Impulsive Instincts – Daniel, Grade 8

Impulsive Instincts

According to Crime Victims United, 72% of homicides committed in the United States every year are second-degree murders, which means they are not premeditated crimes and are only committed impulsively on the spur of the moment. The impulse can take full control of people and cause them to commit crimes that they would never commit under normal circumstances. In the short story, “Lamb To The Slaughter,” by Roald Dahl, the main character, Mary Maloney, who is a loving wife, impulsively kills her husband, who intends to leave her and her soon-to-be-born baby. Mary kills her husband with a lamb leg and deceitfully destroys the murder weapon by feeding it to the detectives. Roald Dahl aims to convey the message that the most heinous crimes are committed out of impulse triggered by an extreme mood swing, a sense of self-righteousness, and a traumatic experience.

Impulsive behaviour caused by extreme mood swings can lead one to commit wrongdoings. While, at the onset of the story, Mary feels extremely in love with her husband, soon her love transforms into numbness, phases into disbelief, and ultimately mutates into resentment. Mary feels extremely in love with her husband as she passionately waits for him until he comes home. A few moments later, “she [hears] the car tires on the stones outside, the car door closing, footsteps passing the window, the key turning in the lock. She [stands] up and [goes] forward to kiss him as he [enters].” After Patrick arrives, she offers to make food although Patrick rejects her offer several times. However, when Patrick tells Mary indirectly that he is leaving her and her soon-to-be-born baby, it is quite evident that she enters a stage of shock and numbness. Upon hearing the news, she acts “as though she had not heard him.” Mary Maloney’s reasoning skills are compromised due to the sudden change in her mood. As she walks upstairs from the basement with the lamb that she is about to cook, she finds Patrick facing the other direction. This extreme mood swing, a tragedy that turns Mary from a loving wife to a vindictive murderer, causes her to instinctively raise the lamb and hit Patrick hard on the back of his head. If Mary did not love Patrick that much or if she had not resented him so much, she would not have killed Patrick. Due to the sudden change in her mood, Mary does not take logic into account and murders her husband. 

A strong sense of self-righteousness, coupled with an extreme mood swing, can disrupt sound reasoning, leading one to commit a crime. When Patrick states that he is leaving, Mary jumps straight to conclusions and feels that Patrick is making a mistake and should stay to care for her and the baby. A logical person in this situation would consider the other person’s point of view before making judgements or assumptions. If Mary had considered why Patrick would want a divorce, she might have given him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, after Mary kills Patrick, she begins thinking about its consequences by asking herself questions, “what about the baby? What were the laws about murderers with unborn children? Did they kill them both — mother and child? Did they wait until the baby was born? What did they do?” Mary Maloney does not know and is not prepared to take a chance. Mary’s reasons for covering up the crime also shows that Mary kills her husband because she wants to have justice for her baby, justice that stems from her strong sense of self-righteousness. If one does not take into account what others are feeling or thinking and jumps straight to conclusions, a strong sense of self-righteousness is surely to appear. This strong sense of self-righteousness can cause one to think that others should be punished for what to them seems unacceptable. In the short story, “Lamb to the Slaughter,” Mary punishes Patrick by death and right after she says, “she wasn’t prepared to take the chance,” which means she justifies the murder by simply regarding it as the justice for her baby. This strong sense of self-righteousness changes Mary from a loving wife to an unempathetic wife, who thinks that murdering her husband is reasonable.

Impulsive reactions triggered by a traumatic experience can lead one to commit a crime. When Patrick states he is leaving, he leaves Mary in complete shock. When Patrick states he is leaving Mary and her soon to be born baby, for four or five minutes, Mary “[sits] still through it all watching him with puzzled horror.” Mary’s reaction shows that she is clearly traumatized. The bad news that Patrick breaks to his loving wife hurts her ego and creates a traumatic moment for her. Traumatic effects can happen when an undesirable event happens unexpectedly. The traumatic moment that Mary experiences is caused when a loved one says that he does not want to see her ever again. Most types of traumatic moments lead to impulsive behaviour, a natural reaction that probably cannot be stopped in most instances because the person’s reasoning is compromised. The traumatic moment causes her to lose her conscience, leading her to kill her husband. Upon murdering her husband, she coldly says, “so I’ve killed him.” The trauma that is caused by the traumatic experience has many impacts on the human brain and can alter one’s emotional behaviours. Trauma can significantly decrease the volume of one’s hippocampus, a part of the brain that is associated with memory and helps to discipline one’s emotional responses. The constricting of the hippocampus is what causes Mary to “[sit] still through it all watching him with puzzled horror” for four or five minutes. Traumatic moments similar to the one Mary experiences leads one to commit acts that one would never commit under normal circumstances. 

“Lamb to The Slaughter” educates the readers that in a split-second, one can unexpectedly change into a completely different person, such as a murderer, due to impulsive reactions triggered by an extreme mood swing, a sense of self-righteousness, and a traumatic experience. The wide variety of intense emotions that Mary feels about the unexpected events during the short evening causes her to abruptly change from a loving wife to a murderer. In a world where people often experience similar traumas that dramatically change their feelings, it is no wonder why 90% of all crimes are committed due to impulsive instincts.