Lamb to the Slaughter

lamb-to-the-slaughterThe title of this story by Roald Dahl is a wonderful play on words. On the one hand a lamb (or rather a frozen leg of lamb) is used by a woman to murder her husband. On the other, we are left wondering how the title might relate to the English Like a lamb to the .” Which of the two (the husband, the wife or both) could be described as a gentle person who goes calmly and ly about their business, not knowing that something very unpleasant is about to happen to them?

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Pre-Intermediate level Simplified English story which are not in our 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

The unanswered question: What did Patrick say to Mary?

And he told her. It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at most, and she sat very still through it all, watching him with a kind of dazed horror as he went further and further away from her with each word.

Told her what? I like it when an author leaves an important point like this, upon which a whole story could turn, to the reader’s imagination.

Most of the comments about Lamb to the Slaughter on the Internet paint Patrick as a cheating husband who tells his loving, pregnant wife that he is leaving her for another woman. But there is no direct evidence for this in the story. Moreover, Mary’s initial reaction to hearing the news (deciding to pretend that it did not happen and go about her duties as normal) is hardly what you would expect from a wife in such a situation. Could there be a darker answer?

Patrick is painted as a creature of habit. He arrives home punctually at five every evening, sits and has a quiet drink before talking to Mary about his day, and takes Mary out to dinner every Thursday. There is no suggestion that there is another woman in Patrick’s life, or that he even has time for one. Perhaps Dahl is leaving room for us to ask ourselves whether Mary could be the one with a problem.

Mary comes across as being greatly in need of Patrick’s attention. Consider this example. We are told that: She knew he didn’t want to speak much until the first drink was finished. Also that: She especially (loved) the way he remained silent about his tiredness, sitting still with himself until the whiskey had taken some of it away. However, rather than letting Patrick sit quietly on the night of the story, she asks whether he is tired when he is only half way through his first drink. Patrick’s reaction (saying “yes” and then finishing the glass in one swallow) suggests that he is not happy with either the question or its timing. Could it be that he finds Mary too clingy or demanding?

Or could Mary have an even bigger problem? At the end of their talk, Patrick says to Mary: Of course I’ll give you money and see you’re looked after. There is a suggestion here that Mary is in need of some kind of special care. Perhaps more importantly, he makes no mention of the baby. Rather than telling Mary that he was leaving her for another woman, Patrick could well have said that he was leaving her (or that she had to go somewhere) because she had some kind of medical or mental condition. This would better explain Mary’s actions throughout the rest of the story, as well as Patrick’s next comments: But there needn’t really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn’t be very good for my job.

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(n: idiom pl idioms) An expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but has a meaning of its own which is generally understood by the native speakers of a language. It's a piece of cake. [= It's very easy.] It costs an arm and a leg. [= It's very expensive.] He has kicked the bucket. [= He is dead.] 8000

slaughter(v: slaughter, slaughters, slaughtered, slaughtering) 1. To kill [an animal] for food. Slaughter cattle/sheep. (ฆ่าสัตว์เพื่อเป็นอาหาร) 2. To kill in a cruel or violent way, especially in large numbers. Hundreds of people were slaughtered by the invaders. (สังหารหมู่) 3. To defeat [someone or something] easily or completely. Our team got slaughtered in our last game. (การแพ้อย่างราบคาบ) 4000

innocent(adj: innocent) 1. Not guilty of a crime or other wrong act. She was found innocent of all charges. 2. Not deserving to be harmed; not intended to cause harm or trouble. An innocent victim/bystander/question. 3. Not having experience with the world and the bad things that happen in life. An innocent child
(adv: innocently) In an innocent way. She smiled innocently at him. 4000

bone(n: bone pl bones) The hard substance forming the skeleton of man, animals etc. 2000

cellar(n: cellar pl cellars) A part of a building that is below or partly below the ground, often used to store coal or wine. Also called 'the basement'. 4000

cheerful(adj: cheerful) 1. Feeling or showing happiness. 2. Causing good feelings or happiness. 4000

cheesecake(n: cheesecake pl cheesecakes) A cake with a sweet filling usually made of cheese, eggs, and sugar. 6000

club(n: club pl clubs) 1. A heavy wooden stick used as a weapon. 2. A group of people who meet to participate in an activity or a place where such people meet. 1000

crash(v: crash, crashes, crashed, crashing) 1. To damage something (such as a car) by causing it to hit something. She crashed the car into a tree, but no one was hurt. 2. To make a loud noise by falling, hitting something, etc. The glass crashed to the floor. 3000

darling(adj: darling) Greatly loved. This is my darling daughter, Sara.
(n: darling pl darlings) A person you love very much. She was mother's little darling. Often used as a form of address to someone you love: How was your day, darling? 4000

detective(n: detective pl detectives) 1. A police officer whose job is to find information about crimes that have occurred and to catch criminals. She is a detective on the police force. 2. A person whose job is to find information about something or someone; a private investigator. She hired a detective to follow her husband. 2000

