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This essay will be discussing the representation of women in Roald Dahl's Tales of the unexpected series of short stories, with particular reference to Mary Maloney in Lamb to the Slaughter. In addition to looking at the role of women in his other stories The Man from the South and The Land lady.
Roald Dahl wrote these stories in the 1950's when the expected roles of women were different than they are today. The 50's was a time when women were still expected to be house wives and stay at home doing the house work, cooking and raising the children, whilst men were expected to go out to work and be the bread winner. This unlike today when it's acceptable for women to go to work and be the main bread winner whilst their husbands stay at home to do what used to be the women's role.
Lamb to the Slaughter is the story of a woman, Mary Maloney, who kills her husband after he tells her he is leaving her.
The opening sentences are quite long and written almost in the form of a list.
"The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two-table lamps alight-hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whisky. Fresh ice cubes in the thermos bucket."
This slows the reading of the paragraph and gives a relaxed feeling to it, and helps to set the feeling that the room the paragraph is about is a warm and welcoming place. The use of alliteration here "two table lamps" and "two tall glasses" gives emphasis to the fact that the room is set up for two people. This and the fact there is an empty chair opposite hers gives the feeling that the room is somehow incomplete with only her there.
This is in contrast to the way The Man from the South opens, which starts with
"It was getting on toward six o'clock so I thought I'd buy myself a beer and go out and sit in a deck chair by the swimming pool and have a little evening sun. I went to the bar and got the beer and carried it outside and wandered down the garden toward the pool."
These are two short sentences that aren't very descriptive and not tell the reader much about the setting. Also the Man from the South is written from a first person perspective unlike Lamb to the Slaughter which has been written in a third person perspective.
When we first meet Mary she is waiting for her husband, Patrick, to come home from work. We are told that "she would glance up at the clock without anxiety" this makes the reader feel they are observing the scene and gives the impression that Mary is happy and content and isn't expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen that night but just another evening with her husband, the same they have had for years. Another way she is described is as being "tranquil" which also gives the feeling that she is happy.
Some of the ways that Mary is represented as an average 1950's house wife are that she has the house nice and clean, she's got drinks ready and waiting for her husband on his return and she gets up to great him with a kiss and take his coat when he arrives. All these things are what were expected of women at that time. This would make the reader think that she is a normal house wife who knows her place in the relationship is to be at home doing the cooking and cleaning and to make sure her husband is happy and comfortable when he gets home after a hard days work.
Dahl gives the reader the impression that this woman is quite a meek and serene person. He does this by descriping the way she feels when her husband has just arrived home after work as being "a blissful time of day" and she was content to sit quietly enjoying his company whilst he would sit across from her not talking until he had finished his first drink. Also he says that "She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man" and would feel like a sunbather in "the warm male glow that came from him to her". Then Dahl goes on to describe some of the small things she loves about him like the way he sits in is chair, the way he walks across a room and even the funny shape of his mouth. These tell the reader that she is still very much in live with this man as they are the small things that other people would not notice about someone else except one that they are very close to. She also seems very submissive and eager to please to him by the way she keeps asking if she can do anything for him like when she asks if he wants his slippers or if he would like some cheese. This all gives the reader the feeling that this woman would not the type who would end up smashing her husband in the head with a frozen leg of lamb.
Similarly when the reader is introduced to the landlady in "The Landlady" she is described as a 50 year old lady with a warm and welcoming smile with a round pink face with very gentle blue eyes. She is also described as looking "exactly like the mother of one's best school friend welcoming one into the house to stay for Christmas holidays." Furthermore at one point it's said that "she was not only harmless" and "she was also quite obviously a kind and generous soul". This would give the reader the impression that she is not a dangerous person and there would be no reason to think that she likes to poison young men and stuff them like her pets.
When Patrick tells Mary that he is leaving her he seems to try to play it down a bit by saying "I know it's kind of a bad time to be telling you"
And that it's not that bad when he says
"I'll give you money and see you're looked after"
Also that it isn't his fault by saying
"I hope you don't blame me too much"
Obviously he's only saying those things so Mary won't make a big commotion about it you can tell this by the way he goes on to say
"There needn't really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn't be very good for my job".
Hits him over head wobbles funny like woman shaking man in from the south
Gets police to eat lamb / landlady gets Billy to drink tea
Police funny must be a big weapon whilst eating it
Compare ends Mary in charge gets away with it
Finger woman in charge owns everything