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Initially rejected, along with four other stories, by The New Yorker, Lamb to the Slaughter

eventually appeared in Colliers in 19!, after "nopf published its first collection of #ahls
short stories and established his $merican reputation% #ahl had been ma&ing headway as a
professional writer with a spate of tales which, li&e Lamb to the Slaughter, reflect aspects
of human perversity, cruelty, and violence% Lamb to the Slaughter opens with 'ary
'aloney, the pregnant, doting wife of a policeman waiting for her husband to come home
from wor&% (hen he does so, he ma&es an abrupt but unspecified statement to 'ary, the
upshot of which is that he intends to leave her% )er connubial complacency shattered by this
revelation, 'ary crushes her husbands s&ull with a fro*en leg of lamb and then arranges an
alibi% +he laconic suddenness of the events, as #ahl tells them, creates an e,perience of shoc&
for the reader, an effect which no doubt accounts for the popularity of this fre-uently
anthologi*ed and reprinted story% #ahl, who is also the author of popular childrens fiction,
appears here as an adult student of adult evil, as a cynically detached narrator, and as an
advocate of a grisly form of blac& comedy% .et Lamb to the Slaughter prefigures the
grotes-ueness in even his wor& for children/ in both James and the Giant Peach and Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory bad children meet with bi*arre and horrific but appropriate
Lamb to the Slaughter Summary
#ahl commences with a picture of static co*iness in a middle0class, domestic setting% 'ary
'aloney, si, months pregnant, waits for her policeman husband 1atric& 'aloney to come
home from wor&% +he scene emphasi*es domesticity/ +he room was warm and clean, the
curtains drawn% 'atching chairs, lamps, glasses, and whis&y, soda, and ice cubes
await%'ary watches the cloc&, smiling -uietly to herself as each minute brings her husband
closer to home% (hen he arrives, she ta&es his coat and hangs it in the closet% +he couple sits
and drin&s in silence2'ary comfortable with the &nowledge that 1atric& does not li&e to tal&
much until after the first drin&% So by deliberate design, everything seems normal until 'ary
notices that 1atric& drains most of his drin& in a single swallow, and then pours himself
another, very strong drin&% 'ary offers to fi, dinner and serve it to him so that he does not
have to leave his chair, although they usually dine out on +hursdays% She also offers to
prepare a snac&% 1atric& declines all her offers of food% +he reader becomes aware of a
tension which escapes 'arys full notice%
1atric& confronts 'ary and ma&es a speech, only the upshot of which is given e,plicitly/ So
there it is% % % % $nd I &now its a &ind of bad time to be telling you, but there simply wasnt
any other way% 3f course, Ill give you money and see youre loo&ed after% 4ut there neednt
really be any fuss% 5or reasons which #ahl does not ma&e e,plicit, 1atric& has decided to
leave his pregnant wife%
'ary goes into shoc&% $t first she wonders if she imagined the whole thing% She moves
automatically to retrieve something from the basement free*er and prepare supper%%%% 6
7omplete Lamb to the Slaughter Summary
Source: Short Stories for Students, !" Gale Cen#a#e$ %ll &i#hts &eser'ed$ 5ull
Lamb to the Slaughter: Author Biography
8onald #ahl was born in (ales to 9orwegian parents% )is father died the year he was born,
and his mother remained in :reat 4ritain% )e attended the prestigious 8epton public
preparatory school, where he was a -uiet, boo&ish student, but never went on to college% $fter
graduation, #ahl went to wor& for the #utch Shell 3il company, and was posted overseas in
$frica% $t the outbrea& of (orld (ar I in 19!9, he joined the 8oyal $ir 5orce and became a
fighter pilot% Shot down during a sortie over :reece, #ahl was injured and spent the rest of
the war in (ashington #7, as a spy% $mong his%%%
A housewife so traditional that she seems almost a caricature is waiting for her
husband to come home after work, as is her wont every working day. Her
husband is a senior police ofcer and Mrs Maloney has devoted her life to looking
after him, sacrifcing any individual interest she might have had to further his
career and hence their family life.
her husband comes home after work and tells her quite simply, abruptly and
bluntly that he is leaving her for another woman.
Mrs Maloney, unbelieving, goes to the cellar to get something to cook for dinner.
here she !stumbles across" a fro#en leg of lamb.
the conte$t of situation as that of a traditional bourgeois family and at the
specifc level the %supposed& nature of the relationship between the husband and
wife as a harmonious one. 'ndeed, the frst content word is !warm", %for !room"
may be taken as given information in the Hallidayan sense, the physical setting
in which the action takes place, and so this information is of minor importance,
as is further shown by the fact that !room" acts as theme and !warm" is the frst
element of the new information in the rheme&.
Lamb to the Slaughter, A Review
Summary: 8eviews Lamb to the Slaughter, a short story by 8oald #ahl, author of ;ames and
the :iant 1each% 1rovides a short plot summary and analy*es themes and symbols%
Lamb to the slaughter by 8oald #ahl is a good short story% It is about a woman called 'ary
who murders her husband called 1atric& and then deceives a shop &eeper by ma&ing out that
her husband is still alive and then deceives the police by ma&ing them eat the murder
+he way the setting is described in lamb to the slaughter is one reason it is a good short story%
$t the very start of the story the setting is described in great detail% #ahl describes the living
room and uses phrases li&e <lamps alight= and <curtains drawn= that ma&e this feel warm and
co*y% $lso he puts two of things li&e <two table lamps=, <two tall glasses= and <two chairs= to
ma&e it sound that 'ary and 1atric& are very close% 4ut then when 'ary is waiting for
1atric& to come home from wor& #ahl uses the phrase <empty chair opposite= the word
opposite hints they don=t get along as well as they suggest%
+he characterisation in lamb to the slaughter is also very effective% #ahl describes 'ary as a
nice -uiet person% )e describes her as having a soft smiling mouth, wonderful translucent
s&in and large eyes% )e also describes that she is not how she loo&s on the outside% 3n the
outside she loo&s calm and vulnerable% 4ut on the inside she is evil% #ahl describes 'ary=s
eyes as having a dar&er loo& this suggests a more sinister side to her% $nd he uses the word
translucent to describe her s&in it suggests she is hiding nothing% $lso when 'ary is ta&ing to
1atric& she repeats the word darling and its sounds false li&e she doesn=t mean it or as if she is
using it in a controlling way, telling him what to do%
+he way 'ary=s husband 1atric& is described is also very good% #ahl uses ice to suggest that
1atric& is callous and emotionless% $lso as 1atric& comes in from wor& #ahl uses harsh
words li&e gravel and slamming, then uses <the &ey turning in the loc&= which hints he is
controlling% $lso when 1atric& is tal&ing to 'ary he uses short sharp sentences li&e <no,
forget it= and uses <its &ind of a bad time= which is and understatement and it shows he does
not care about 'ary or thin& about 'ary and the baby she is carrying% (hen 'ary tries to
help him by ma&ing his dinner he says <there needn=t really be any fuss= and says < it wouldn=t
be good for my job= which shows he is selfish and only thin&s about himself%
+he structure of lamb to the slaughter is very good% +he story builds up to a dramatic clima,%
It starts when 'ary gets some bad news off 1atric&% +hen she offers to ma&e him some dinner
and he refuses but 'ary goes down to the basement and into the free*er and pic&s up a fro*en
leg of lamb then goes bac& upstairs% +he clima, is when 'ary murders 1atric& by hitting him
over the head with the fro*en leg of lamb% It is very une,pected because 'ary seemed so
gentle and &ind and she had seemed the injured person% 1atric& is made out to be cruel and
evil but he is in fact the victim% +his is where the funny part of the story is aswell when 'ary
hits 1atric& with the lamb before he falls to the ground he sways for four or five seconds%
4efore falling to the ground% It is also funny because the idea of having a leg of lamb as the
murder weapon is very unrealistic%
I enjoyed the twist in the ending because when the police are investigating the murder 'ary
finishes coo&ing the lamb and offers it to the police men to eat and they eat it all up% I thin& it
is effective because now she will never be found out because the police have ate the murder
weapon which would have been the only evidence%
I thin& lamb to the slaughter was a good short story because the characters were interesting
and unpredictable% $nd the story &eeps you in suspense until the end because you want to
&now if 'ary is found out or not% $lso the story was good because it was original and funny%
. INTRODUTION. Ba!"grou#$, aim% a#$ metho$.
