Mood is the general feeling that develops in the audience after reading, listening to or watching a piece of literature. Usually, it is brought forth by the actions and words of the characters; the style of narration used, the writer’s choice of words and intonation. This paper analyzes two pieces of literature that tell the same story, Roald Dahl’s short story and Alfred Hitchcock’s movie. Both works share the title “Lamb to the Slaughter”.
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In this analysis, it is clear that mood in the two pieces of literature is enhanced by the characters and how they act and speak, the manner in which the author advances the plot and the use of suspense. Both works keep the audience wanting to know what the next action will be, and this happens from the beginning to the end. In addition, every character’s actions are very unpredictable. The plots of both stories are also extraordinary since there is tension from the beginning of the story to the end. Therefore, these three factors in both pieces of literature combine to create a curious mood as the audience is anxious to know what actions the characters will take next.
The first element that leads to the curious mood in both versions of the story is the plot used in each of them. Both plots are abnormal since they contain tension at the beginning, and it dominates the story lines to the end. Such a plot is extraordinary because the audience is used to a plot whose exposition is dominated by peace and co-existence. This conventional is, usually, followed by the rising action before the crisis and finally the denouement.
This is not the case with both plots in the two versions of “Lamb to the Slaughter”. They both start when Patrick is not happy with his wife, Mary. In fact he directly introduces the conflict. In the movie, he says, “I want to leave you” while in the story, the narrator does not quote the words he uses, but simply says, “And he told her” (Dahl n.pag.). This type of plot is not ordinary. As such, it keeps the audience curious to know what will happen next. For example, when the conflict is introduced at the beginning of the story, the audience cannot predict whether the next thing to happen will be the rising action or the falling action.
Apart from the structure of the plot, both pieces of work also use extensive suspense. Suspense creates curiosity in the audience since it makes them anticipate more conflict. In the short story, for example, readers curiously wait to know what Patrick will tell Mary when he says: “This is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I’m afraid,” he said. “But I’ve thought about it a good deal and I’ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away. I hope you won’t blame me too much.” (Dahl n.pag.). Another incident that creates curiosity is when Mary says: “I’ll get the supper” (Dahl n.pag.). This creates suspense since it is hard to predict whether Patrick will eat or not because he has already told Mary not to make supper for him. Suspense is also created when the narrator describes Mary’s movement when she comes from downstairs with the lamb:
When she walked across the room she couldn’t feel her feet touching the floor. She couldn’t feel anything at all- except a slight nausea and a desire to vomit. Everything was automatic now-down the steps to the cellar, the light switch, the deep freeze, the hand inside the cabinet taking hold of the first object it met. She lifted it out, and looked at it. It was wrapped in paper, so she took off the paper and looked at it again (Dahl n.pag.).
This description makes the reader curious to know what will happen next. The same happens in the movie. For example, when Mary swears not to let Patrick go, the audience becomes curious to know what she will do to prevent him from going (Hitchcock n.pag.). There is even more curiosity when Patrick dares her to try and stop her from going. More suspense in the movie is evident when Mary kills her husband (Hitchcock n.pag.). The audience is left guessing what her next action will be. They do not know whether she will run away, give herself up to the police or just sit and wait. Even at the end of the story, it is not clear whether the police will end their speculations by pointing her as her husband’s murderer or not. This dominant suspense in both renditions of the story creates a curious mood in the audiences of both storylines.
The last element responsible for the creation of the curious mood in both storylines is the behavior of the characters. They all behave in a manner that raises curiosity in the reader. For example, in both stories, Mary seems very restless as she waits for her husband to come back home. In the movie, she pretends to be very busy, but looks at the door every time to see whether the husband is coming or not. She rushes very fast to look at the door when her husband comes home (Hitchcock n.pag.). This restlessness in her creates a lot of curiosity in the audience. In the short story, she is also very restless:
Now and again she would glance up at the clock, but without anxiety, merely to please herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come. There was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did. The drop of a head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil. Her skin -for this was her sixth month with child-had acquired a wonderful translucent quality, the mouth was soft, and the eyes, with their new placid look, seemed larger darker than before. When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen, and a few moments later, punctually as always, she heard the tires on the gravel outside, and the car door slamming, the footsteps passing the window, the key turning in the lock. She laid aside her sewing, stood up, and went forward to kiss him as he came in (Dahl n.pag.).
Mr. Maloney’s behavior also causes a curious mood in the audience. He enters the house looking troubled. In the movie, he unwillingly replies his wife’s greetings and goes straight to prepare a glass of wine for himself. He does not pay much attention to what his wife tells him (Hitchcock n.pag.). The audience is likely to be curious about what troubles Mr. Maloney. In the short story, he does an unusual thing, draining his glass with a single gulp: “he did an unusual thing.
He lifted his glass and drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it, at least half of it left. She wasn’t really watching him, but she knew what he had done because she heard the ice cubes falling back against the bottom of the empty glass when he lowered his arm” (Dahl n.pag.). The audience is also likely to be curious about what troubles Mr. Maloney. They may be interested in knowing why he gallops his drink instead of taking his time as he always does.
The detectives also cause curiosity in both the movie and short story through the questions they ask Mrs. Maloney. At some point, they sound as if they are sure that she killed her husband: “There was a great deal of whispering and muttering beside the corpse, and the detectives kept asking her a lot of questions” (Dahl n.pag.). Asking many questions makes the audience curious to know whether the detectives will realize that she is responsible for killing her husband or not.
In conclusion, the mood in both renditions of “Lamb to the Slaughter” is a curious one. Both pieces of literature keep the audience curious about all the events from the beginning to the end. They successfully achieve this through the characters used, the nature of their plots and the dominant stylistic device, suspense. Both of them effectively use these elements of literature in ensuring that their audiences’ curiosity is maintained from the beginning to the end.
Dahl, Roald. n.d. Lamb to the Slaughter. Web.
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Hitchcock, Alfred. “Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lamb to the Slaughter”. Online video clip. Schooltube. 2011. Web.