Roald Dahl’s Murder Fiction Lamb to the Slaughter
Unlike Edgar Allen Poe, it would seem uncharacteristic of Roald Dahl to create a totally inhumane cast in his murder fiction “Lamb to the Slaughter.” In fact the reader is caught off guard with Mary Maloney’s vulnerabilities as she is seen “watching him all the time with those large, bewildered eyes.” (Dahl 23), and being six months with child. Between Dalh’s story and Poe’s “The Black Cat”, the audience needs to step outside of the box while comparing both murders motives, methods, and outcomes, to see that Mary has premeditated the murder of Patrick Maloney for some time.
The narrator in “The Black Cat” tells of his change from a life of good temperament and gentility to the form of consumption and its effect upon his spirits. Through uncontrollable rage due to alcoholism and delusion, Poe’s character arrogantly gives justification to his crime for his wife’s insolent interference. Dalh’s characterization of Mary however, leads the audience to see her as distraught with an obsession for her husband after being told that he is leaving her. She had to suspect something was afoot beforehand, as she was being so attentive upon his arrival. Doesn’t she seems to be trying a little too hard (or smothering) upon Patrick’s entrance. Hers was more than just a crime of passion as she chose to execute her premeditation upon his confirmation that he wants to be with someone else. Upon completing the deed, her pre-staged lines are rehearsed for the grocer and her second performance was about to begin.
Murders have been conducted with many tools of the trade over time, but a leg of lamb? “Food and the rituals that surround its preparation and the consumption have often played a role in crime fiction; food and eating are used to indicate specific character traits,” (Michelis 142). As the domesticated house wife, why not a pre-staged object, readily stored until needed. Perfect for Dalh’s character, however Poe’s seems to be more of an impulsive performer in his role. During the rise of this tale he was “[G]oaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain.” (Poe 57). With no more remorse than if he had killed the cat instead, Poe’s characters conceit toward the victim views her as just another dumb animal.
Poe was no stranger to the characters in his writings. Thus being “a man divided against himself, it was by looking within, by following threads leading into the depths of his personality, that he learned to write such a story” (Buranelli 34). Being self-pitted, Poe’s storyteller was destined to give himself up through his eccentric contempt toward life in general. Prinksy extends, “Rationalizing to the end, the narrator blames the cat for his misdeeds and
capture: “the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me
to the hangman.” (Poe, n.p.). To the bitter end he takes no responsibility, nor has any remorse for his actions. Mary on the other hand, motivated by the well-being of her unborn child, continues with her staged plan to move beyond Patrick. By turning the leg of lamb into a weapon, she now converts it back into a lamb. (Bernardo 2). Such foresight may be just dumb luck (she is Irish), or maybe it is a continuance of premeditated luck.
Through his self-induced character flaws, Poe’s unreliable narrators will undoubtedly meet his fate at the end a rope. He will no longer be a burden on society or to any other cats for that
matter, but Mary’s is a different tale. She probably is planning on some kind of widow’s fund to help see her thru
the near future, plus all of the fine young policeman who can empathize as potential suitors for Young Widow Maloney. Besides, they know she is a good cook.