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“Lamb to the Slaughter” and “If This Be Madness”

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    Can sanity determine whether one murder is worse that the other? In the two short stories, “If this be Madness” by Lawrence Block and “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl there are protagonists who murder their spouses. One murder is committed while sane and the other is committed while insane. The narrator is the murderer in Block’s story and his name is not given. Let’s call him Boris. In Dahl’s story Mary Maloney the main character is the murderer. She commits her murder under certain circumstances which excuse her for committing her crime.

    Of the two murderers, Boris is morally definitely the worse murderer because he kills his own wife just to save a few dollars, second because of his actions after the murder and last because of his cunning long-term plan for murder. Every murderer has a motive for murder because one does not just simply commit a murder for no reason. Unless they are insane. Just like most murderers have a motive for murder, Boris and Mary Maloney also do. Boris’ motive is hatred and frugality. Near the middle of “If this be Madness”, after Boris is sent to St. Anthony’s, he is happy that he doesn’t have to see his wife Mary and says “. . . her companionship has grown less tolerable over the years” (Block 3). This shows his hatred towards his loving wife. So why doesn’t he just divorce her and why does he murder her? Well, shortly after he says that he had looked into the possibility of divorcing her, but “The cost would have been exorbitant . . . she would have wound up with the house and car . . . plus monthly alimony . . . ” (Block 3). This proves to us that he is a corrupt character with no morals.

    He can’t tolerate a loving wife who supports him even after he is sent to a mental institution and even after he calls her the foulest words. After Boris learns that is he divorces her he will lose a lot of money he just decides that he is going to kill her! How corrupt can a person get? On the other hand Mary is a poor loving wife who is not loved by her husband, Patrick. Shortly after Patrick comes back after Mary’s anxious wait, he tells her something that gives Mary a big shock. What he says is not mentioned. Afterwards he says that he will give Mary the money and make sure she is looked after.

    This shocks Mary which means maybe Patrick told her something very bad. She loses her mind, goes ahead and kills him. But Boris’ motive is more corrupt, revealing his disgusting character. Every murderer has to make an alibi after they commit a murder, unless they want to suffer the consequences. If a murderer does not feel regret for committing their sinful act, they are morally weaker. This tells us that Boris is definitely morally weaker than Mary Maloney because he pretends to be insane to get away and feels no regret for his actions. His pretence is proven at the party before the murder.

    He tells us that he will act as if he is insane so he can plea temporary insanity and next be sent to St. Anthony’s until he Is cured which he estimates to be only a year. This means he doesn’t have to suffer the real punishment for homicide. On the other hand, Mary is ready to suffer the punishment after she is back to reality but then she gets worried about the unborn child. Later she also feels regret for her act. After she kills Patrick, and she comes out of her shock realizing she has killed him, she thinks about the punishment for homicide.

    She doesn’t care about what would happen to her but then she asks to herself, “. . . what about the child? What were the laws about murderers with unborn children? Did they kill them both – mother and child? Or did they wait until the tenth month? (Dahl 13) She doesn’t want her child to be killed or be left without a mother! For this reason she creates and alibi. Later in the story when she comes back from the grocery store, she puts he parcel down on the table and when she saw Patrick lying on the floor “she ran over to him, knelt down beside him, and began to cry her heart out.

    It was easy. No acting necessary” (Dahl 15). This prove that she does feel regret killing him because she does not act when she is crying for him. Boris gets away for true homicide by creating an alibi and feels no regret for murdering his souse compared to Mary who creates an alibi only for the sake of her child and genuinely regrets her actions. Insanity means a psychological state in which a person loses contact with reality. Mary Maloney commits an unpremeditated murder in the state of temporary insanity.

    Boris on the other hand premeditates his murder very cunningly while pretending to be insane. This makes him so much more worse than Mary. This definition tells us that Mary definitely becomes temporarily insane. Before she murders Patrick she manages to whisper to him, she’ll get the supper. While she is going down to the cellar she can’t feel her feet touching the floor, she can’t feel anything but nausea and then “Everything was automatic now . . . ” (Dahl 13) until she realizes she has killed him.

    During this time she loses contact with reality because she can’t feel anything and is unaware of what she is doing. This means that Mary does not plan the murder. Boris on the other hand definitely plans his murder. In fact, is planning is extensive, long and very precise. Part of his plan is to act insane. About a week before the murder he tells us that his affairs with the ten-dollar bills, throwing his typewriter out the window, pretending to commit suicide and striking his colleagues were all part of his extensive plan.

    These incidents took place between two years ago to months ago. Then about a week before committing murder he plans minute by minute what he will do at the party. He tells us he will not talk much, where he will sit, how many drinks he will drink, when people talk to him he will stare at them myopically ignoring them, and last he tells us that he will make involuntary facial movements and nervous twitches. After that he will stand up like a madman, throw his glass onto the mirror and smash his wife’s head with a heavy iron poker.

    Later near the end he says there will be no nonsense about a trial because “temporary insanity may be difficult to plead in some cases, but should hardly be a problem when the murderer has a past psychic instability” (Block 4). He plans the murder almost two years before and then accurately follows his long, cunning plan just so he can plead temporary insanity to prove himself innocent. This would send him to St. Anthony’s for about a year until he pretends to be cured setting himself free. Boris is worse than Mary because his plan for murder is extensive, long and cunning while Mary does not plan at all.

    Now it is clear to us that Boris has absolutely no morals. His murder is much worse than Mary’s. Not only does he just kill his wife, he kills her for money, he gets away with it selfishly feeling no regret, and last he premeditates his murder very cunningly. Mary does not do any of this. She kills Patrick without planning, gets away with it for the sake of her baby feeling regret, and kills him after she is shocked by what her husband tells her unlike Boris. Is it possible for a murder committed while a person is sane be worse than a murder committed while a person is insane? It’s now clear that it is.

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    “Lamb to the Slaughter” and “If This Be Madness”. (2017, Jan 31). Retrieved from

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