"The Landlady" and Other Short Stories

"The Landlady" and Other Short Stories Themes


Many of Dahl's stories predominantly feature revenge, including "An African Story" and "Lamb to the Slaughter." In "An African Story," the old man exacts revenge on his insidious assistant Judson. In "Lamb to the Slaughter," this revenge is more deceptive, as a wife serves the leg of lamb she used to kill her husband to unsuspecting detectives. These vengeful plots disrupt balances of power and add ethical and moral ambiguity to Dahl's stories.


Deception plays a key role in several of Dahl's stories. In "Beware of the Dog," the nurse deceives Peter into thinking that he is in Brighton while he is actually in France in order to gain information about the British army. Billy in "The Landlady" faces a similar form of deception as the landlady who takes him in and has more sinister intentions. In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Mary Maloney deceives the unsuspecting police officers into thinking she is an innocent wife, and Oswald in "The Visitor" deceives several men into thinking he is a respectable and proper man, rather than a philanderer.


Cruelty runs through Dahl's stories, as several characters act in very cruel ways. Judson in "An African Story" relishes killing animals when they make noises, even admitting to killing a sleeping dog by dropping a rock on its head. Mr. Foster in "The Way Up to Heaven" also enjoys being cruel to his wife, as he constantly sabotages her into lateness and distress, even though he knows how painful this is for her.

Historical Figures

Several historical figures play roles in Dahl's short stories, the most notable of which are expressionist painter Chaim Soutine and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. In "Skin," Dahl recounts a fictional story of Chaim Soutine's life after one of his friends sees his paintings in a prominent gallery. In "Genesis and Catastrophe," Dahl tells the story of Adolf Hitler's birth and family.

Femmes Fatales

Femmes fatales, a term for dangerous deceptive women, recur constantly throughout this collection, as several women lead to the death of men in their lives. "Lamb to the Slaughter" features Mary Maloney murdering her husband when he tries to leave her, and convincing policemen of her innocence. Meanwhile, Billy is deceived by "The Landlady," who is an unassuming and strange older woman, and she is able to lure him into her home, likely poisoning him in order to preserve and taxidermy his body.

Difficult Marriages

Throughout Dahl's stories, difficult marital situations recur. In "The Way Up to Heaven," Mr. and Mrs. Foster have a tense marriage, as Mr. Foster taunts Mrs. Foster, forcing her to be late, while Mrs. Foster constantly bends to his wishes until finally she leaves him behind, speeding to the airport to make her flight. In "Lamb to the Slaughter," the idealistic, loving marriage that Mary Maloney imagines is shattered after her husband decides to leave her. Finally, in "The Visitor," Oswald constantly tests other marriages, as he has affairs with several married women throughout his life.


Characters are often in transit in Dahl's stories, and seem to uncover truths from these travels. In "The Way Up to Heaven," Mrs. Foster travels to Paris, probably leaving her husband stuck in an elevator shaft for 6 weeks, while she visits her daughter and grandchildren. Oswald in "The Visitor" spends his life traveling, and likely contracts leprosy because of his pride in his travels and exploits. Chaim Soutine in "Skin" travels to Paris from Russia in order to further his career as an artist, and eventually becomes famous in the process.