8oald #ahls (am) to the Slau#hter tal&s about peoples motives and behaviour% 1eople are
motivated by values and emotions% +he relationship between affective states and ideological
systems, >which are based on values, analytically spea&ing?, is very close indeed% $t a more
prosaic level, money and love >whatever that may mean? are perhaps the two main driving
forces >or values? in life% 5inally, we are heavily conditioned to ensure our behaviour patterns
correspond to the values inculcated in us in our tender years, and affect, as stated previously,
is perhaps the main force supporting values, a point that the story to be analysed bears out to
the full%
9aturally, while growing up some people come to the conclusion that the ideology they have
@receivedA does not suit them, and they rebel, trying to change matters% 3ne mode of
rebellion, or protest if one prefers, is to ma&e fun of the object one criticises, and one of the
major strands of 8oald #ahls wor& is precisely that of criticising society through comedy
which is often deepest blac&% $nd one of the blac&est of his stories is entitled (am) to the
+he aptly chosen title comes from Isaiah, 7hapter !/
/ 4ut he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our ini-uities/ the
chastisement of our peace was upon himB and with his stripes we are healed%
C/ $ll we li&e sheep have gone astrayB we have turned every one to his own wayB and the
L38# hath laid on him the ini-uity of us all%
D/ )e was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth/ he is brought as a
lamb to the %laughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his
+he idiomatic e,pression which #ahl has ta&en for his title is used in 'odern English to
signify @innocently and without resistanceA% $s we shall, see, irony characterises the story
from its outset%
+he tale is a simple one, and -uic&ly told% $ housewife so traditional that she seems almost a
caricature is waiting for her husband to come home after wor&, as is her wont every wor&ing
day% )er husband is a senior police officer and 'rs 'aloney has devoted her life to loo&ing
after him, sacrificing any individual interest she might have had to further his career and
hence their family life%
3ne evening, when 'rs 'aloney is si, months pregnant with their first child, her husband
comes home after wor& and tells her -uite simply, abruptly and bluntly that he is leaving her
for another woman% 9ever ever having envisaged for even one instant in her life that such a
possibility even e,isted in the remotest of circumstances, given her own and what she
believed was also her husbands credo, she is dumbfounded% )e gives her no option, but
states straightforwardly that he understands her predicament, so she will receive sufficient
money to live her life out in comfort%
'rs 'aloney, unbelieving, goes to the cellar to get something to coo& for dinner% +here she
@stumbles acrossA a fro*en leg of lamb% 1ic&ing it up she goes to the &itchen% 3n her way she
passes by the living room where her husband is still standing loo&ing out of the window% She
wal&s up to him and delivers such a violent blow to her husbands s&ull that he dies almost
$t that point she realises she does not wish her child and herself to die% So she pretends her
husband has not yet arrived home, starts coo&ing supper, placing the @murder weaponA in the
oven at a high temperature, goes out to the local shop to buy more food for the evening meal,
and returns home pretending not to find her husband% Later she @discoversA her dead
husbands body and calls the police F her husbands colleagues and friends% +hey
immediately arrive, ascertain that their chief is indeed dead and proceed with the
investigation% Since the wife is a natural possible suspect, the investigation necessarily
includes chec&ing the wifes alibi by going to the shop where 'rs 'aloney bought the food
for the evening meal% )er story tallies perfectly with that of the shop&eeper% 5urthermore, she
has no immediately apparent motive for &illing her husband, theirs having always been a
@happyA family, hence the police form the hypothesis that the chief arrived home, that
someone entered the house or was with him, and that that someone &illed him% +he medical
evidence establishes that the murder weapon as being something e,tremely heavy and large,
such as a club, but the police search fails to unearth the weapon% 'eanwhile it is getting late,
the policemen are tired and hungry, so 'rs 'aloney invites her husbands @friendsA to dine
with her, otherwise, as she says, the dinner will only go wasted% +hough at first embarrassed,
the policemen finally succumb to tiredness and hunger and parta&e of the meal, thereby
unwittingly >and stupidly? destroying the evidence of the murder weapon% +hey will leave the
house that night convinced the weapon is somewhere nearby, for it must have been too heavy
and too large to carry very far, yet unable to find it% 'rs 'aloney will go scot0free%
+he present paper will try to account for the following @factsA about the story% 5irst, I have
recounted the essence of the tale in !! words% +he original totals !D, appro,imately seven
times that length% I will try to show that #ahl manipulates mainly the :ricean ma,ims of
relevance and -uantity >or the economy principle, to use an alternative wording for the latter?
to gain his ends% Second, that his principal goal is to position the reader so that heGshe
sympathises with 'rs 'aloney to the point of condoning the murder she commits, just as,
when reading or watching the film of "en "eseys novel *ne Flew *'er the Cuckoos Nest
one feels ones body go taught, ones arms and hands tense, as 'c'urphy tries to strangle
wretched 9urse 8atched, and one hears oneself almost screaming @"ill the bHA, despite the
fact that the vast majority of us are @normalA law0abiding citi*ens who would utter the utmost
condemnation of murder% +he analysis will focus on the stylistic devices deployed to align the
readers sympathy through a close reading of the first part of the story%
&. T'( T()T
>1? +he room was warm and clear, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight 0 hers and
the one by the empty chair opposite% >I? 3n the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda
water, whis&y% >!? 5resh ice cubes in the +hermos buc&et%
>J? 'ary 'aloney was waiting for her husband to come home from wor&%
>? 9ow and again she would glance up at the cloc&, but without an,iety, merely to please
herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would
come% >C? +here was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did% >D? +he drop
of the head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tran-uil% >K? )er s&in 0 for this was her
si,th month with child 0 had ac-uired a wonderful translucent -uality, the mouth was soft,
and the eyes, with their new placid loo&, seemed larger, dar&er than before%
>9? (hen the cloc& said ten minutes to five, she began to listen, and a few moments later,
punctually as always, she heard the tyres on the gravel outside, and the car door slamming,
the footsteps passing the window, the &ey turning in the loc&% >1L? She laid aside her sewing,
stood up, and went forward to &iss him as he came in%
>11? =)ullo, darling,= she said%
>1I? =)ullo,= he answered%
>1!? She too& his coat and hung it in the closet% >1J? +hen she wal&ed over and made the
drin&s, a strongish one for him, a wea& one for herselfB and soon she was bac& again in her
chair with the sewing, and he in the other, opposite, holding the tall glass with both his hands,
roc&ing it so the ice cubes tin&led against the side%
>1? 5or her, this was always a blissful time of day% >1C? She &new he didn=t want to spea&
much until the first drin& was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit -uietly,
enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house% >1D? She loved to lu,uriate in
the presence of this man, and to feel 0 almost as a sunbather feels the sun 0 that warm male
glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together% >1K? She loved him for the
way he sat loosely in a chair, for the way he came in a door, or moved slowly across the room
with long strides% >19? She loved the intent, far loo& in his eyes when they rested on her, the
funny shape of the mouth, and especially the way he remained silent about his tiredness,
sitting still with himself until the whis&y had ta&en some of it away%
>IL? =+ired, darlingM=
>I1?,= he said% =I=m tired%= >II? $nd as he spo&e, he did an unusual thing% >I!? )e lifted his
glass and drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it, at least half of it, left%
>IJ? She wasn=t really watching him but she &new what he had done because she heard the ice
cubes falling bac& against the bottom of the empty glass when he lowered his arms% >I? )e
paused a moment, leaning forward in the chair, then he got up and went slowly over to fetch
himself another%
>IC? =I=ll get itN= she cried, jumping up%
>ID? =Sit down,= he said%
>IK? (hen he came bac&, she noticed that the new drin& was dar& amber with the -uantity of
whis&y in it%
>I9? =#arling, shall I get your slippersM=
>!L? =9o%=
>!1? She watched him as he began to sip the dar& yellow drin&, and she could see little oily
swirls in the li-uid because it was so strong%
>!I? =I thin& it=s a shame,= she said, =that when a policeman gets to be as senior as you, they
&eep him wal&ing about on his feet al day long%=
>!!? )e didn=t answer, so she bent her head again and went on with her sewingB but each time
he lifted the drin& to his lips, she heard the ice cubes clin&ing against the side of the glass%
>!J? =#arling,= she said% >!? =(ould you li&e me to get you some cheeseM >!C? I haven=t made
any supper because it=s +hursday%=
>!D? =9o,= he said%
>!K? =If you=re too tired to eat out,= she went on, =it=s still not too late% >!9? +here=s plenty of
meat and stuff in the free*er, and you can have it right here and not even move out of the
>JL? )er eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nod, but he made no sign%
>J1? =$nyway,= she went on, =I=ll get you some cheese and crac&ers first%=
>JI? =I don=t want it,= he said%
>J!? She moved uneasily in her chair, the large eyes still watching his face% >JJ? =4ut you
must have supper% >J? I can easily do it here% >JC? I=d li&e to do it% >JD? (e can have lamb
chops% >JK? 3r por&% >J9? $nything you want% >L? Everything=s in the free*er%=
>1? =5orget it,= he said%
>I? =4ut, darling, you must eatN I=ll fi, it anyway, and then you can have it or not, as you
>!? She stood up and placed her sewing on the table by the lamp%
>J? =Sit down,= he said% >? =;ust for a minute, sit down%=
>C? It wasn=t till then that she began to get frightened%
>D? =:o on,= he said% >K? =Sit down%=
>9? She lowered herself bac& slowly into the chair, watching him all the time with those
large, bewildered eyes% >CL? )e had finished the second drin& and was staring down into the
glass, frowning%
>C1? =Listen,= he said, =I=ve got something to tell you%=
>CI? =(hat is it, darlingM >C!? (hat=s the matterM=
>CJ? )e had become absolutely motionless, and he &ept his head down so that the light from
the lamp beside him fell across the upper part of his face, leaving the chin and mouth in
shadow% >C? She noticed there was a little muscle moving near the corner of his left eye%
>CC? =+his is going to be a bit of a shoc& to you, I=m afraid,= he said% >CD? =4ut I=ve thought
about it a good deal and I=ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away% >CK? I hope
you won=t blame me too much%=
>C9? $nd he told her% >DL? It didn=t ta&e long, four or five minutes at most, and she sat very
still through it all, watching him with a &ind of da*ed horror as he went further and further
away from her with each word%
>D1? =So there it is,= he added% >DI? =$nd I &now it=s a &ind of a bad time to be telling you, but
