forward in the chair, then he got up and went slowly over to fetch himself another. “I’ll get it!” she



umping up. “Sit down,” he said. When he came back, she noticed that the new drink was dark amber with the quantity of whiskey i


it. “Darling, shall I get your slippers?” “No.” She watched him as

he began to sip the dark yellow drink, and she could see lit

tle oily

swirls in the liquid because it was so str

ong. “I think it’s a shame,” she said, “that

when a policeman gets to be as senior as

you, they

keep him walking about on his feet all day long.” He didn’t answer, so she bent her head again and went on with her sewing; but


time he lifted the drink to his lips, she heard the ice cubes cli

nking against the side of the

glass. “Darling,” she said. “Wou

ld you like

me to get you some cheese? I haven’t made any supper because it’s

Thursday.” “No,” he said. “If y

ou’re too tired to eat out,” s

he went

on, “it’s still not too late. There’s plenty

of meat and stuff in the freezer, and you

can have it right here and not even move

out of the

chair.” Her eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nod, but he made no sign. “Anyway,” she went on, “I’ll get you


cheese and crackers first.” “I don’t want it,” he said. She moved

uneasily in her chair, the large eyes still watching his face

. “But you


have supper. I can easily do it here. I’d like to do it. We can

have lamb chops. Or pork. Anything you want. Everything’s in t


freezer.” “Forget it,” he said. “But darling, you


eat! I’ll fix it anyway, and then you can have it or not, as you like.” She stood up

and placed her sewing on the table by the la

mp. “Sit down,” he said. “Just for a minute,

sit down.” It wasn’t till then that sh

e began to

get frightened. “Go on,” he said. “Sit down.” She lowered herself

back slowly into the chair, wa

tching him all the time with th


large, bewildered eyes. He had finished th

e second drink and was staring down into the glass, frowning. “Listen,” he said. “I’v

e got

something to tell you.” “What is it, darling? What’s the matter?

” He had now become absolutely motionless, and he kept his head

down so that the light from the lamp beside

him fell across the upper part of his face,

leaving the chin an

d mouth in shadow. S


noticed there was a little muscle moving near the comer of his left

eye. “This is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I’m afra

id,” he said.

“But I’ve thought about it a good deal and I’ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away. I hope you won’t blame me


much.” And he told her. It didn’t take long, four or five mi

nutes at most, and she sat very still through it all, watching him

with a kind

of dazed horror as he went further and furt

her away from her with each wo

rd. “So there it is,” he adde

d. “And I know it’s kind

of a bad

time to be telling you, but there simply wasn’t any other way. Of

course I’ll give you money and see you’re looked after. But t


needn’t really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn’t be very good for my job.” Her first instinct was not to believe any

of it, to

reject it all. It occurred to her that pe

rhaps he hadn’t even spoken,

that she herself had imagined

the whole thing. Maybe, if

she went

about her business and acted as though she hadn’t been listening, then later, when she sort of woke up again, she might find no

ne of it

had ever happened. I “I’ll get the supper,” she managed to whispe

r, and this time he didn’t stop

her. When she walked across th

e room

she couldn’t feel her feet touching the floor. She couldn’t feel anything at all — except a slight nausea and a desire to vomi

t. Everything

was automatic now — down the steps to the

cellar, the light switch, the deep freeze,

the hand inside the cabinet taking hold o

f the first

object it met. She lifted it out, and looked at it. It was wrapped in paper, so she took off the paper and looked at it again.

A leg of lamb.

All right then, they would have lamb for s

upper. She carried it upstairs, holding the thin bone-end of it with both her hands,

and as she

went through the living-room, she saw him standing over by the window with his back to her, and she stopped. “For God’s sake,”


said, hearing her, but not turning round. “Don’t make supper for me. I’m going out.” At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked


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

on the

back of his head. She might just as well ha

ve hit him with a steel club. She stepped

back a pace, waiting,

and the funny thing

was that

he remained standing there for at least four

or five seconds, gently swaying. Then

he crashed to the carpet. The violence of th

e crash,

the noise, the small table overturning, helped bring her out of

the shock. She came out slowly, f

eeling cold and surprised, and


stood for a while blinking at the body, stil

l holding the ridiculous piece of meat tigh

t with both hands. A

ll right, she told h

erself. So

I’ve killed him. It was extraordinary, now, how clear her mind b

ecame all of a sudden. She began thinking very fast. As the wif

e of a

detective, she knew quite well what the pe

nalty would be. That was fine. It made no difference to her. In fact, it would be a r

elief. On

the other hand, what about the child? What were the laws about murderers with unborn children? Did they kill them both — mothe


and child? Or did they wait until the tenth month? What did they do? Mary Maloney didn’t know. And she certainly wasn’t prepare

d to

take a chance. She carried the meat into th

e kitchen, placed it in a pan, turned the

oven on high, and shoved it inside. Then s

he washed

her hands and ran upstairs to the bedroom. She sat down before th

e mirror, tidied her hair, touche

d up her lips and face. She t

ried a

smile. It came out rather peculiar. She tr

ied again. “Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, aloud. The voice sounded peculiar too. “I

want some

potatoes please, Sam. Yes, and I think a can

of peas.” That was better. Both the smile and the voice were coming out better now

. She

rehearsed it several times more. Then she ran downstairs, took her coat, went out the back door, down the garden, into the stre

et. It

wasn’t six o’clock yet and the lights were still on in the grocer

y shop. “Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, smiling at the man beh

ind the

counter. “Why, good evening, Mrs. Maloney. How’re


?” “I want some potatoes please, Sam.

