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“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl

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1 “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl

2 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
R1E: Develop vocabulary through text. Use context clues.

3 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
R1F: Apply pre-reading strategies to aid comprehension. Make predictions based on title.

4 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
R1G: During reading, utilize strategies to self-question and correct, infer, visualize, predict, and check using cueing systems: meaning, structure, visual. Make predictions. Revise predictions.

5 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
R1H: Apply post-reading skills to comprehend and interpret text questions to clarify, reflect, analyze, draw conclusions, summarize, and paraphrase.

6 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
R1I: Compare, contrast, analyze, and evaluate connections.

7 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
R2A: Locate, interpret, and apply information in title, table of contents, and glossary, and recognize the text features of fiction, poetry, and drama in grade-level text. Understand situational and dramatic irony. Analyze situational and dramatic irony.

8 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
R2C: Use details from text to analyze character, plot, setting, point of view, and development of theme; evaluate proposed solutions; analyze the development of a theme across genres; evaluate the effect of author’s style and complex literary techniques. Write a character analysis.

9 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
ambiguity Ambiguous situations have different possible results.

10 Origin of the title

11 Origin of the title

12 Excerpt from a 1950s Home Economics Textbook
Compiled by Ms. Leslie Blankship Columbus, Ohio Have dinner ready: Plan ahead even the night before to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.

13 Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-wary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

14 Clear away the clutter: Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

15 Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

16 Minimize all noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quite. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him. Some don'ts: Don't greet him with problems or complaints. Don't complain if he's late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.

17 Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax-unwind.

18 Listen to him: You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first. Make the evening his: Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

19 The goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit. Source:

20 Now it’s time to read…

21 Dark Humor Dark humor is the use of the grotesque, morbid, or absurd for darkly comic purposes.

22 Dark Humor Dark humor became widespread in popular culture, especially in literature and film, beginning in the 1950s; it remains popular toward the end of the twentieth century. Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 (1961) is one of the best-known examples in American fiction.

23 Dark Humor The image of the cheerful housewife suddenly smashing her husband’s skull with the frozen joint of meat intended for his dinner is itself darkly humorous for its unexpectedness and the grotesque incongruity of the murder weapon.

24 Dark Humor There is a morbid but funny double meaning, too, in Mary’s response to her grocer’s question about meat: “I’ve got meat, thanks. I got a nice leg of lamb from the freezer.”

25 Dark Humor She did indeed get a leg of lamb from the freezer, and after she used it as a club, she found herself with a rather large portion of dead meat on her living-room floor.

26 Dark Humor Also darkly funny is the grocer’s question about what she plans to give her husband “afterwards,” that is, for dessert. From Mary’s point of view, Patrick has already gotten his “just desserts,” and there will be no more “afterwards” for him!

27 Dark Humor The ultimate example of dark humor in “Lamb to the Slaughter” is, of course, the spectacle of the policemen and detectives sitting around the Maloney kitchen table, speculating about the murder weapon while they unwittingly devour it.

28 Setting The setting is symbolic: Its domestic primness implies Mary’s having bought into a rather boring version of middle class happiness.

29 Symbols The frozen leg of lamb is also symbolic and indeed constitutes the central symbol of the story. The piece of meat is already a token of violence: an animal traditionally viewed as meek and gentle slaughtered for carnivorous consumption.

30 But Dahl’s story reverses the connotation of these biblical images.
Symbols The notion of a lamb, moreover, resonates with biblical symbols, such as the scapegoat mentioned in Leviticus, the ram that substitutes for Isaac in the tale of Abraham and Isaac, or Jesus himself, “the Lamb of God.” But Dahl’s story reverses the connotation of these biblical images.

31 Themes BETRAYAL Patrick Maloney’s unexplained decision to leave his pregnant wife. This violation of the marriage-vow is obviously not the only betrayal in the story, however. Mary’s killing of her husband is perhaps the ultimate betrayal. Her elaborately planned alibi and convincing lies to the detectives also constitute betrayal.

32 Themes IDENTITY At the level of popular psychology, Dahl makes it clear through his description of the Maloney household that Mary has internalized the middle class ideal of a young mid-twentieth-century housewife, maintaining a tidy home and catering to her husband; pouring drinks when the man finishes his day is a gesture that comes from movies and magazines of the day.

33 Themes IDENTITY Mary’s sudden murderous action shatters the image that we have of her and that she seems to have of herself. Dahl demonstrates, in the deadly fall of the frozen joint, that “identity” can be fragile.