there simply wasn=t any other way% >D!? 3f course I=ll give you money and see you=re loo&ed
after% >DJ? 4ut there needn=t really be any fuss% >D? I hope not anyway% >DC? It wouldn=t be
very good for my job%=
>DD? )er first instinct was not to believe any of it, to reject it all% >DK? It occurred to her that
perhaps he hadn=t even spo&en, that she herself had imagined the whole thing% >D9? 'aybe, if
she went about her business and acted as though she hadn=t been listening, then later, when
she sort of wo&e up again, she might find none of it had ever happened%
>KL? =I=ll get the supper,= she managed to whisper, and this time he didn=t stop her%
>K1? (hen she wal&ed across the room she couldn=t feel her feet touching the floor% >KI? She
couldn=t feel anything at all 0 e,cept a slight nausea and a desire to vomit% >K!? Everything
was automatic now 0 down the stairs to the cellar, the light switch, the deep free*e, the hand
inside the cabinet ta&ing hold of the first object it met% >KJ? She lifted it out, and loo&ed at it%
>K? It was wrapped in paper, so she too& off the paper and loo&ed at it again%
>KC? $ leg of lamb%
>KD? $ll right then, they would have lamb for supper% >KK? She carried it upstairs, holding the
thin bone0end of it with both her hands, and as she went through the living0room, she saw
him standing over by the window with his bac& to her, and she stopped%
>K9? =5or :od=s sa&e,= he said, hearing her, but not turning round% >9L? =#on=t ma&e supper for
me% >91? I=m going out%=
>9I? $t that point, 'ary 'aloney simply wal&ed up behind him and without any pause she
swung the big fro*en leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as she could on the bac&
of his head%
>9!? She might just as well have hit him with a steel club%
>9J? She stepped bac& a pace, waiting, and the funny thing was that he remained standing
there for at least four or five seconds, gently swaying% >9? +hen he crashed to the carpet%
>9C? +he violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning, helped bring her out of
the shoc&% >9D? She came out slowly, feeling cold and surprised, and she stood for a while
blin&ing at the body, still holding the ridiculous piece of meat tight with both hands%
>9K? $ll right, she told herself% >99? So I=ve &illed him%
>1LL? It was e,traordinary, now, how clear her mind became all of a sudden% >1L1? She began
thin&ing very fast% >1LI? $s the wife of a detective, she &new -uite well what the penalty
would be% >1L!? +hat was fine% >1LJ? It made no difference to her% >1L? In fact, it would be a
relief% >1LC? 3n the other hand, what about the childM >1LD? (hat were the laws about
murderers with unborn childrenM >1LK? #id they &ill them both 0 mother and childM >1L9? 3r
did they wait until the tenth monthM >11L? (hat did they doM
>111? 'ary 'aloney didn=t &now% >11I? $nd she certainly wasn=t prepared to ta&e a chance%
>11!? She carried the meat into the &itchen, placed it in a pan, turned the over on high, and
shoved it inside% >11J? +hen she washed her hands and ran upstairs to the bedroom% >11? She
sat down before the mirror, tidied her face, touched up her lips and face% >11C? She tried a
smile% >11D? It came out rather peculiar% >11K? She tried again%
>119? =)ullo Sam,= she said brightly, aloud%
3.1 The Opening setting the scene (paragraphs 1-4)
+he story opens with a symbolic description of the setting in the first paragraph% In :ricean
terms, all the details selected for inclusion are relevant to establishing this mid0level
implicature% $t a general level, these details establish the conte,t of situation as that of a
traditional bourgeois family and at the specific level the >supposed? nature of the relationship
between the husband and wife as a harmonious one% Indeed, the first content word is @warmA,
>for @roomA may be ta&en as given information in the )allidayan sense, the physical setting
in which the action ta&es place, and so this information is of minor importance, as is further
shown by the fact that @roomA acts as theme and @warmA is the first element of the new
information in the rheme?% (armth, >in S1?, here does not simply describe the temperature,
>its literal meaning?, but evo&es the connotations of the le,eme% )ence it acts as a modaliser
>#outhwaite/ ILLL? symbolising emotional warmth, love, while @clearA, the second element
of the new information, as well as a most unusual collocate, >hence foregrounded?, in this
linguistic and physical conte,t, conveys moral purity% Indeed, in this conte,t the literal or
denotational meaning of @clearA has no sense whatsoever% +he drawn curtains increase the
feeling of affective @warmthA, closing out >what we infer to be? the @dar&A night, the
threatening e,ternal world, as do the two lamps through their being @alightA% (armth and
light also symbolise life F the room is alive, that is the people inhabiting the house are alive
and their relationship is @wellA%
$fter a most positive beginning, there then comes in S1 the second unusual linguistic
phenomenon F the hyphen% +he hyphen is strange because its codified function is divisive F
in this particular case, together with a series of linguistic devices about to be e,plicated, it
indicates the separation of 'ary 'aloney from the other person, a strange phenomenon when
referring to a happy marriage% +rue, 'ary is simply describing the scene around herB true, the
emptiness of the chair also enables the description to be economicB and, true again, it might
also imply she is savouring the return of her husband% )owever, that what is being alluded to
at a deeper level is also separation and that 'ary is not simply identifying the referent of @the
oneA is borne out by several linguistic facts% 5irst, the passage began in medias res, with the
definite article @theA presuming fore&nowledge of the referent% Second, in contrast to @hersA,
which is concrete and human, as well as precisely identified, the e,pression @the oneA is
distant, cold and vague or anonymous, a strange coupling% +hird, this distance and lac& of
warmth >in contrast to the preceding description of warmth? is reinforced by the presence of a
negativey coloured adjective, @emptyA, a le,ical item which, fourthly, could have been
omitted without any loss of ideational content% (hy not simply say @her husbandsA instead
of @the one by the empty chair oppositeAM +he alternative I have suggested would offer the
advantage of parallelism, setting up a relationship of e-uality, as well as reducing the number
of words deployedB Secondly, why include @emptyA at allM Surely @the chair oppositeA would
have sufficed to a person who presumably &nows the layout her own living room reasonably
wellM 9ot to mention the fact that since she is alone in the room and since she specifies the
@chair opposite herA, then she cannot be sitting in that chair, hence the chair is @emptyA% +hus,
if the inclusion of the adjective @emptyA is not to flout the :ricean -uantity and relevance
ma,ims, then some implicature must be intended% :iven the linguistic features listed above, I
hypothesise that the author is conveying 'rs 'aloneys mental state and indirectly her
worldview as a faithful, traditional wife while concurrently ironically foreshadowing the
reality of a marriage which is about to brea&, for her beloved husband is about to arrive home
and tell his wife he is leaving her for another woman% 7learly, such irony only emerges at a
second reading%
#ahl @hidesA his :ricean flouting by an adroit employment in SI of a second reference to the
layout of the living room/ @3n the sideboard behind herA% +he reader untrained in stylistics
will fail to note that the play on @oppositeA in S1 and @behindA in SI seem to ma&e the
information provided by @the one by the empty chair oppositeA perfectly @naturalA, when in
actual fact the real reason for including the information selected is to foreshadow the clash of
opposites in the story%
SI seems to continue the positive portrait begun in S1% 1reparations for the coming
communal act are described% $lliteration >@two0tallA and @water0whis&eyA? calls attention
both to the communal aspect >@two0tallA? and to the social aspect >@water0whis&eyA?,
invo&ing the schema of well0deserved rest and rela,ation after a hard days wor& earning the
family bread and butter% 5urther alliterative play enhances the effect/ @dA in @sideboard0
behindA, @sA in sideboard, glasses, soda, whis&eyA, @lA in @tall0glassesA?, lin&ing these words
in interrelationships mirroring the closeness of the @harmoniousA couple referred to% S!
performs the same function, alliteration being deployed yet again to the same end >note the
graphological as well as phonological play on the letters @sA and @cA?%
$ further stylistic feature of the first paragraph is its absence of verbs, the only verb present
being the copula @beA in the first clause, which may be ta&en as being informatively null,
since its only semantic function is to lin& subject to subject attribute% Indeed, to enhance the
effect, the copula has been deleted from all the other clauses, since the semantic function of
all clauses is identical F lin&ing the subject to its attribute% +hus, nothing happens% +he
situation is static% +he same situation plays itself over and over again, day in day out% $nd this
too is symbolic, for it mimics a static society where values are perennial and unchanging F
the husband goes out to wor& to fend for the family while the mother stays at home to loo&
after the children%
Indeed, to underscore the point that the central issue is the ideology of the society portrayed,
the specific details of the this frame >'ins&y/ 19DJ? are totally irrelevant to such ideological
content% )ence, names are not forthcoming, date, place, si*e of family and so forth are not
communicated, because they are not pertinent to the goal of calling up the traditional
bourgeois family% +his is also shown by the fact that discovering a specific detail, in this case
the e,act nature of the husbands job, triggers another instance of irony, for we e,pect a
policeman normatively to respect and uphold the institutions which he is protecting
professionally in his own personal sphere%
3ne final point concerning the first paragraph is that it is focalised through 'ary 'aloney%
+hus, ellipsis, the absence of verbs, the lists of objects creating the large number of commas,
together yield a te,t which is @fragmentedA, @disjointedA, thereby creating the impression that
what the reader is seeing is what 'rs 'aloney progressively sees through her own eyes as
these wander over the room% 1oint of view F the positivity F is hers% +he 4a&htinian second
voice F the undercurrent F is that of the author who is cleverly playing to create the counter0
voice of negativity, announcing to the reader the storm before it brea&s% It also creates the
possibility that 'rs 'aloney is the subject of the story, a hypothesis that the rest of the story
will bear out%
+he second paragraph is foregrounded by its brevity F one single sentence% 5inally, we are
given a name, but only of one of the two protagonists F the female, who is also theme and
grammatical subject of the sentence% +he male remains anonymous, identified only through
his social role F that of husband, another piece of irony, since we will soon learn that that role
ios the very role he has betrayed% +he le,ical verb is again significant, for it ta&es a predicator
complement and not a direct object, thereby suggesting that the agent does not act upon the
world, a point which is reinforced both by the semantics of the verb >@to waitA? and by the
complement of that verb >@for her husband to come homeA? which again suggests @passivityA
and @serviceA, for in the previous paragraph she has @waited uponA her husband through
ma&ing the room ready to cater to his needs, in line with the traditional role of the housewife%
5urthermore, the womans 7hristian name is that of the mother of :od, while her surname a?