Yes, and I think a can of peas.” The

man turned and reached up behind him on the shelf for the peas. “Patrick’s decided he’s tired and doesn’t want to eat out tonig

ht,” she

told him. “We usually go out Thursdays, you know, and now he’s

caught me without any vegetables in the house.” “Then how about

meat, Mrs. Maloney?” “No, I’ve got meat, thanks. I got a nice le

g of lamb from the freezer.” “Oh.

” “I don’t much like cooking i

t frozen,

Sam, but I’m taking a chance on it this time. You think it’ll be

all right?” “Personally,” the grocer said, “I don’t believe it

makes any

difference. You want these Idaho

potatoes?” “Oh yes, that’ll be fine. Two of those.” “Anything else?” The grocer cocked his hea

d on

one side, looking at her pleasantly. “How about afterwards? What you going to give him for afterwards?” “Well — what would you

suggest, Sam?” The man glanced around his sh

op. “How about a nice big slice of cheesecake?

I know he likes that.” “Perfect,” sh


said. “He loves it.” And when it was all wrapped and she had pa

id, she put on her brightest smile and said, “Thank you, Sam.

Goodnight.” “Goodnight, Mrs. Maloney. And thank


.” And now, she told herself as she hur

ried back, all she was doing now, she

was returning home to her husband and he was waiting for his supp

er; and she must cook it good, and make it as tasty as possibl


because the poor man was tired;

and if, when she entered the house, she happened

to find anything unusual, or tragic, or terrib

le, then

naturally it would be a shock and she’d become frantic with grief and horror. Mind you, she wasn’t


to find anything. She was

just going home with the vegetables. Mrs. Pa

trick Maloney going home with the vegetables on Thursday evening to cook supper for

her husband. That’s the way, she told herself. Do everything right and natural. Keep things absolutely natural and there’ll be

no need

for any acting at all. Therefore, when she entered the kitchen

by the back door, she was humming a little tune to herself and s


“Patrick!” she called. “How are you, darlin

g?” She put the parcel down on the table and went through into the living room; and


she saw him lying there on the floor with his legs doubled up and one arm twisted back underneath his body, it really was rathe

r a

shock. All the old love and longing for him welled up inside her,

and she ran over to him, knelt down beside him, and began to

cry her

heart out. It was easy. No acting was necessary. A few minutes late

r she got up and went to the pho

ne. She knew the number of t


police station, and when

the man at the other end answered, she cried to hi

m, “Quick! Come quick! Patrick’s dead!” “Who’s

speaking?” “Mrs. Maloney. Mrs. Patrick Maloney.” “You mean Patric

k Maloney’s dead?” “I think so,”

she sobbed. “He’s lying on th


floor and I think he’s dead. ” “Be right over,” the man said. The car came very quickly, and when she opened the front door, tw


policemen walked in. She knew th

em both — she knew nearly all t me

n at that precinct — and she fe

ll right into Jack Noonan’s


weeping hysterically. He put her gently into a chair, then went

over join the other one, who was called O’Malley, kneeling by t

he body.

“Is he dead?” she cried. “I’m afraid he is

. What happened?” Briefly, she told her st

ory about going out to the grocer and comin

g back to

find him on the floor. While she was talking, crying and talking, Noonan discovered a small patch of congealed blood on the dea


man’s head. He showed it to O’Malley, who got up at once and hurried to the phone. Soon, other men began to come into the house


First a doctor, then two detectives, one of whom she knew by na

me. Later, a police photographer

arrived and took pictures, and

a man

who knew about fingerprints. There was a great

deal of whispering and muttering beside

the corpse, and the detectives kept aski

ng her

a lot of questions. But they always treated her kindly. She told her story again, this time right from the beginning, when Patr

ick had

come in, and she was sewing, and he was tired, so tired he hadn’t wanted to go out for supper. She told how she’d put the meat

in the

oven — “it’s there now, cooking” — and how she’d slipped out to the grocer for vegetables, and come back to find him lying on


floor. “Which grocer?” one of the detectives

asked. She told him, and he turned and whispered something to the other detective,


immediately went outside into the street. In

fifteen minutes he was back with a page

of notes, and there wa

s more whispering, a


through her sobbing she heard a few of the wh

ispered phrases-“…acted quite normal …

very cheerful … wanted to give him a


supper … peas … cheesecake …

impossible that she…

” After a while, the photographer and

the doctor departed and, two oth

er men

came in and took the corpse away on a stretc

her. Then the fingerprint man went away.