34 Themes IDENTITY Once she shatters her own identity, Mary must carefully reconstruct it for protective purposes, as when she sets up an alibi by feigning a normal conversation with the grocer.

35 Themes IDENTITY Dahl appears to suggest that, in essence, human beings are fundamentally nasty and brutish creatures capable of precipitate and bloody acts.

36 Themes IDENTITY Then there are the police detectives, who pride themselves on their ability to solve a crime, but whom Mary sweetly tricks into consuming the main exhibit. Their identity, or at least their competency, is thrown into doubt.

At the beginning of “Lamb to the Slaughter,” Mary Maloney feels love and physical passion for her husband Patrick. She luxuriates in his presence, in the “warm male glow that came out of him to her,” and adores the way he sits, walks, and behaves.

Even far along into her pregnancy, she hurries to greet him, and waits on him hand and foot — much more attentively, it appears from his reactions, than he would like.

Patrick is presumably motivated to leave his wife by an overriding passion for something or someone else. Mary’s mention of his failure to advance at work, and his own wish that she not make a “fuss” about their separation because “It wouldn’t be very good for my job” indicate that it may be professional success that he desires. His treatment of his wife does not suggest that he loves her.

40 Themes PASSIVITY The concept of passivity figures in the story.
The first pages of the story portray Mary’s existence as almost mindlessly passive: she sits and watches the clock, thinking that each minute brings her husband closer to her.

41 Themes PASSIVITY She is content to watch him closely and try to anticipate his moods and needs. Patrick’s predictability up to this point is part of this passivity. The two are living a clockwork life against which, in some way, each ultimately rebels. Passivity appears as the repression of passion, and passion finds a way to reassert itself.

The question of justice and injustice is directly related to the question of revenge. “Lamb to the Slaughter” narrates a train of injustices, beginning with Patrick’s betrayal of Mary and their marriage, peaking with Mary’s killing of Patrick, and finding its denouement in Mary’s deception of the investigating officers.

Patrick acts unjustly (or so it must be assumed on the basis of the evidence) in announcing his abandonment of Mary, for this breaks the wedding oath; Mary acts unjustly, in a way far exceeding her husband’s injustice, in killing Patrick, and she compounds the injustice by concealing it from the authorities.

44 “Lamb to the Slaughter”
ambiguity A wolf is trapped near town. Wildlife rescuers set it free in the mountains so it won’t bother the townspeople. Will the wolf eventually cause trouble for these townspeople? ambiguous

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ambiguity A student needs at least a B on a test to pass a class and stay on the basketball team. He studies hard and gets a 90 on his test. Does he stay on the basketball team? unambiguous

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ambiguity A quality that allows readers to interpret a story or other work in more than one way.

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Academic vocabulary verbal (saying something) irony (the opposite of what is expected) verbal irony (saying something that is the opposite of what is expected or true)

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Academic vocabulary situational irony

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Academic vocabulary dramatic irony

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Academic vocabulary verbal irony

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Academic vocabulary contradiction

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Academic vocabulary ambiguous

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Academic vocabulary subtleties

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Academic vocabulary mood

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Academic vocabulary tone

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Academic vocabulary reliability of sources

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Academic vocabulary bias

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Academic vocabulary analogy

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Academic vocabulary prefix

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Academic vocabulary suffix

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Academic vocabulary root word

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Academic vocabulary plot

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Academic vocabulary synonym

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Academic vocabulary text structure

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Academic vocabulary inference

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Academic vocabulary cause and effect

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Academic vocabulary antonym

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Context clues When you come across an unfamiliar word, look for clues in the context—the words surrounding the unknown word.

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Context clues In the following examples, the context clues help you figure out the meaning of the unknown word.

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Context clues Similarly, when you are asked to write a sentence using a new word, you should include a context clue to demonstrate that you understand the word.

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Context clues DEFINITION Her instinct, or automatic response, is to run away.

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Context clues RESTATEMENT She knows what the penalty is and will accept her punishment.

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Context clues EXAMPLE Her action might bring relief—for example, it would end the anger she felt.

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Context clues COMPARISON Ice cubes clinking in a glass sound like pencils tapping on a table.

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Context clues CONTRAST Although she looks tranquil, she doesn’t feel peaceful.

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Vocabulary administered

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Vocabulary premises

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Vocabulary luxuriate

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Vocabulary placid

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Vocabulary precinct

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Vocabulary hospitality

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Vocabulary anxiety

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Vocabulary consoling

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