suggests Irishness, with its association with 7atholicism, hence with a traditional view of life,
and b? is very near to the informal le,ical item @baloneyA, meaning @stupid tal&A% )ence the
associations of the womans name again evo&e the two sides of the picture F traditional purity
versus rule0brea&ing, with almost a hint of criticism of the woman who is silly enough to
believe all the @baloneyA her husband tells her%
+he third paragraph continues the portrait of the traditional wife% S, with which the
paragraph opens, is another brilliant stylistic brushstro&e% +he first clause >@9ow and again
she would glance up at the cloc&A? offers information that would be stereotypically ta&en as
conveying an,iousness% +he second clause >@but without an,ietyA? immediately belies this
interpretation, while the third clause >@merely to please herself with the thought that each
minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would comeA? provides the e,planation
which justifies that interpretation% +hus, the creation of an e,pectation and its contradiction
serve to emphasise her contentment with the e,tant state of affairs, thereby underscoring the
irony% +hus, the dialogic e,change continues% Even more important than the illocutionary
forces of the single clauses is the actual conceptual content, for it highlights the fact that
'ary 'aloney lives for >and through? her husband% )er lac& of an,iety underlines her feeling
secure in her ideology because of her faith in her husband% She has not the slightest suspicion
of what or who he really is and of the violent storm about to brea&%
5urther confirmation of this hypothesis comes from the deployment of the adjective @slowA in
the following sentence as characterising her actions% Indeed, the ne,t sentence clarifies that
unhurriedness connotes @tran-uillity% +he two le,emes thus reiterate 'rs 'aloneys sense of
security and fulfilment% 9ote how another unusual collocation lends weight to the argument/
@curiously tran-uilA% +his foregrounding operation has a dual and opposite function% 3n the
one hand it functions as a -uantifier to indicate just how deep 'rs 'aloneys feeling of
security is, and on the other hand it concurrently constitutes authorial comment on the
womans ingenuousness, which is about to be revealed by the forthcoming events% +he
physical description of her features also point to security and the happiness that comes from
fulfilment F a happy marriage and a baby on its way 0 a result of having realised her role in
life as laid down by the canons of society/ @smiling airA, @a wonderful translucent -ualityA
>an almost religious description, reminiscent of paintings of the Oirgin 'ary and the Saints?,
@the s&in was softA, @the eyes, with their new placid loo&A% Indeed, le,emes such as @slowA
and @placidA when used as modalisers, namely to e,press a value judgement over and above
their identifying a -uality, often convey negativity, while here they e,press great positivity%
9ote how the effect is enhanced through alliteration, so that the association with other
le,emes with a more positive value creates a general atmosphere of positivity/ @slowA,
@smilingA, @sewingA, @curiouslyA, @s&inA, @thisA, @si,thA, @translucentA, @softA, @eyesA,
@placidA, @seemedA% 9ote also how the le,ical selection will have been influenced by the wish
to play on alliteration/ @sewingA and @si,thA both play on the letter @sA when alternatives to
convey the same ideationalGideological concepts could have been selected, such as @coo&ingA
and @eighthA without changing the communicative value of what is e,pressed% % 9ote also
how @sewingA again recalls the traditional housewife and mother, and her dutiful devotion to
her role/ @the drop of the head as she bent over her sewingA% )ere too, @dropA and @bentA
would in different circumstances convey the negativity of the constraint of having to do
something unpleasant, or of tiredness and fatigue%
+he pattern of verb usage in paragraph three confirms the foregoing analysis% 3f the thirteen
le,ical verbs, a? si, are copulas >@wasA, realised four times, @had ac-uiredA, Pin the sense of
@becomeAQ, @seemedA? b? five are intransitive >@glanceA, @goneA, @madeA @comeA, @bentAB c?
two are transitive%
4y definition, copulas involve no action, even less so agency% In the case of intransitive
verbs, an agent might e,ist, but when present, heGshe does not act upon the world% 3nly two
verbs are transitive, but even here, the prototypical codified pattern of an agent acting on the
world is lac&ing% In the case of @to pleaseA the verb is refle,ive and refers to an emotional
state, and the @real action is @would glanceA% 'ary is thus acting upon herself and not upon
the outside world, which remains unaffected% In the case of @didA >SC?, two points are of
relevance/ first the actions referred to involve behaviour pertinent to 'arys social role, so
they simply reflect her @passiveA female status, for she lives for her husbandB secondly, the
verb appears as the complement of a prepositional phrase, >hence it is of relatively minor
informational value?, and it refers not to the actions themselves, but to the @smiling airA the
actions have as carried out by 'rs 'aloney, hence here too, agency is played down% +he
picture that emerges is one of a static world of inaction, of a state of bliss >reminding us of
the eponymous short story by "atherine 'ansfield? F a world where nothing happens,
nothing changes which is not relevant to the daily business of carrying on family life% Indeed,
in such a state of affairs, the e,ternal world has no significant role% $nd it is this @factA, which
is attributable to the ideology which created it, that represents 'rs 'aloneys undoing, for
the real world outside does count, for it brings about her downfall%
+he fourth paragraph constitutes the final part of the introduction and presents similar
features to the preceding paragraphs% 5irst of all, it describes what 'rs 'aloney perceives% It
does so in a step by step fashion, paralleling the first paragraph where 'rs 'aloneys eyes
wandered over the @sceneryA of the living room% )ere, the :ricean pertinence of the selection
of the details included emerges even more forcefully than in paragraph one%
Second, verb patterning is again significant% +he paragraph opens with a foregrounded time
e,pression @(hen the cloc& said ten minutes to fiveA% +wo points should be noticed about the
deployment of this verb% 5irst the cloc& ac-uires animacy through @spea&ingA and through the
deployment of a conventional metaphor% +he important point is that the selection does fall
upon this option instead of the more @normalA e,pression @(hen it was ten to fiveA, which
would have conveyed e,actly the same ideational content through a literal e,pression,
thereby removing all the implicatures created by the foregrounding mechanisms deployed%
Second, the inanimate Sayer, to use the )allidayan term referring to the agent of a verbal
process, does not spea& to anyone, but simply spea&s, in a void, so to spea&%
+a&en together, these two points create the impression of agency, of animate action upon the
world, affecting it in some way% In its turn, this effect performs at least two te,tual functions%
5irst, it constitute an ironic comment on the fact that 'r% and 'rs 'aloney @spea&A when
their partner is present, but do not @spea& to each otherA, as the end product of their
relationship F infidelity F shows% Second, it hides the fact that is actually being described is
'rs 'aloneys inner mental processes/ she has intentionally been concentrating on the time
so that when she &nows her husbands arrival is imminent she begins to turn her conscious
attention to capturing those sense signals that will inform her that he is arriving home 0
@listenA, @heardA%
$nd what she perceives are noises made by her husband arriving/ @the tyres on the gravel
outside H the car door slamming H the footsteps passing the window H the &ey turning in
the loc&A% .et such information patently flouts the :ricean ma,im of -uantity, for they
convey no new, no real information either to 'rs 'aloney or to the reader, for a? such
information is given, part of both our general world &nowledge and part of 'rs 'aloneys
idiosyncratic &nowledge >that her husband comes home by car and par&s it on the garden
outside their house, that the there is gravel in the garden, etc%?, b? she hears it everyday, so
habituation and economy would ma&e the brain decide what was happening on the basis of
simply one piece of information and would then ignore the rest% Instead, the process is
described step by step, as stated above, despite the fact that each and every day it is the same%
+he implicature created by the flouting of -uantity is thus the e,tent to which 'rs 'aloney
@lovesA her husband, the e,tent to which her life revolves around and is dependent upon his%
+he same interpretation applies to the step by step perception of objects in the living room in
the first paragraph% (e can now clearly understand that 'rs 'aloney is going over the
objects which will be pertinent to her @reunionA with her husband after his return from wor&%
Indeed, the @reunionA has all the hallmar&s of a ceremony, ritual being a mar&er of identity, a
way of stating who one is both as an individual and as a member of society, and concurrently
a way of bolstering as well as affirming that identity% Li&ewise, 'rs 'aloney perceiving all
the sounds her husband ma&es is ceremonial, inasmuch the noises she hears, and above all
their regularity F they always happen F enhance in her the feeling of the security of a
returning husband, thereby reinforcing their identity as members of the same group, in this
case the family F the ceremony of @hearingA is the ceremony of @confirmationA%
+his aspect also helps e,plain another subtle touch F the verbless clause @punctually as
usualA% $gain, from a :ricean standpoint, one will as& oneself what difference it ma&es
whether the husband arrives on time or not% Instead, from a psychological standpoint,
regularity means predictability, and predictability means nothing unusual, unforeseeable, can
and will happen% $nd viewed within the framewor& of a security0bestowing ritual, the
flouting of the relevance ma,im again confirms the fact that 'rs 'aloney lives for her
+he @fragmentedA nature of the sentence >with the interruption caused by the verbless clause
in -uestion together with the list of noises 'rs 'aloney perceives, hence the mass of
commas giving the sentence an @unevenA graphological aspect?, the fact that the clause may
be interpreted as being presented as 5ree #irect +hought >Short and Semino/ ILLJ?, and the
grammatically unnecessary inclusion of the coordinating conjunction @andA >@and the car
door slammingA? in the list of noises heard, render the style of the sentence spo&en more than
written, confirming that the focaliser is 'rs 'aloney and that the apparently mundane, banal
perceptual events reported are instead important to her, for they are the &ey to unveiling her
mental wor&ings and her mindset%
+he interpretation offered two paragraphs above is bolstered by the implicatures created by
the deployment of the other verbs in the fourth paragraph% +he use of the verb @beganA
constitutes another mental, patientless process, while @listenA and @heardA are two verbs of
perception% $gain, the world is not acted upon% Indeed, 'rs 'aloney does not act, but
@reactA/ @She laid aside her sewing, stood up, and went forward to &iss him as he came inA%
(hat the verbs help do then is focus on her role0related behaviour, both through their synta,
and through the reference to her behavioural acts% Indeed, @sewingA is a classic symbol of the
traditional female condition% $nd when 'rs 'aloney lays aside her sewing, it is only to
perform another of her duties as wife and mother F to greet her spouse%
