Lamb to the Slaughter

Origin of Lamb to the Slaughter

The origin of this phrase occurs in the Bible, both in the book of Isaiah, and the book of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah, it states, “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, And let us cut him off from the land of the living, That his name be remembered no more” (Ch 11, verse 19).

It also appears in the title of Roald Dahl’s short story Lamb to the Slaughter, where it means ignorance and innocence. Generally, the phrase refers to a person who goes unconcernedly and innocently into a life-threatening or dangerous situation. However, in the story Lamb to the Slaughter, it has several meanings.

Meaning of Lamb to the Slaughter

Its literal meaning refers to the time when humans used to slaughter animals for meat. It conveys the idea that a lamb is innocent and does not ask questions. You can easily lead it anywhere and it follows, not knowing that it could be walking into a trap. It also implies that someone is about to sacrifice something.

Usage of Lamb to the Slaughter

People use this phrase for someone who has done something calmly, and lives a happy life unaware of the fact that something unpleasant or bad is going to happen to him/her. It’s usage is very common in everyday life, for instance as people use it ironically for a young man or woman who is excited to get married because he/she does not know how much responsibility this bond requires. It also refers to those who are found innocent but are hanged unjustly. Overall, people use this phrase for innocent persons who do not know what dangers might lie ahead.

Literary Source of Lamb to the Slaughter

First use of this phrase is found in the Bible, in the books of Jeremiah and Isaiah. Later, Dahl also used it in the title of his short story. In Jeremiah, it goes thus:

“But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, And let us cut him off from the land of the living, That his name be remembered no more.’ “

(Bible, Jeremiah 11:19)

Literary Analysis of Lamb to the Slaughter

It signifies an innocent lamb that is fed at home, unsuspecting and ignorant, but is being led to slaughter. This lamb symbolizes Jeremiah, who grew up among his townsmen never suspecting that one day he would be killed. Jeremiah is indirectly representing Jesus, who, in the face of wrongful accusations, was brought to a slaughter. Thus, the main theme of this biblical phrase is betrayal to innocence; while in Dahl’s story, it is betrayal of the wife.

Literary Devices

  • Symbolism: Lamb symbolizes Jesus and slaughter refers to his unjust killing.

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