Lamb to the Slaughter

This study guide will help you analyse the text “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, theme and message, and we will help you put the text into perspective.

Presentation of the text

Title: “Lamb to the Slaughter” (1953)
Author: Roald Dahl
Published in: “Harper’s Magazine”
Genre: Short Story

Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a British novelist, mostly famous for his children’s fiction. For his stories and novels for children, Dahl was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1983. Among his most famous literary works are “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Matilda” and “James and the Giant Peach”. The short story “Lamb to the Slaughter” belongs to Dahl’s fiction for adults and it skilfully explores elements of the horror genre and black comedy.


Below, you can see a short extract from the study guide:


The title of the short story is very ambiguous, as readers might not initially be aware of the themes Dahl explores. The expression “lamb to the slaughter” originates in the Bible (in “Jeremiah” and “Isaiah”) and it refers to someone getting involved in a dangerous situation unknowingly, unaware of an impending disaster. This denomination perfectly applies to both Patrick and Mary. On the one hand, Patrick has no idea that his decision to ask for a divorce will end catastrophically. On the other hand, Mary herself is unaware of the fact that Patrick will reveal that he is leaving her.

The expression may even be applied to the policemen at the end, since they also go into a bad situation (literally eating the evidence that could help them find the murderer) without any suspicion. 

At the same time, the title of the short story can also refer to the actual murder weapon, which is a leg of lamb that is used to slaughter someone. In this case, the title becomes darkly humorous, as the expression is applied in an unusually literal way.  

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Lamb to the Slaughter

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