+he intense alliteration, involving the letters @sA and @dA F si, out of the eight content words
are involved in this phenomenon draws attention to the fact that the details conveyed have a
deeper, non0literal significance% Interestingly, one of the words whose initial letter is an @sA is
@slammingAB a harsh noise referring to the husbands behaviour, and in star& contrast with the
slow, -uiet calm of 'rs 'aloneys actions% +he counter0voice is always present%
S1L underscores this point by deploying yet again the mechanism of flouting -uantity% +he
sentence describes 'rs 'aloneys actions step by step once again, and once again
information that could have been ta&en for granted is included% 5or instance, if 'rs 'aloney
is sewing and then goes forward, then she clearly must have got up% $nd even if this were not
so, what possible interest >vi*% :ricean relevance? could it have to inform the reader that 'rs
'aloney got up in order to go and &iss her husbandM $bsolutely none, unless 'rs 'aloney is
normally a contortionist who can crane her nec& so far as to &iss the incoming husband
without getting up from her chair%
+he final point to note about paragraph four is the syntactic construction of the fourth and
final sentence% 'rs 'aloney is theme and subject, as elsewhere% She does the &issing%
Significantly, no reciprocation occurs% +he relationship is thus asymmetrical% In addition, her
husbands name has still not been mentioned% )e is still referred to by @anonymousA,
@distantA pro0forms% +his underscores asymmetry% In this sentence, 'r 'aloney is theme and
subject of the second, and subordinate, clause, a temporal clause% $ll these features mean that
'aloney is presented as @minorA information% Since such phenomena are a constant of the
entire first part of the story, the impression might arise that 'rs 'aloney is self0centred, as
well as stupid%
Sentences 11 and 1I constitute the first words spo&en in the story% $ptly, they constitute a
greeting% Li&e the &issing, however, the greeting is asymmetrical, for 'rs 'aloneys warm
@)ullo, darlingA is met with a simple @hulloA from her husband% )ad both people had the
same sentiments, reciprocation should have characterised the scene% 5urthermore, the initiator
of the conversation is 'rs 'aloney, the female, and not the husband% +raditional
sociolinguistic studies on male0female interaction generally show the male as the initiator of
conversation, this being ta&en as one of a set of conversational signals denoting the greater
power the male generally has in society% )ere the deviation from the norm together with the
minimal, unromantic response produced by the male is another instance of foreshadowing
what is about to happen% Indeed, the number of @inconsistenciesA, reflecting the authors
omniscient voice, might be hypothesised as being directed at 'rs 'aloneys ingenuousness,
her not realising that anything is amiss F a strange situation when she is so deeply in love
with her husband that she pays attention to the smallest detail% .et perfectly human, for
socialisation has ta&en its toll, in addition to the fact that blindness is also self0induced when
one is in love%
+his @long, drawn0outA conversation is instantly replaced by another paragraph describing the
actions that ta&e place% +hese actions immediately return us to the dutiful wife schema with
'rs 'aloney who @too& his coat and hung it in the closetA% $gain we are provided with a list
of se-uential actions, as underscored by the adverbs @+henA and @soonA and by the
coordinating conjunction @andA clearly mar&ing the se-uence% 3nce her duty of serving the
drin&s has been successfully accomplished, 'rs 'aloney returns to her prototypical wifely
tas& of sewing% +hat @properA gender roles are adhered to is further and delicately hinted at by
the difference in drin&s/ @a strongish one for him, a wea& one for herselfA% +he conversational
style of these two verbless clauses, as well as the rest of the paragraph, also shows that the
paragraph continues to focalise through 'rs 'aloney%
+hat such silence is strange in a happy marriage is underscored by the fact that the following
paragraph offers an @e,planationA of this phenomenon/ @She &new he didnt want to spea&
much until the first drin& was finishedA% $gain, the 4a&htinian dialogue seems to be in place%
Everything fits into place to perfection% $nd perfect is 'rs 'aloneys love for her husband,
as the syntactic and le,ical choices indicate% 1aragraph eight is realised by five sentences,
which begin as follows/
S1 5or her, this was always a blissful time of day
S1C She &new he didnt want to spea&
and she was content to sit -uietly, enjoying his company
S1D She loved to lu,uriate in the presence of this man
S1K She loved him for the way he sat
S19 She loved the intent far loo& in his eyes
Set out in this way >to include also the second @sentenceA in S1C?, the parallelism is crystal
clear% Every sentence opens with 'rs 'aloney as theme and subject, either formally or
pragmatically% 5or instance, although S1 opens with a prepositional phrase, this is simply an
alternative for an e,pression such as @she believedA or @she feltA% $ll five e,pressions thus
conceived, >that is, including the verbal concept conveyed by the prepositional @for herA?, are
verbs of perception% +he first two are verbs e,pressing belief and the ne,t three a verb
e,pressing an emotion% +wo points stand out% 5irst, the entire paragraph is thus focussed on
'rs 'aloneys internal, vi*% intimate, self% Second, that her thoughts are coloured positively,
se,ually% Indeed, after the first two clause constituents >subject and predicator? the le,ical
choices are lavish in selections manifesting 'rs 'aloneys love and happiness%
@4lissfulA >S1? brings bac& to mind "atharine 'ansfields story @4lissA mentioned earlier%
3ther le,ical selections, however, seemingly lead us to a less ethereal, less psychological
plane, than the >human? setting of 'ansfields story% +he items @contentA, @enjoyingA, >S1C?
and @lu,uriateA >S1D? in such close pro,imity, and the latter term following the verb @loveA,
suggest a more earthy aspect% Indeed, @lu,uriateA is yet another unusual selection, and a&in to
@lu,uryA, which in Eli*abethan times indicated @lustA% +he sensual, >if not repressed se,ual?,
dimension is underscored by a return to the positive concepts of heat and light through the
repetition of the adjective @warmA, in a decidedly @amorousA concoction which is conveyed
by another unusual e,pression, @that warm male glowA, but also by the less stri&ing
continuation of that phrase @that came out of him to her when they were aloneA% (hile @that
warm male glowA is relatively e,plicit, @that came out of himA seems to be relatively
@innocuousA, conveying very little% Instead, I venture to suggest that in deploying a blend of
two conceptual metaphors 0 the conduit metaphor >8eddy/ 19D9? and the container metaphor
>La&off and ;ohnson/ 19KL? 0 'rs 'aloney is primly confessing that her husband is
physically highly attractive% (hat she fails to grasp, however, is that if his @warm male glowA
>vi*% his se,ual attractiveness? is real, then she might not be the only woman to @detectA it%
)ere, the parallelism with @4lissA is indeed valid, because both protagonists refuse to see or
are incapable of seeing reality%
'ore importantly, the way very ordinary language is used by #ahl to describe humdrum,
unimportant everyday states and events actually conceals deep mental processing which, if
@detectedA, reveals what the character is really li&e% Language and content seem to @hideA
what is going on1%
$ third unusual point is that these positive emotional terms cease to appear in the predicate
with S1D% Indeed, were it not for the predicator in sentences 1K and 19, these two sentences
might almost appear to e,press a negative attitude, or at least a neutral attitude, one that is not
openly and decidedly positive% Such @negativityA is foreshadowed in S1C by the e,pression
@after the long hours aloneA% $t a surface level, this might appear as 'rs 'aloney
e,ternalising the suffering she endures in order to saviour the joys of marriage% 5urthermore,
and not by chance, the same le,eme @aloneA is deployed in the following sentence, as if to
countermand the negativity it e,presses in S1D/ @when they were alone togetherA% )owever, I
would posit that this e,pression, as others before it, is ambivalent, concurrently e,pressing
'rs 'aloneys positive outloo& and the authors negative or monitory tone%
+he sensuality identified in SS1C01D also helps account both for the apparent cessation of
emotive terms in SS1K019 and for the actual content of the latter two sentences% (hat is
immediately stri&ing is the almost ridiculous nature of the features 'rs 'aloney @praisesA in
her husband/ sitting @looselyA in a chair, @the way he came in a doorA, @moved slowly across
the room with long stridesA, @the H far loo& in his eyes when they rested on herA, @the funny
shape of the mouthA% If it was not obvious that she is madly in love with her husband, listing
such features would appear as ta&ing the reader for a ride% Indeed, it could be stated that 'rs
'aloney was deliberately trying to select those features which have the very opposite effect
to ma&ing a person attractive, as is the case with @the funny shape of the mouthA, for ones
first reaction on reading this phrase is to interpret the polysemic adjective @funnyA as
@strangeA, hence @uglyA, and not as @amusingA, hence @attractiveA% In other words, we have
yet another instantiation of an unusual collocation% +his feeling is reinforced by the
e,pression @moved slowly with long stridesA, for it is either a contradiction, since long strides
generally denote -uic& movement, or else appears to be ma&ing fun of 'aloney% $s far as
sitting @looselyA is concerned, I am afraid I have no in&ling as to what is intended by such an
(hat is being described, then, in SS1K019 is an absurdly e,treme situation of love, where
'rs 'aloney worships every single thing about her husband, to the point of turning him into
a god0li&e creature, where a @normalA human being would simply see a mortal creature with
his good points and bad points li&e any other mortal creature% )ence, the cessation of the
deployment of e,plicit modal forms conveying positive values does not mean a cessation of
positivity, but ta&es positivity one step further by ma&ing us understand that 'rs 'aloney
worships what no other human would worship% Ironically, the termination of the use of
e,plicit modalisers heightens the praise being proferred%
+hus the opening sets the scene as a seemingly happy bourgeois family, with a traditional
wife who adheres to traditional patriarchal values, and who dotes on her husband, who lives
for him% :iven the conte,t #ahl is referring to, post Second (orld (ar 4ritain, such a
portrait is credible, especially since, as we will see shortly, 'rs 'aloney is not without
)owever, the idyllic portrait painted of the family is continually being counterpointed by a
contrastive voice which lies below the immediate surface, sending out signals that all is not
well, all is not as it seems to be to 'rs 'aloney%
*.& omi#g to the !ru#!h
3.2.1 Introduction
+he @realA conversation starts with SIL% +he e,tract below shows the turns in the dialogue
without the descriptive passages in order to highlight the nature of the dialogue% I have
signalled certain descriptive parts as forming part of the dialogue inasmuch as they indicate
the turn0ta&ing se-uence% +hus +K, +1I and +1K indicate silences conveying the failure to
ta&e ones turn, while the inclusion of the first sentence in +1 indicates 'rs 'aloney
ma&ing a pause, hence thin&ing, before deciding to ta&e her turn% (hile purists might object
to one or two of my decisions, such as including +1K despite there being no verbal te,t at that