The two detectives remained, and so did th

e two

policemen. They were exceptionally

nice to her, and Jack Noonan asked if she woul

dn’t rather go somewhere else, to her sister’s


perhaps, or to his own wife, who would take care of her and put her up for the night. No, she said. She didn’t feel she could m

ove even

a yard at the moment. Would they mind awfully if she stayed just where she was until she felt better? She didn’t feel too good

at the

moment, she really didn’t. Then hadn’t she better lie down on the

bed? Jack Noonan asked. No, sh

e said. She’d like to stay righ

t where

she was, in this chair. A little later perhaps, when she felt be

tter, she would move. So they le

ft her there while they went ab

out their

business, searching the house. Occasionally one of the detectives

asked her another question. Sometimes Jack Noonan spoke at he


gently as he passed by. Her husband, he told her, had been kille

d by a blow on the back of the

head administered with a heavy b


instrument, almost certainly a large piece of

metal. They were looking for the weapon

. The murderer may have taken it with him,


on the other hand he may’ve thrown it away or hidden it somewher

e on the premises. “It’s the old

story,” he said. “Get the weap

on, and

you’ve got the man.” Later, one of the det

ectives came up and sat beside her. Did she know, he asked, of anything in the house


could’ve been used as the weapon? Would she mind having a look around to see if anything was missing — a very big spanner, for

example, or a heavy metal vase. They didn’t have any heavy meta

l vases, she said. “Or a big spanner?” She didn’t think they had

a big

spanner. But there might be some things like that in the garage

. The search went on. She knew th

at there were other policemen i

n the

garden all around the house. She

could hear their footsteps on the

gravel outside, and sometimes

she saw the flash of a torch t

hrough a

chink in the curtains, It began to get late, nearly nine she no

ticed by the clock on the mantle

. The four men searching the roo


seemed to be growing weary, a

trifle exasperated. I “Jack,” she said, the next time Sergeant Noonan went by. “Would you mind gi


me a drink?” “Sure I’ll give you a drink. You mean this whiskey?” “Yes please. But just a small one. It might make me feel bett

er.” He

banded her the glass. “Why don’t you have one yourself,” she said, “You must be awfully tired. Please do. You’ve been very good


me.” “Well,” he answered. “It’s not strictly

allowed, but I might take just a drop to

keep me going.” One by one the others cam

e in and

were persuaded to take a little nip of whiskey. They stood aroun

d rather awkwardly with the dri

nks in their hands, uncomfortabl

e in

her presence, trying to say consoling things to her. Sergeant Noonan wandered into the kitchen, came out quickly and said, “Loo


Mrs. Maloney. You know that oven of yours

is still on, and the meat still inside.” “Oh


me!” she cried. “So it is!” “I better turn it

off for you, hadn’t I?” “Will you do that, Jack? Thank you so much

.” When the sergeant returned th

e second time, she looked at


with her large, dark, tearful eyes. “Jack Noonan,” she said. “Yes

?” “Would you do me a small fa

vor — you and these others?” “W

e can

try, Mrs. Maloney.” “Well,” she said. “Here

you all are, and good friends of dear Patrick’s too, and helping to catch the man w

ho killed

him. You must be terribly hu

ngry by now because it’s long past

your suppertime, and

I know Patrick would never forgive me, God

bless his soul, if I allowed you to remain

in his house without offering you decent

hospitality. Why don’t you eat up that lamb

that’s in

the oven? It’ll be cooked just right by now.” “Wouldn’t dream

of it,” Sergeant Noonan said. “Pl

ease,” she begged. “Please eat i


Personally I couldn’t touch a thing, certainly not what’s been in the house when he was here. But it’s all right for you. It’d

be a favor to

me if you’d eat it up. Then you can go on with your work again afterwards.” There was a good deal of hesitating among the four

policemen, but they were clearly hungry, and

in the end they were persuaded to go into

the kitchen and help themselves. The wom


stayed where she was, listening to them th

rough the open door, and she could hear th

em speaking among themselves, their voices


and sloppy because their mouths were

full of meat. “Have some more, Charlie?”

“No. Better not finish it.” “She


us to finish it.

She said so. Be doing her a favor.” “Okay then. Give me some more.” “That’s a hell of a big club the guy must’ve used to hit po


Patrick,” one of them was saying. “The doc

says his skull was smashed all to pieces just

like from a sledgehammer.” “That’s why


ought to be easy to find.” “Exactly what I say.” “Whoever done it, they’re not going to be carrying a thing like that around wi

th them

longer than they need.” One of them belche

d. “Personally, I think it’s right here on

the premises.” “Probably right under our v


noses. What you think, Jack?” And in the other room, Mary Ma

loney began to giggle. Copyright (c) 1953 by Roald Dahl. Reprinted


Someone Like You

by Roald Dahl. Used by permission of David Higham Associates.



Roald Dahl

Explanation of:

“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl