Symbol of The Lamb in Lamb to The Slaughter by Roald Dahl

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Words: 1227 |

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7 min read

Published: Sep 1, 2020

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Words: 1227|Page: 1|7 min read

Published: Sep 1, 2020

Symbol of the Lamb in Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
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The essay discusses the symbolism of the "lamb" in Roald Dahl's short story "Lamb to the Slaughter" and how it relates to the characters of Mary and Patrick Maloney. In the story, the symbol of the lamb represents qualities such as meekness, innocence, purity, as well as the victory of life and death.

Mary Maloney is portrayed as a figurative lamb, symbolizing her meekness, innocence, and timidity. Despite receiving shocking news from her husband, Patrick, about wanting a divorce while she's pregnant, Mary continues to play the role of a caring and gentle wife. She later becomes the embodiment of the "Victory of Life" as she cleverly avoids the death penalty by serving the murder weapon, the lamb, to the detectives, thereby destroying the evidence.

On the other hand, Patrick Maloney also embodies the symbolism of the lamb, representing aspects of death and unexpectedness. His unexpected announcement of wanting a divorce and his unanticipated response to Mary's actions ultimately lead to his demise. His figurative representation aligns with the darker side of the lamb's symbolism.


In Lamb to the slaughter written by Roald Dahl in 1953, the symbol lamb means meek, innocent and pure, also Victory of life and death. Both Mary and her husband Patrick take on the roles of figurative lambs as they the roles of figurative lambs as they sacrifice one another. While Patrick sacrifices Mary’s role as his wife by leaving the marriage, Mary sacrifices Patrick’s life, killing him with a frozen leg of lamb.

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The wife gives the meekness, innocence and timidness of the lamb and timidity of the lamb a superb portrayal of that. For instance Once Marys husband, Patrick came home she wanted to make sure everything was perfect and comfortable. Mary Maloney was at Patricks every beck and call, even after her husband told her some seemingly terrible news, she continued on being a gentle and caring wife by trying to make dinner for him as if nothing is wrong. Or perhaps happened. Another way Mary has represented a lamb is Victory of Life, this conveys that the wife, Mary Avoided death. How she avoided the death penalty, how she did this was she convinced the detectives to eat the lamb, which is also the murder weapon. So by the detectives eating the murder weapon (lamb), They ate the evidence so now there is no murder weapon to be found so that is how she “Won Life”.

As for the husband Patrick represents a figurative lamb, as the lamb also means death, And unexpectancy. In the story the husband broke some heartbreaking news to his wife, Mary. In the story he has stated that he would want a divorce even though she is heavily pregnant with his child, he also asked if they can make this not a big deal because he doesn't want it to be this big thing at work. In the story, the lamb to the slaughter the husband also stood up about to walk out as he was quite mad that she was acting as if nothing was happening and turned around not facing her that is when the unexpectancy comes into play. The unexpectancy of the story is that the wife comes up the stairs with a lamb, the wife hits the husband behind the head with the lamb killing him. Obviously the husband wasn't expecting anything like that and that is also how he represents the other part of the Lamb death and this transitions into how the husband, Patrick, also represents the semblance Of death part of the Lamb which is pretty explainable by itself.

In the end both Mary and Patrick Maloney has represented the lamb. Mary seems to have represented the lamb more than Patrick has. To reiterate Mary has represented the timidness or timidity, the frail, the innocence and meekness. And we can't forget how she also represented the victory Of Life on getting away with her act of crime. Patrick Maloney represented the unexpectancy and death of the Lamb. Thus showing that Patrick and Mary Maloney are one in the same when showing the symbolical link between the lamb and Mary and Patrick.

Mary Maloney as an Unsympathetic Character

“When you’re in love, love can make you do crazy things and can take you down a whirlwind of a road.”(Kevin Hart) In the short story “Lamb to the Slaughter”, detective Patrick Maloney was murdered by his devoted wife Mary Maloney, when she unexpectedly is told her husband has been having an affair and is leaving her. Leaving Mary stunned she acts without thinking as she impulsively kills him with a lamb leg. Leading me to the question, is Mary Maloney a sympathetic character? In the story “Lamb to the Slaughter”, Mary Maloney is not a sympathetic character because she killed her husband without thinking, she giggled as the detectives ate the murder weapon, and she acted as if she was remorseful.

In the story “Lamb to the Slaughter”, Mary Maloney was not a very sympathetic character because she killed her husband without thinking. After Patrick told his wife he was leaving, Mary “simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.”(para.42) Mary was in shock about how her husband was cheating on her so she had to impulsively react. This emphasises the fact that Mary was not thinking logically when she decided to kill her husband. All in all, the action of killing her husband shows how much of an unsympathetic character Mary Maloney can be.

Another reason Mary Maloney wasn’t a sympathetic character was because she giggled as the detectives at the murder weapon. As the investigation was coming to an end Mary offered the detectives “the lamb in the oven” (para.116). As the detectives are eating the lamb, they all seemingly agree that the murder weapon is” probably right under our noses”(para.130) This is important because this is Mary’s way of getting rid of her murder weapon. After the detectives say that “ in the other room, Mary begins to giggle”(para.131). This would suggest that Mary knew that if she got the detectives to eat the lamb her murder weapon would be gone. Mary knew that if the cops didn’t find the weapon they wouldn’t be able to find the murderer. For this reason, it is believed that Mary was an unsympathetic character because she giggled when the detectives ate the murder weapon.

There are a few reasons some may believe Mary Maloney was a sympathetic character. One, Mary Maloney was a dedicated housewife who devoted all her time to taking care of her husband. She was carrying her and her husband\'s unborn child, so it was just unlawful that her husband would ever have an affair on her and on top of that tried to leave her. They may also say that she was sad and crying after she killed her husband. However, she didn’t have to kill her husband. When Mary decided to kill her husband, she wasn’t thinking about her or her baby’s future. She wasn’t thinking what could happen to the baby if she went to jail or anything. Patrick also told Mary he would give her money which would’ve helped take care of her and the baby. Killing someone just because they didn’t want to be with you anymore is just as unlawful as cheating.

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In brief summary, Mary Maloney was not a sympathetic character because she killed her husband without thinking, she giggled as the detectives ate the murder weapon, and she acted as if she was remorseful.


  1. Vargas, B. (2022). A Little Lamb to the Slaughter:” Motherhood and Crime on” Goods Girls. (
  2. Scharnhorst, R. (2021). Teaching with Paratext: Rereading Roald Dahl’s” Lamb to the Slaughter” in the Literature Classroom. In CEA Forum (Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 3-28). College English Association. Web site: http://www. cea-web. org. (
  3. Tanusy, J. (2018, August). Feminism in Roald Dahl’s” Lamb to the Slaughter”: A Semiotic Analysis. In Fourth Prasasti International Seminar on Linguistics (Prasasti 2018) (pp. 159-163). Atlantis Press. (
  4. Garini, H. B. A., & Winarti, W. (2021). THE REPRESENTATION OF WOMAN AS FEMME FATALE IN ROALD DAHL’S LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER. FRASA: English Education and Literature Journal, 2(1), 15-21. (
  5. Bernthal, J. C. (2016). “And For a Knife We Shall Use the Great Sword”: Uncanny Cutlery and its Absence in the Fiction of Roald Dahl.”. FEAST Journal, 1(1). (
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Symbol of the Lamb in Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl. (2023, February 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from
“Symbol of the Lamb in Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl.” GradesFixer, 28 Feb. 2023,
Symbol of the Lamb in Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 Jul. 2024].
Symbol of the Lamb in Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Feb 28 [cited 2024 Jul 17]. Available from:
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