point in the e,tract, I would claim that the evidence is heavily weighted in favour of the
interpretative points I am about to ma&e%
+1 >IL? =+ired, darlingM=
+I >I1?,= he said% =I=m tired%=
+! >IC? =I=ll get itN= she cried, jumping up%
+J >ID? =Sit down,= he said%
+ >I9? =#arling, shall I get your slippersM=
+C >!L? =9o%=
+D >!I? =I thin& it=s a shame,= she said, =that when a policeman gets to be as senior as you, they
&eep him wal&ing about on his feet al day long%=
+K >!!? )e didn=t answer, so she bent her head again H
+9 >!J? =#arling,= she said% >!? =(ould you li&e me to get you some cheeseM >!C? I haven=t
made any supper because it=s +hursday%=
+1L >!D? =9o,= he said%
+11 >!K? =If you=re too tired to eat out,= she went on, =it=s still not too late% >!9? +here=s plenty
of meat and stuff in the free*er, and you can have it right here and not even move out of the
+1I >JL? )er eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nod, but he made no sign%
+1! >J1? =$nyway,= she went on, =I=ll get you some cheese and crac&ers first%=
+1J >JI? =I don=t want it,= he said%
+1 >J!? She moved uneasily in her chair, the large eyes still watching his face% >JJ? =4ut you
must have supper% >J? I can easily do it here% >JC? I=d li&e to do it% >JD? (e can have lamb
chops% >JK? 3r por&% >J9? $nything you want% >L? Everything=s in the free*er%=
+1C >1? =5orget it,= he said%
+1D >I? =4ut, darling, you must eatN I=ll fi, it anyway, and then you can have it or not, as you
+1K 0000000000000
+19 >!? She stood up and placed her sewing on the table by the lamp%
+IL >J? =Sit down,= he said% >? =;ust for a minute, sit down%=
+I1 >C? It wasn=t till then that she began to get frightened%
+II >D? =:o on,= he said% >K? =Sit down%=
+I! >9? She lowered herself bac& slowly into the chair
+IJ >C1? =Listen,= he said, =I=ve got something to tell you%=
+I >CI? =(hat is it, darlingM >C!? (hat=s the matterM=
+IC >CC? =+his is going to be a bit of a shoc& to you, I=m afraid,= he said% >CD? =4ut I=ve thought
about it a good deal and I=ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away% >CK? I hope
you won=t blame me too much%=
+able 1% +he turns in the main conversation%
3.2.2 Part 1. Mrs Maloney doinant
)aving included the silences, that is, the signals that a turn has not been ta&en, then the total
number of IC turns e,hibit an even distribution% If we e,amine the silences, then 'rs
'aloney fails to ta&e her turn once, while 'r 'aloney fails to do so three times% +his means
that at the e,plicit, verbal level, 'rs 'aloney actually realises two more turns than her
husband% 5urthermore, she initiates all the turns, until +19, where 'r 'aloney ma&es a
preparatory move to introduce a new topic, his wanting a divorce% In other words, in
conversational analysis terms, she appears to be the one with the power%
+IL >SJ? is a watershed, then, dividing the conversation into two parts% In the first part, 'rs
'aloney @dominatesA, in formal terms% In the second part 'r 'aloney dominates% +his
hypothesis is supported by several linguistic features% 5irst, it is significant that 'rs
'aloneys only failure to ta&e her turn is right at the beginning of the second part of the
conversation, at +I1, for it records her shoc&, and the transition from a @standardA family
conversation scene to the @novelA event of her husband declaring his intention to leave his
wife% )owever, it may be argued that in one sense 'rs 'aloney actually does ta&e her turn
here, only that it is mental, non0communicative , for it e,ternalises her emotional state for the
readers benefit F the onset of fear, fear for what her husband is about to say% +his, of course,
goes totally against the picture that has been built up of so far of 'rs 'aloney living
contentedly in her secure world%
Second, a word count strengthens this very same argument% In the first part of the
conversation, 'rs 'aloney utters 1KD words, while 'r 'aloney a bare 1J% +he conversation
has a -uestion0answer0format in which 'rs 'aloney as&s the -uestions and 'r 'aloney
furnishes answers, generally minimal responses >5ellegy/ 199? as the word count and the
silences bear out, ma&ing the conversation more li&e an interrogation or a school lesson than
a conversation between two intimate e-uals% Instead, in part two of the conversation 'rs
'aloney has only one turn and utters a mere seven words while 'r 'aloney has J turns and
utters CI words%
+hird, the ideational content of 'rs 'aloneys -uestions are restricted to states and events
which refer e,clusively to the realm of family life, hence to her social role as female care0
giver% 3ne can easily imagine that 'r 'aloney who is presumably irritated by his wife since
he wishes to leave her, will be even more e,asperated by such a conversation% +his accounts
for his minimal responses which show a decided lac& of interest in his wifes words as well as
the tenseness that comes from &nowing he has to broach an e,tremely delicate subject which
can lead to e,treme conflict%
+he results obtained through applying the tools of conversation analysis are confirmed by
other theoretical strands of pragmatic analysis% Let us ta&e a few e,amples% 5irst, the
asymmetrical deployment of terms of endearment continues% (hile 'rs 'aloney calls her
husband @darlingA he fails to reciprocate% Second, out of the ten turns which 'r 'aloney
does ta&e and realise verbally, four perform the speech act of issuing an order, using the most
direct grammatical means available F the imperative 0 and two are even more abrupt,
consisting as they do of one word refusals F @noA% Indeed, the number of refusals totals four%
+his is atypical of an e,change between spouses in normal >@happyA? speech events% +hird,
and moving on to a consideration of the entire conversation >complete with description, that
is?, the first part of the conversation has all the elements of female subalternity/ a? service to
her lord and master F @)er eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nodA >SJL?%
)ere the verb @wait onA is improperly used, hence highly symbolic% )owever, what is even
more incredible is that 'rs 'aloneys @waiting onA is not merely physical and social, in the
way that a servant waits on his master, but is eminently mental and emotional F it denotes
total psychological slavery% 9ote how the premodifier @littleA collocated with @nodA, an act
that costs absolutely nothing to the actor, drives the point home% 'rs 'aloney is happy with
little% :etting the masters @slippersA is another classic in the traditional wife frameB b? the
pleasure obtained is thus psychological and emotional/ @Id li&e to do itA >SJC? does not
merely transmit the conventional implicature associated with this linguistic form F @I want to
do ,A F but it concurrently conveys the literal meaning of the verb @li&eA F 'rs 'aloney
obtains joy and pleasure in servingB c? the alacrity of service when offering to get him another
drin& >@jumping upA?, manifesting instant obedience to the code she adheres to, to the point
of carrying out unissued orders inferred from conte,tB d? defence of her male bread winner%
S!I performs the speech act of criticism of her husbands superiors who wear him out
through wor&, and SJJ insists that despite his tiredness he must have food in order to
safeguard his health% (ith regard to S!I, it never comes to mind that the fault of her
husbands weariness is not his wor& but the stress of the marital situation% )er husband is
always right so she attributes his psycho0physical condition to the @misbehaviourA of his
colleagues at wor&%
3f course, 'rs 'aloney gradually moves out of her cocoon and starts to ma&e her brain
wor&, thus pic&ing up the premonitory signs% )ence, in SSI!0IJ she realises from the sound
of the ice cubes in the glass that he has downed his whis&ey in one go% 9ote that these
utterances imply firstly that 'aloneys behaviour is abnormal >:ricean relevance and
-uantity? and secondly that 'rs 'aloney has fully realised the implication of her husbands
abnormal behaviour F @fullyA in the sense that she attributes it to factors coming within the
realm of her normality% In SIK she notices her husband has put little ice in his refreshed drin&%
S!1 reiterates the concept that she notices that he is drin&ing far more than usual% $t SJ! @she
moved uneasily in her chair, the eyes still watching his faceA% She is gaining awareness that
something is seriously wrong%
3.2.3 Mr Maloney doinant
(hen her husband ta&es command at +ILGSJ, which I have classified as the watershed,
employing a star&ly0issued command @Sit downA, which he immediately realises is too
abrupt, as shown by the mitigator immediately following it in S, @;ust for a minute, sit
downA , 'rs 'aloney fully realises that something is not seriously but dreadfully wrong, as
the omniscient author tells us >SC?/ @It wasnt till then that she began to get frightenedA% +he
emotion of fright is the indicator that the defences of her secure world have been attac&ed and
+he husband now comes on stage and we begin to build up a picture of him%
+IJ and + IC >respectively SC1 and SCC? constitute the preparatory moves in which 'r
'aloney pre0announces the news to his wife, thus preparing her for the shoc& she is now
e,pecting% 9ow it is standard human practice to prepare our fellow humans for the shoc&s we
are about to give them in an attempt to lessen the negative effects which we predict the said
shoc&s are li&ely to produce in the receiver of the bad tidings%
)owever, close scrutiny of the verbal and non0verbal strategies deployed by the husband
together with his non0verbal behaviour in general begin to cast a negative light on him, for
they do not seem calculated to produce the effect one is socially obliged to try to produce%
SC1 is his first utterance in the preparatory move% (hile one might not e,pect him to use
terms of endearment, since he is about to as& his wife for a divorce, nevertheless, seeing that
so far there has been not even the tiniest bit of evidence of acrimony in their relationship, one
would have e,pected a slightly less distant linguistic form than the cold and curt @Listen H
Ive got something to tell youA% Even the simply inclusion of his wifes name F @Listen,
'aryA Fwould have been a shade less impersonal, or the preparatory phrase @Im afraid HA
slightly less brus-ue% 5urthermore the inclusion of a premonitory adjective would also have
been standard, as in @Ive got something serious to tell youA%
(hile these preliminary observations might not fully convince, given the situation, the
description of the mans behaviour >SCJ? following these words is more serious a linguistic
and moral affair% )e avoids the light >a symbol of truth and righteousness?, his head is bent
>shame?, and his mouth >the emitter of negativity? is also out of 'rs 'aloneys vision% :uilt
and shame are written all over these signals% 4ut worse is to come%
(hen une,pectedly announcing to ones spouse that one wants a divorce, immediately, when
the woman is si, months pregnant, to say, as does 'aloney, that such news is going to be @a
bit of a shoc&A is understatement to put it mildly% 'aloney has absolutely no feeling for
others, or perhaps more simply absolutely no feeling for his wife% SCD represents 'aloneys
justification for his desire to divorce% )is argument about having thought seriously about the
matter is fallacious, for it is based on the presupposition that his thought processes were
logical, his analysis was correct, and the criteria employed to come to his decision were
e,haustive and proper to the matter in hand% )owever, since the reader is never provided with
what 'aloneys thoughts had been, there is no way of &nowing whether 'aloney was right
or not% 5rom a critical standpoint >namely, from the standpoint of emitting a judgement about
'aloney?, the fact that he, the traditional male breadwinner of the house, has unilaterally
