In “The Landlady”, Roald Dahl emphasizes the idea of not always judging a book by their cover and that everything is not always as it seems, by creating a suspenseful and astonishing tone that keeps readers on edge.. For instance, when Billy rung the doorbell, the Landlady forces the door open. Shocked, Billy thinks, “…Normally you ring the bell and you have at least a half-minute’s wait before the door opens. But this dame was a like a jack-in-the-box. He pressed the bell – and out she popped! It made him jump” (Dahl 1). The reader is initially presented with the idea that the Landlady is desperate for a visitor, but why would she be? Dahl employs a subtle hint of foreshadowing with this statement, as the Landlady reveals something sinister in the end that is emphasized by this event.
The Landlady is first described as a charming and peaceful lady, like somebody who is living out with benevolence. This specific event is only giving us a pinch of the overall theme, as one minor flaw in a character doesn’t exactly lead to the true theme. In theory, the reader would view this as a poor lady who just wants somebody around, but until they look deeper and read between the lines, it’s a whole different story. It’s not until later on in the passage that Dahl reveals something a bit more sinister. In addition, we get an idea of what the true motives of the Landlady are. “‘No, thank you,’ Billy said. The tea tasted faintly of bitter almonds, and he didn’t much care for it. ‘You did sign the book, didn’t you?’ ‘I did.’ ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘And have you met my little Basil as well?’ She nodded towards the dachshund curled up so comfortably in front of the fire. Billy looked at it. And suddenly, he realised that this animal had all the time been just as silent and motionless as the parrot.” (Dahl 3).
Here, we see the true motives of the Landlady. The taste of bitter almonds is the essence of cyanide, as proven by the suicide notes of people who’ve taken cyanide. If the Landlady’s tea has the taste of bitter almonds, it is most likely poisoned with cyanide. If we also factor in the fact that this place has only had 2 guests, both of which have gone missing, the reader can deduce that the Landlady poisoned Weaver and will perform a taxidermy on him, just like the Landlady did to her pets. The shroud of peacefulness and generosity is only covering up the hidden evils and brutality behind the Landlady. The reader wouldn’t have expected this sweet old lady to be a serial murderer with a fetish for taxidermy. This unexpected outcome is what Dahl is using to catch the reader’s off guard.
All in all, Dahl employs a mysterious and vague tone along with a large plot twist to convey the idea that nothing is always as it seems. He is able to accomplish this by molding specific characters to portray the main theme, “hidden evils”.