"The Landlady" and Other Short Stories

"The Landlady" and Other Short Stories Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The guest-book (Symbol)

In "The Landlady," the guest-book symbolizes the preservation of the boys after their death. The reader knows that the landlady will likely poison Billy and taxidermy his body, but the guestbook will be a preservation of his life. Her inability to remember the names of those in the guest-book also shows how disposable their lives are to her—she simply keeps their names as a relic.

The mamba and the cow (Allegory)

In "An African Story," the relationship between the mamba and the cow is an allegory for symbiosis and coexistence. Though the mamba is a dangerous venomous snake, the cow and mamba have a peaceful relationship because the cow does not try to deter the mamba, so the mamba suckles the cow's spare milk and does not attack the cow.

Deadly Food (Motif)

Several of Dahl's stories feature fatal foods. In "The Landlady," the landlady feeds Billy ginger biscuits and likely poisoned tea, setting him up for her menacing plans. In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Mary Maloney feeds the leg of lamb she used to kill her husband to unsuspecting detectives.

Royal Air Force pilots (Motif)

This semi-autobiographical motif is present in many of Roald Dahl's short stories, including "Katina," about men in the RAF who meet a small girl, and "An African Story," which introduces a young RAF pilot. These pilots seem to represent wayward young men who, after enlisting in the RAF, are taken on journeys where they face death and destruction.

The Lamb Chop (Symbol)

The lamb chop in "Lamb to the Slaughter" symbolizes Mary Maloney, an idealistic and doting housewife, breaking free of her husband's control after he decides to leave her. The beginning of the story frames Mary as a good wife and soon-to-be mother, and her husband unsettles that by telling her that he is leaving. Mary takes the lamb chop she was going to make him for dinner, fulfilling her domestic duties, and uses this leg of lamb to murder him, leaving behind the marriage and domestic bliss that they shared. By feeding this leg of lamb to the unsuspecting detectives, she fully transitions from an unassuming housewife to a calculating, clear-headed murderer.

Green (Motif)

Green objects constantly reappear in Dahl's stories, and often indicate insidious traits. In "The Landlady," Billy Weaver peers through green curtains, as he sees a dachshund and a parrot that later turn out to be taxidermy. "Beware of the Dog" also features green curtains, as Peter looks out of the curtains to discover that he is in France and has been captured by enemy forces. In "The Visitor," Abdul Aziz has a green car that leads Oswald to most likely sleep with Abdul's leprous older daughter, and Abdul's wife and younger daughter wear green scarfs after Oswald leaves a bite on the neck of his lover, suggesting that he does not sleep with either of them.