come to a sane and logical decision immediately casts doubt on his mental powers and on his
moral stance% 5rom an analytic standpoint, we are dealing here with the :ricean ma,im of
-uantity F *ero information is provided on a crucial aspect of the story% I will ta&e this point
up more fully in !%!%
9ote also the intensifier @rightA in the e,pression @right awayA% +wo points are crucial here%
+he e,pression @right awayA means @immediatelyA% It thus appears that 'aloney is ta&ing a
moral stance, for it is part of fol& belief that doing things immediately, even unpleasant
things, when they need to be done, is better than putting them off% +his supposedly causes
less damage in the long run% In addition to claiming righteousness, my previous point, one
might add that as an argument, it can hardly justify the re-uest for divorce% +he argument thus
flouts the :ricean ma,im of relevance, and again ma&es us raise an eyebrow, if not more, at
'aloney% Secondly, the fact that 'aloney opted not for the more standard e,pression
@immediatelyA but for the phrase @right awayA plays on associations F @rightA har&ing bac& to
righteousness, and @awayA betraying in 5reudian fashion what 'aloneys real goal is before
he announces it officially F going @awayA from his wife% (e may thus hypothesise that the
dual voice F that of character and that of author F is also present when 'aloney is being
referred to, creating the same ironic stance it did when 'rs 'aloney was being referred to%
SC9 constitutes a clima, to 'aloneys inanities/ @I hope you wont blame me too muchA% )e
has a loving, nay doting, wife who is carrying his child, he comes home and tells her the
thing she would least have e,pected and wanted, thus destroying her life in one fell swoop,
and he as&s her not to blame him @too muchAN 'y claim is that the author has in just these
few lines already positioned us against 'aloney%
*.* The !ru#!h
#ahl has been building up to the moment of revelation, when the husband will tell )is wife
he wants a divorce% )ere is how he does it/
$nd he told her% It didn=t ta&e long, four or five minutes at most, and she sat very still through
it all, watching him with a &ind of da*ed horror as he went further and further away from her
with each word%
=So there it is,= he added% =$nd I &now it=s a &ind of a bad time to be telling you, but there
simply wasn=t any other way% 3f course I=ll give you money and see you=re loo&ed after% 4ut
there needn=t really be any fuss% I hope not anyway% It wouldn=t be very good for my job%=
+his account defeats all possible standard e,pectations, estranging the scene to the point that
it is almost unrecognisable as a frame, script or schema portraying one spouse declaring to
the other that heGshe no longer wishes to continue living with hisGher partner% Estrangement is
achieved through a variety of foregrounding devices% 5irst, it is presented as narration >Short
and Semino/ ILLJ? where one e,pects the presentation to be carried out in some form of
speech, direct speech or free direct speech being the more @normalA methods of presentation%
Second, and incredibly, nothing is recounted% +here is simply the narrators representation of
voice >98O? >Short and Semino/ ILLJ?% 98O simply informs the reader that someone is
engaged in verbal activity but does not provide any e,plicit or implicit account as to what
speech acts were engaged in% In other words, it is a minimal representation of speech,
furnishing a very distant and cold picture in this case% +hird, there has been a build up to what
is standardly a clima,, when the truth comes out and all is revealed% Instead, the preceding
two mechanisms create an anti0clima,% (here one would have e,pected a declaration, an
e,planation, a justification, the e,pression of regret and so forth, there is silence F 'aloneys
voice is not heard, what he has done and why he has done so is not given% Indeed, we are
obliged to infer that he has told his wife he is leaving her from the ideational content of the
following paragraph which contains prototypical information concerning alimonyN Even
worse, the whole affair is belittled/ @It didnt ta&e long, four or five minutes at mostA%
'aloney ma&es short shrift of his wife after she has devoted her life to him% In conclusion,
the account violates the :ricean ma,ims of -uantity and relevance in relation to the
prototypical speech event that would ta&e place when divorce is the topic of that speech
9ow the e,tension of the principle of *ero -uantity being a violation of the e,pected
behaviour in this situation is to strengthen the argument that the reader is being aligned with
'rs 'aloney and against her husband% 9o one wishes to appear as an inhuman, totally
egoistic, selfish brute% 3ne normally defends oneself% Life is never blac& and white, so even if
the husband were more sinning than the wife, he would still have recriminations to ma&e
against her, defences to offer for his behaviour, even if he only appealed to >his own? human
5urthermore, at the theoretical level, if the writer is a good writer and if he is abiding by the
:ricean 7ooperative 1rinciple, in other words, if he is being as communicative as possible
and giving us as @honestA a picture as possible, then he would be duty bound to respect all the
ma,ims, including the ma,imum of -uantity, and give us all the information necessary to
judge the case% In addition that information would have to be true% )ence, the conclusion is
that if the author fails to give us any information that would @absolveA the husband, even if
only in part, then there was no such information to give% +hus, the husband must be inferred
as being presented as the guilty party% 9o defence is offered of his behaviour because there is
on defence to offer% 4y the same to&en, if 'rs 'aloney had defects, or even simply character
traits which made the two people incompatible, then it was the writers duty ma&e the reader
understand this and so condone 'aloneys behaviour at least in part%
It is precisely this fact that a? positions the reader against 'aloney and b? ma&es the story
symbolic, a portrait of a standard social setting at a certain epoch%
+he conclusion deriving from the :ricean argument advanced two paragraphs above tallies
perfectly, of course, with the interpretation offered in the preceding sub0section >!%I? that
#ahl was positioning his readers against 'aloney% $nd the paragraph following the
denouement lends further weight to the argument%
SD1 begins a new paragraph with the tritest of e,pressions in one of the most appalling
interpersonal situations a human being can find himselfGherself in 0 @So there it isA F thereby
belittling the wife even further% 4y flouting the -uantity ma,im, the first clause of SDI verges
on lunacy, for although @I &nowA has the conventional function of filler in speech, here it acts
as an identity mar&er, for 'aloneys speech >what little there is of it F non0
communicativeness being another of his character traits which again ma&es us wonder whose
fault it really is? is replete with @littleA words which are meaningless >or even ironic, as here?
and which betray a lac& of intelligence and or at the very least sensitivity and respect for
others% Indeed, the effect of this mechanism is redoubled immediately after in the same clause
by the inclusion of @&ind ofA, an intensifier which again diminishes the power of what he is
saying% +he trusim @$ bad time to be telling youA is ludicrous in itself, but further
downgraded first by @&ind ofA and then by @I &nowA, thus ma&ing 'aloney unbearable% It
also calls into -uestion, as happened earlier, the subse-uent judgement he e,presses in the
second clause in SDI/ @but there simply wasnt any other wayA% (e only have 'aloneys
word for it that there was no alternative F no evidence is offered to support his judgement%
5urthermore, we have been aligned against him% $nd finally, our world &nowledge tells us
that when a wife is si, months pregnant it is rather late in the day to brea& such news% (hy
could he not, for instance, have told his wife much earlier, when, for instance, the procreation
of a child destined -uite probably to unhappiness could have been avoidedM
SD! worsens the situation% (hile we might in theory judge the fact that he will provide for his
e,0wifes maintenance positively, for not all husbands honour their post0divorce obligations,
several arguments again turn us against thin&ing 'aloney is being honourable in a situation
of stress and conflict% 5irst of all, it is the first real ideational point of importance that he
ma&es, >vi* that the author presents to us as relevant?, the other speech acts that have been
verbalised all being offensive inanities% 5urthermore, in his position, money is probably not a
problem, so it can hardly be said he is ma&ing a sacrifice% 3ne might say he is simply paying
for his liberty and or salving his conscience% 5inally SSD0DD give the game away by
revealing the real motive behind his @generosityA% If his wife fails to concede a divorce
without ma&ing fuss, then this might endanger his career% 'aloneys values are -uite clear/
first the individualistic goal of achieving the economic and social status accruing from his
wor&, then comes his communal, family life% +his is another unambiguous indication of his
egoism% +he linguistic fact that the concept is couched in three sentences where one would
have sufficed, betrays tension, a lac& of calm control over a delicate situation/ since the point
is central to him, he is emotionally highly involved in it% Emotion, as revealed through his
verbal utterances, is another indicator confirming his value system%
In sum, what is not stated is as important as what is stated% In :ricean terms, *ero -uantity is
as significant as a positive value regarding -uantity% +hat fact that 'aloney is silent as
regards his motives for leaving his wife is as important as his promising his wife will be
cared for financially% 4oth sides of the coin help us build up his character, or rather, his value
system, and enable us to pass judgment on him F negative judgement%
In conclusion, the story so far has built up a portrait of a happy bourgeois family and has
smashed that image of contentedness to smithereens in the space of si, lines% It has also
positioned the reader to emit a totally negative value judgment with regard to the husband,
thereby absolving the wife of any blame in the affair, despite the fact that we that we &now
the blame is never totally of one party and that we might well not agree with the wifes
worldview% Indeed, the story is a criticism of that worldview%
,. Liberatio#
+he wifes world is shattered by her husbands re-uest% @)er first instinct was not to believe
any of it, to reject it allA >SDD?% +he use of the word @instinctA is highly symbolic, for
@instinctA as used by 'ary 'alaoney is, of course, a fol& concept% (hat 'ary is referring to
is her emotional and psychological reaction to the devastating news which has torn her
worldview asunder% +his is unbearable for any human being, and a refusal to believe, vi*%
accept, the state of affairs is the natural reaction, for acceptance would entail the total
rejection of ones identity and worldview, of what one has always been up to that moment%
SSDK0DK thus refer to a state of hallucination, a possible e,planation to @e,plain awayA the
undesirable truth% )er disbelief, or rather her will not to believe, is so strong that she gets up
and goes to the &itchen as if nothing had happened >SKL? and continues with her wifely
duties% +his is, of course, her defence mechanism against the grim brutality of reality%
7ontinuing with the daily humdrum routine when physical or spiritual death is at the door is a
means of reasserting identity and trying to recover security% So 'rs 'aloney goes to ma&e
supper as if her husband had just told her the most normal thing in the world% $s SK!