fingerprints(n: fingerprint pl fingerprints) 1. The mark that is made by pressing the tip of a finger on a surface. Everyone has a unique fingerprint. 2. A mark of this kind made in ink for the purpose of identifying a person. The police took her fingerprints for their files. 8000

freezer(n: freezer pl freezers) A refrigerator, refrigerator compartment, cabinet, or room held at or below 32°F (0°C), used for freezing food or keeping it frozen. Don't forget to put the ice cream back in the freezer. 2000

frozen(adj: frozen) 1. Made into, covered with, or surrounded by ice. A frozen lake. 2. Preserved by freezing. Frozen food. 3. Unable to move. Frozen with fear. 4. Kept at a fixed level. Frozen rents/wages. 5. Impossible to withdraw, sell, etc. Frozen assets. 2000

gentle(adj: gentle) 1. [of people] Behaving, talking etc in a soft, kind, pleasant way. The doctor was very gentle. 2. Not strong or rough. A gentle wind. 3. [of hills] Rising gradually. A gentle slope
(adv: gently) In a gentle way. 3000

grocery(n: grocery pl groceries) A store that sells food and household items. Originally, grocery stores only sold 'dry goods' (food that came in tins, packets, jars, boxes, etc). In modern times, they have developed into supermarkets which sell many more things such as drinks, frozen food, meat, fruit, vegetables, etc. 4000
(n: grocer pl grocers) A person who works in a grocery. 6000

horror(n: horror pl horrors) 1. A very strong feeling of fear or dislike. 2. A disagreeable person or thing. Her little boy is an absolute horror. 3000
(adj:ˈhorrible) 1. Causing horror; frightening; dreadful. A horrible sight. 2. Very bad or unpleasant. What a horrible day! 2000

ice bucket(n: ice bucket pl ice buckets) 1. A small insulated container with a lid, used for holding ice. 2. A similar container without a lid used to cool bottles placed inside it.

lamb(n: lamb pl lambs) 1. A young sheep. The ewe [female sheep] has had three lambs 2. A lovable or gentle person, usually used to talk about a child. The poor lamb.
(n: lamb, noncount) The meat of a young sheep eaten as food. A roast leg of lamb. 3000

murder(n: murder pl murders) The crime of deliberately killing a person. 2000

oven(n: oven pl ovens) A closed box-like space, usually part of a cooker or stove, which is heated for baking or roasting food. 3000

patience(n: patience, noncount) 1. The quality of being patient. Able to: (i) wait for a long time without becoming annoyed or upset; (ii) stay calm when dealing with problems or difficult people; (iii) give attention to something for a long time. 2. The British name for a card game played by one person, also called Solitaire. 2000

pea(n: pea pl peas) A small, round, green seed that is eaten as a vegetable. Formed in a seed case (called a pod) of a climbing plant. 4000

sergeant(n: sergeant pl sergeants) In the army or police force, the highest position before becoming an officer.
(n: sergeant major pl sergeant majors or sergeants major) The highest rank of sergeant. 3000

sew(v: sew, sewed, sewn, sewing) To make or repair something [such as a piece of clothing] by using a needle and thread.
(n: sewing, noncount) 1. The act or process of sewing. I learned sewing at school. 2. Things that are used for sewing or that are being sewn. She took her sewing into the kitchen. 3000

shock(n: shock pl shocks) A sudden usually unpleasant or upsetting feeling caused by something unexpected. 2000

skull(n: skull pl skulls) The bones that form the head and face of a person or animal and protect the brain. (กะโหลก) 5000

slippers(n: slipper pl slippers) A light, soft shoe that is easily put on and taken off and is usually worn indoors. (รองเท้าแตะ) 5000

supper(n: supper pl suppers) A usually light meal taken at the end of the day. (อาหารมื้อเย็น) 3000

(n: torch pl torches) 1. A long stick with material at one end that burns brightly. (คบไฟ) 2. A small portable light worked by an electric battery. Also called a 'flashlight' in American English (ไฟฉาย) 3000

torch flashlight

upset(v: upset, upsets, upset, upsetting) To make someone feel unhappy or a little angry. (เศร้า) 2000

whiskey(n: whiskey pl whiskeys; British wiskey) A strong alcoholic drink made from a grain such as corn, rye, or barley; usually contains 40-50% alcohol by volume. (วิสกี้) 3000

whisper(n: whisper pl whispers) A very quiet sound, especially something said. (การกระซิบ; การส่งเสียงเบา ๆ)
(v: whisper, whispers, whispered, whispering) To speak or say something very softly. (กระซิบ) 5000

A 24 minute film from the ‘Tales Of The Unexpected’ British television series, with personal introduction by Roald Dahl. This is episode 4 of Season 1. To watch online, click here. To download the mp4, click here.

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