Feminism In Dahl's "Lamb To The Slaughter"

2005 words - 8 pages

In the socially stagnant post-war United States of the early 1950's, Mary Maloney is content with the routine she has established for herself as a homemaker. She spends each day anticipating the return of her husband, police officer Patrick Maloney. In this waiting period, she tidies up his house, prepares his food, and periodically glances at the clock until he arrives. For Mary Maloney, her husband's return is "always the most blissful time of day" (Dahl 24). Patrick's presence completes Mary, in that she is dependant on him both economically and emotionally.

In Roald Dahl's 1951 short story, "Lamb to the Slaughter," Mary Maloney comes to embody a feminist heroine by escaping her husband's oppression. Her behaviour in the beginning of the story is docile and therefore socially acceptable; she is the willing and conscientious housewife that all women should be. She has no choice in the matter, for "the Western family structure helps to subordinate women, causing them to be economically dependent" (Bressler 186). As soon as her husband Patrick reveals that he is leaving her, Mary's whole character changes. She murders her husband, who has provided her with the security she has come to take for granted. The cultural, linguistic, and bodily elements that differentiate the female from the male are apparent in "Lamb to the Slaughter," thereby marking it as a highly subversive feminist text.

It is obvious that Mary's feminist awakening has cultural implications. It is difficult to presume, however, that Mary is a subversive figure without knowing precisely what type of society this story is set in. In particular, one must understand the elements of the status quo that exist in order to explain how they can be undermined. "Lamb to the Slaughter" was originally published in a 1952 collection of short stories entitled Someone Like You. Following "Lamb to the Slaughter" in this anthology was a work named "Taste," which involves an outlandish bet between two wealthy males. The men are both worldly wine connoisseurs who challenge each other to name the breed and vintage of an obscure bottle of claret. At stake in this ostentatious guessing game is the eighteen-year-old daughter of the host. The famous epicure Richard Pratt cheats in finding the claret's name so that he may marry the virgin Louise Schofield.

"Taste" was originally published in The New Yorker on December 8, 1951. This work was produced in the same time period and most likely for the same audience as "Lamb to the Slaughter." Though Dahl is a British author, these works were intended for an American audience. With this in mind, I located the copy of The New Yorker to try and understand the ideology apparent in the middle- and upper class who could relate to such works. Wedged between advertisements for jewelry, whiskey, perfume, and flatware, the content of the magazine clarifies the values of that era. It was astounding to find that a large portion of the...

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