confirms us, @Everything was automatic nowA% )owever, physicality confirms the depth of
the emotion/ @She couldnt feel anything at all F e,cept a slight nausea and a desire to vomit
+hus 'rs 'aloney @automaticallyA goes @down the stairs to the cellarA, >symbolically a
descent into hell, for note that not that many English houses have cellars, and even less have
cellars where the food is &ept? to collect food for the supper that she intends to coo&% +he step
by step description of this set of events in SSK!0K is a&in to the routine described in
paragraphs one and three in the first part of the story, simulating a return to normality F 'rs
'aloney does not wish to accept reality%
+hus, the events are again focalised through 'rs 'aloney% +his enables SKC to be delivered
in 5#+% +he fact that a? SKC is e,tremely short F four words F does not constitute a
grammatical sentence since it is realised by a verbless clause consisting of a single noun
phrase >with a prepositional phrase embedded in it?, b? the two function words are lin&ed by
alliteration >@legA, @lambA?, and c? this concise sentence constitutes an entire paragraph,
surrounded by much linger paragraphs, means that the sentence is heavily foregrounded% +he
implicature is not simply that 'rs 'aloney sees something that will be suitable for dinner,
but that in her subconscious her plan for revenge is ta&ing shape%
SKD confirms that we are in 'rs 'aloneys mind through the use of 5I+ and a conversational
style% +he first verbless clause, @$ll right thenA not only helps classify the style as
conversational, but also has the added conventional overtones of revenge andGor anger F @$ll
right then, if that is what you want then that is what you are going to getNA In other terms, the
e,pression is ambivalent or multifunctional%
+e,tual confirmation of the subconscious intent to &ill comes from the ne,t sentence, >SKK?,
for if the estranging e,pression @holding the thin bone0end of it with both handsA did not
implicate a well0formed intention to &ill, then the detail would flout both the ma,ims of
-uantity and of relevance% Instead, the way she holds the leg of lamb is a&in to that of the
tennis player holding the tennis rac&et in both hands ready to deliver a powerful bac&0hander%
+he implicature is well made%
)owever, the rest of this sentence together with S9I, are presented as narration F the
omniscient author describing the visible, e,ternal events/ @she went %% she saw %% she stoppedA%
#eploying three sentences, >SSK9091?, her husband then tells her he does not want any dinner
because he is going out% )e does so with his bac& turned to her, without loo&ing at her% +hese
sentences are presented as #irect Speech, almost a contradiction in terms% S9I provides
'arys reaction to her husbands words and is again presented as narration of e,ternal events/
@'ary 'aloney simply wal&ed up H swung the club H brought it down HA%
9evertheless, as in previous parts of the story, the e,ternal events are simply indicators of
mental processing% +he e,ternal events are clues as to what is going on in 'ary 'aloneys
mind% +hus @she saw him standing over by the window with his bac& to her , and she
stoppedA, >SKK?, convey that seeing him there in his attitude of concealment, guilt and shame
bring bac& her anger to the fore% 9ote that the following clause is introduced by the
coordinating conjunction @andA% +his conjunction should therefore ma&e the comma that
precedes it redundant% +his piece of deviant graphology thus constitutes foregrounding
indicating a pause in which 'ary 'aloney is thin&ing% She is associating her husbands guilt
with her anger and with the leg of lamb she is holding in such a strange way% In other words,
she is now considering the new situation and consciously and e+,licitly formulating the
intention to &ill her husband as punishment for his heinous crime% +hus, the syntagmatic
order in which the information is presented 0 the :ricean ma,im of manner, and to be precise,
the sub0ma,im, @be orderlyA F reflects not so much the e,ternal action as 'arys emotional
reactions and mental reasoning% )er husbands words, SS K90910 confirm his guilt and
inflame her anger, so she &ills him F S9I%
9umerous linguistic e,pressions in S9I confirm that her violent deed is the result of emotion
and mental reflection based on her worldview% @$t that pointA is not merely an indicator of
time, but implicates that she has ta&en her decision as a result of what has just preceded,
namely SSK9091% +he :ricean sub0ma,im @be orderlyA thus operates from SK! to S9I%
@SimplyA violates the ma,ims of manner and -uality, for it cannot be ta&en literally% "illing is
not generally a @simpleA matter% +he adverb refers to the implicit decision she has come to on
the basis of her moral values% 7rime is followed by punishment F a @simpleA social rule%
@(ithout any pauseA is again a time mar&er at a literal level, but once again it conveys a non0
literal message as did the previous time mar&er @$t that pointA >parallelism?, namely the fact
that 'ary 'aloney is firm in her decision% In other words, a change has come about in 'ary%
She has decided to throw off the yo&e of patriarchy and become the agent of her own life%
$ final point to be noted about the language is that the e,ternal description of events produces
a matter0of0fact tone, one which stands in star& contrast to the passionate deed 'ary 'aloney
is perpetrating, and which confirms that 'ary has indeed decided to become the protagonist
of her own life% )aving been betrayed, she has no -ualms% )ence her absolute calm% It is as if
she had @rationallyA argued out her situation/ @I have a problem F I have illegitimately been
deprived of my rights% )ow can I obtain justiceM +hrough capital punishmentA%
9ow such a calm, cold0blooded attitude should enhance the condemnation we automatically
emit when such a serious crime is committed% 4ut, as I have been arguing from the outset,
#ahl has so positioned us deploying the strategies analysed above that the &illing evo&es no
such reaction% Ruite the contrary 0 we condone it%
Such a stance is confirmed by S9!/ @She might just as well have hit him with a steel clubA%
+he sentence is obviously produced by the narrator% It simply describes the efficacy of the
murder instrument% It has no overtones of condemnation of the act just perpetrated with that
instrument% It is simply a statement which reinforces the concept that 'ary has dealt her
husband a heavy, fatal blow% +hat such an implicature is intended is borne out by the fact that
were it not so, the sentence would flout the -uantity ma,im, for the information it contains is
redundant% +he sentence could have been safely eliminated without any loss of conceptual
meaning, for we all &now what powers a fro*en leg of lamb possesses% >+his is not, of course,
an invitation to carry out an e,periment on ones spouse or lover if heGshe is not behaving
SS9K099, again foregrounded by the brevity of the paragraph they constitute, and again
presented in respectively 5I+ and 5#+ >parallelism again? confirm the ice0cold attitude that
has possessed 'ary% +his continues in the following paragraph, which is again almost
e,clusively presented in 5I+ >S1LL, S1L!011L?% In other words, the realisation of having
being e,ploited and the conse-uent liberation through the act of murder F hence the changed
consciousness and desire to become an agent 0 are mar&ed by the passage from a
predominantly e,ternal mode of presentation 0 narration 0 to a predominantly internal mode
of presentation F 5I+%
+he object of her thoughts is the conse-uences that will ensure% $t that time, the death
penalty was in force in England% )ence 'ary decides she does not want to die and she does
not want her child to die%
(ith SS111011I mode of presentation returns to e,ternal narration% +he moment of
consciousness0raising has passed, 'ary has changed worldview and become a @feministA,
and now returns to humdrum business, to routine, in this case finding a solution to the
immediate, concrete problem of how she can avoid the death penaltyN
Since I have already anticipated the end of the story, our analysis may now come to and end,
bar one final point%
-. Reli%hi#g liberatio# . !omi!ity
'rs 'aloney now thin&s out her plan of defence and puts it into action% (hat emerges is her
intelligence and her single0mindedness, as a result of which she turns the tables on her @male
opponentsA, the police, her husbands friends who are investigating the murder% +he central
point about the final, long, section, is its comicality% +he police are made to loo& e,tremely
stupid in contrast to 'arys own intelligence%
H Sometimes ;ac& 9oonan spo&e to her gently as he passed by% )er husband, he told her,
had been &illed by a blow on the bac& of the head administered with a heavy blunt
instrument, almost certainly a large piece of metal% +hey were loo&ing for the weapon% +he
murderer may have ta&en it with him, but on the other hand he may=ve thrown it away or
hidden it somewhere on the premises%
=It=s the old story,= he said% =:et the weapon, and you=ve got the man%=
Later, one of the detectives came up and sat beside her% #id she &now, he as&ed, of anything
in the house that could=ve been used as the weaponM (ould she mind having a loo& around to
see if anything was missing 0 a very big spanner, for e,ample, or a heavy metal vase%
+hey didn=t have any heavy metal vases, she said%
=3r a big spannerM=
She didn=t thin& they had a big spanner% 4ut there might be some things li&e that in the
+he first point to note in the above e,tract is the e,treme irony of @get the weapon and youve
got the manA% +he first level of irony is at the literal level, for the criminal is not a man but a
woman% Instead, at a second and deeper level of irony, the real culprit is the man who
betrayed, and more in general, man, or the patriarchal system which has deprived 'ary of the
e,istence she was trained and educated for% +he other side of the coin is that the police do not
really &now what they are investigating% Loo&ing for a man means loo&ing in the wrong
direction, at the literal level, and a the deeper level it means loo&ing for a mista&e >a male
criminal? within the system and not at the system itself >patriarchy is wrong?%
+he second point about this passage is the feigned help 'ary offers, thereby deviating the
en-uiries from their real direction, though there is actually little need to do so, as the final
e,tract I will -uote shows%
9e,t 'ary uses an ingenious ploy as a preparatory move in getting the police to @removeA
the evidence of her crime% She tells one of the men she needs a drin&, a highly plausible
re-uest given the situation% 4ut she uses this as a way of offering the men a drin& >of
whis&ey?% :iven the fact that it is 9 p%m% and the men are tired and hungry, and that they are a
@friendsA home, they accept% 9aturally, alcohol on an empty stomach ma&es their condition
worse% So when 'ary entices them to eat the food they offer only to&en resistance, thereby
unwittingly destroying the evidence of the murder weapon% +hey even highlight their own
stupidity themselves, as the e,tract which closes the story shows% In addition to their
stupidity, the policemen also ma&e a poor show on manners >@3ne of them belchedA?% $nd so
'rs 'aloney wins they day, to her hearts delight%
=)ave some more, 7harlieM=
=9o% 4etter not finish it%=
=She wants us to finish it% She said so% 4e doing her a favour%=
=3&ay then% :ive me some more%=
=+hat=s the hell of a big club the guy must=ve used to hit poor 1atric&,= one of them was saying%
=+he doc says his s&ull was smashed all to pieces just li&e a sledge0hammer%=
=+hat=s why it ought to be easy to find%=
=E,actly what I say%=
=(hoever done it, they=re not going to be carrying a thing li&e that around with them longer
than they need%=
3ne of them belched%
=1ersonally, I thin& it=s right here on the premises%=
=1robably right under our noses% (hat you thin&, ;ac&M=
$nd in the other room, 'ary 'aloney began to giggle%
#ahl has produced a story which is characterised by his usual blac& humour, with regard to
style, but which is feminist, with regard to content and attitude% )e tells the tale of a
traditional woman who is happily subjugated to her husband% )owever, when the husband
announces that he wants a divorce, the woman rightly feels betrayed for she has sacrificed her
entire life for hi% She thus realises that her worldview was one which enabled her to be
e,ploited and so decides to avenge her betrayal% She thus &ills her husband%
+he central point about the story, however, is that through his writing techni-ue, #ahl
positions the reader so as to ma&e himGher side with the woman and against the man% +hus
when the wife &ills her husband, the reader emits no condemnation% In so doing, he becomes
an accessory after the fact% In symbolic terms, he, too, becomes liberated by conceding that in
the end murder was right, for it was not murder but justice, symbolically spea&ing% 1atriarchy
has to be done away with%