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This is a collection of short stories by Roald Dahl. I have chosen to tell about my three favourites. The first one is Taste. It is about two men who both claim to be good wine connoisseurs, and they have an old habit of placing bets about who knows which wine is being served. On this occasion, their stakes have gone out of hand and one has bet two houses and the other one has bet his own daughter. What they don’t know is that one of them has already been out checking the label of the wine bottle, and of course this results is his winning the bet. One of the servants has noticed this, and the cheating is revealed.
The second one is called The leg of lamb. It tells us about a married couple where the man is a police officer and the woman is a loving housewife. One night, when he returns from work, he acts very strangely, and later on he tells her that he wants a divorce because he is having an affair with another woman. The woman gets shocked, and pretends not to have listened. She goes down to the basement to get some food for supper, and she picks up a leg of lamb. Finally, she hits her husband on the head with the frozen leg of lamb, and when the police officers arrive to make investigations about the murder, she offers them the lamb for supper.
The third one is Birth and fate. It is a simple short story about a woman having her fourth child. The other three has died at young age, and she is very afraid that this one will suffer the same destiny. It later appears that the newborn baby is no one less than Adolf Hitler.
There is one thing in common with all short stories in this collection. They all have a twist in the tail. We can also notice that many of the characters are ordinary and respectable on the surface, but many of them have an unexpectedly dark and cruel side to their personalities.
In Taste a harmless guessing game between two lovers of good wine suddenly becomes deadly serious. In the beginning, it is nothing but a pleasant supper, but it suddenly develops into an awkward situation for all parts. The main characters seem to be very pleasant, but we can soon see that when it comes to betting, everything else is cast aside.
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The leg of lamb begins by showing how affectionate and loving the woman is, and she can hardly wait for her husband to come home. But when he finally is home, and the terrible secret is revealed to her, she gets a terrible shock. She remains calm, but she is still determined to kill the man she so deeply loved only a few minutes ago. Who could have guessed that the loving housewife expecting their first baby would be capable of committing such a cruel murder?
Birth and fate starts out being only a story about a woman having lost three children at young age. She has delivered her fourth baby, and is very afraid that also this one will die. The twist comes when we find out who she is, and who her baby is. Suddenly, we see the name of the baby written, and the name is Adolf Hitler.
Besides common themes for all of the short stories, there are themes that mark each single short story.
Taste deals with stubbornness, pride and even human stupidity. The two men are so afraid of losing, and so eager to show their knowledge to one another, that one is willing to bet houses and the other his own daughter. Even though the father assures his daughter that there is no chance in the world that he would lose this bet, the entire party is terrified about the whole situation. We also see that in order to show off, a man is willing to bet his own daughter only to show the party that he is so certain of winning this bet. Before that, they had only bet a case of wine each, but with these high stakes, a man can go as far as to cheating only to prove that his knowledge is greater than the other’s.
The leg of lamb is about what a perfectly normal woman carrying a baby in her womb can do if she finds out that her husband is having an affair. It deals with what happens if something destroys a “perfect world”. The twist in the end is totally unexpected and even though she has recently killed her own husband in cold blood, she manages to stay perfectly calm and go out shopping. But still, the love for her husband has not died at all. When she returns and sees her husband lying dead, she cries but never regrets what she has done. The ending is spiced with perfect irony. The officers are talking about the murder weapon, saying that it is probably right under their noses. If they only knew how right they were…
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Roald Dahl has a great technique of writing short stories. Many of the characteristic features of his works reflect his early life, which was overshadowed by sad events. Both his sister and father died within a few weeks of each other when he was very young, and he was sent to a boarding school where he had a very unhappy time. As a result of this, many of the stories he has written feature characters who are cruel to those who have been cruel to them. This is certainly something that we can see in this collection of short stories.