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Literature / Lamb to the Slaughter

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"Lamb to the Slaughter" is a short horror story written by Roald Dahl and first published in Harper's Magazine in 1953.

Mary Maloney greets her husband Patrick when he returns home from work, sullen and upset, and finds that he wishes to get a divorce. Mary doesn't take it well.

Dahl adapted his own story into a 1958 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, one of the handful to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock himself; Barbara Bel Geddes starred as Mary. It was later adapted as a 1979 episode of Tales of the Unexpected as well.

Tropes to the Slaughter:

  • The '50s: The time period in which the story was written and set. Back then, it was The Present Day.
  • Adaptational Karma/Offscreen Karma: Hilariously in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version, Hitchcock explains in the epilogue that Mary got caught attempting to murder her second husband in the exact same way. The meat isn't hard enough to even injure him because "he was the forgetful type and had forgotten to plug in the freezer". This, like with many similar stories in the series, was demanded by the censors who refused to allow them having a person get away with a crime on television.
  • Alliterative Name: Mary Maloney.
  • Asshole Victim: Patrick is having an affair while his wife is pregnant, then tells said wife he doesn't want a scandal and that he hopes Mary won't make a fuss, even though he's abandoning her for another woman. All of this gets his head bashed in.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Briefly. Mary gets so deep into her happy housewife act when she's establishing her alibi that when she gets back home, she starts crying over Patrick's body.
  • Death by Woman Scorned: Mary's husband Patrick after he tells her he wants a divorce.
  • Divorce Requires Death/Til Murder Do Us Part: The result of Patrick asking Mary for a divorce.
  • Eat the Evidence: Mary murders her husband with a frozen lamb leg. She then cooks it and convinces the detectives who come to investigate to eat it, not knowing that it is the murder weapon.
  • Frame-Up: Mary does this by cooking the leg of lamb with which she killed her husband and going to the store immediately after, giving her an alibi and making it extremely difficult to implicate her.
  • Friend on the Force: Patrick, himself a senior police officer, was friends with all of the detectives and police officers who come to investigate his case. Averted in that Patrick is both dead and his case left unsolved.
  • Happily Married: So Mary wished to believe.
  • Housewife: Mary Maloney is one, as typical of The '50s.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Mary is six months pregnant. Inverted in that she's in no immediate danger - rather the opposite - but she's initially motivated by her fear that if she's caught, they won't wait for her child's birth before executing her.
  • Improvised Weapon: The frozen lamb leg.
  • Irony: Often used in high school English classes as a definitive example of such. In the final moments, the cops searching for the murder weapon comment that it must be "right under their noses" they're literally eating the now-cooked leg of lamb that Mary used to kill Patrick.
  • Laughing Mad: In the final moments, after hearing the cops remark that the murder weapon (which they're eating) is "right under their noses," Mary starts to giggle hysterically in the next room.
  • Villain Protagonist: Mary is the main protagonist and the story is about her trying to get away with murdering her husband.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: In-universe. The police never find the weapon as they ate it, and presumably, never catch Mary.