Feminism in Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" Essay

Feminism in Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" Essay

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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 und...


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...thout the family structure that is necessary for all women.

The uncertainty over this issue is interesting. Dahl and myself, a writer and a reader, are males. We belong in the oppressor category due to the confines of our culture. As such, even the normal women like Mary Maloney will always seem somewhat mysterious. Until this changes, it may become habitual for me to keep my eyes open and senses alert before dinnertime from this point on.

Works Cited

Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Dahl, Roald. "Lamb to the Slaughter." The Roald Dahl Omnibus. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993.

Showalter, Elaine. "Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness." Modern Criticism and Theory. Ed. David Lodge with Nigel Wood. New York: Pearson Education, 2000. 307-330.

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