The Rattrap – Selma Lagerlof


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf was a Swedish author and teacher who lived from 1858 to 1940. At the age of 33, she published her first novel, Gösta Berling’s Saga. In 1909, she became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Main Points of the lesson

  • The peddler was a vagabond who sold rattraps to a little thievery on the side to make both ends meet. He had no worldly possession to call his own, not even a name. He was amused to think of the world as a rattrap.
  • He takes shelter in a crofter’s cottage. The crofter welcomed him, gave him dinner, shared his pipe, played “mjolis” with him, also confided in him about his income, and showed him where to put it.
  • Next morning, the Peddler steals the money and takes the back roads to keep people away and gets lost in the jungle at night. As he wanders through the forest, he realises that he was caught in the rattrap, too, and that the money was the bait.
  • At last he arrives at the Ramsjo ironworks, where he takes shelter for the night. The blacksmith and his assistant ignore him, but the master wrongs him to be an old acquaintance and invites him home. Although the Peddler did not correct the ironmaster, hoping to get some money out of him, he refused to accept his invitation.
  • The ironmaster then sends his daughter away, who persuades him to go home with her. She notices his naughty appearance and thinks that either he stole something or he escaped from prison.
  • The Peddler is scrubbed, bathed, and given a haircut, shave, and a suit of the ironmaster’s old clothing. The ironmaster knows he is wrong and that he is not the Captain in the morning sun. He wants to contact the Sheriff’s Office. The peddler becomes agitated and declares that the planet is a rattrap and that he, too, will be trapped in it. The ironmaster is amused, but he dismisses him. Edla, who is caring, persuades her father to spend Christmas Day with him.
  • The Peddler spends all of Christmas Eve eating and sleeping. The next day at the church, Edla and her father came to know that the Peddler was a thief who stole thirty kroners from the poor crofter.
  • They returned home to find a letter addressed to Edla from Captain Von Stahl, as well as a rattrap as a gift from the crofter. The crofter’s three ten kroner notes were found in the rattrap.

SETTING

This storey is set in Sweden’s iron ore mines, which play an important role in the country’s history. The plot is told in the form of a fairy tale.

CHARACTERS

1. A peddler with rattraps.

2. An Old man: A crofter

3. Master Smith in the Ramsjo Iron Mill in Sweden

4. Helpers in the Mill: blacksmiths

5. Iron mill owner

6. Edla Williamson – daughter of the Iron Mill owner.

SUMMARY OF THE RATRAP

Small rattraps were being sold by a rattrap peddler. He was wrapped in rags. He had hollow cheeks. He had the appearance of a hungry man. He made wire traps. He scrounges supplies from stores and large farms. To make ends meet, he had to resort to begging and a little stealing. He had never had it easy in this country. He didn’t have a home or a place to stay.

The peddler led a solitary life. One day, while he was thinking of his rattraps, he was struck by an idea. The world itself, he thought, was a rattrap. As soon as anyone touched it, they were closed to the trap. He was amused to think of some people who had already been trapped, and others who were trying to reach the bait in the trap. It was the cold night of December. On the roadside, he reached a cottage. He knocked at the door and asked for shelter in the night. The owner was a lonely old crofter. He wanted someone to talk to about it. He had welcomed the peddler. He gave the peddler hot porridge to eat, the tobacco to smoke. Then the cards were played. The crofter had a reputation for being both generous and trustworthy. He told the peddler he had a cow and was selling her milk to a creamery. He also informed him that the previous month’s payment was thirty kronors. Then he pulled out a pouch and handed it to him, revealing the cash. He then stuffed the money into the pouch and hung it on a window frame nail.

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The peddler left the next day. The crofter shut the door to his house and left. Returning to the cottage, the peddler He’d considered stealing the money from the window frame, which hung like bait. The money was stolen after he broke the window. He now assumed that walking along the highway was risky. As a result, he went for a walk in the woods. He walked and walked but was unable to get out. He moved in circles. He was tired. He looked upon the forest as a rattrap in which he was caught. He thought his end was near. He lay down to die.

He eventually heard the regular thumping of hammer strokes. Ramsjo Ironworks was the cause of the noise, he realised. He got up and started walking in the direction of the noise. He entered the forge after opening the ironworks’ doors. On his regular rounds, the owner came across the ragged wretch near the furnace. The ironmaster fixed his eyes on the peddler’s features. He was certain that the peddler was one of his old regimental comrades, Captain von Stable, who had fallen victim to the forces of darkness. He invited the peddler to spend Christmas with him at his place. The peddler, on the other hand, was alarmed. Accepting the bid, he realised, would be a risky step. He respectfully declined. The ironmaster retired to his home. Edla, the ironmaster’s daughter, was dispatched to convince the peddler to return home. She spoke to him softly. The peddler trusted her and decided to accompany her. On the way, he expressed regret for stealing the crofter’s money, which had put him in a bind.

The ironmaster was overjoyed to have an old regimental friend living with him. He intended to feed him well and provide him with decent jobs. The peddler’s hair was cut, he was washed, and he was bathed by the servant. One of the ironmaster’s fine suits was worn by the peddler. However, when the ironmaster saw him in the daylight, he knew he had made a mistake. Captain von Stable was not the peddler. He believed he had been duped by the man. He considered handing him over to the sheriff as well. The peddler said he had not wanted to be someone he wasn’t. He had refused to visit the ironmaster’s residence. He was able to put on his rags and quit even back then. He also cautioned the ironmaster that the world was a rattrap and that he, too, could be enticed by large bait and fall into the pit. He was ordered to leave immediately by the ironmaster. Edla was annoyed by her father’s insistence that the hapless peddler leave. She felt it was wrong to refuse the man who had been invited. On Christmas Eve, she desired the privilege of hosting a homeless wanderer. She stopped the peddler and her father agreed to it.

The peddler was served by Edla. Christmas gifts were offered to him, which he gratefully accepted. The peddler’s suit, according to Edla, was also a Christmas gift from her father. If he wanted to spend the next Christmas Eve with them, she told him that he would be welcome. The ironmaster went to church with his daughter the next morning. The peddler was a cheat, they discovered there. The crofter had been robbed by him. The ironmaster was convinced the peddler had stolen their silver. Edla’s mood had fallen. When they got home, however, they found the peddler had gone. However, he had left nothing behind. He had, however, left Edla a Christmas gift.

Edla took out the present and opened it. It was a very small rattrap. Edla was relieved to see that the peddler had abandoned the crofter’s income. There was also a letter. Edla was the recipient of the message. He shared his appreciation for her thoughtfulness. He wished to repay her generosity. As a result, he had left the crofter’s money with her and asked her to return it to him. He revealed that he had been promoted to captain. That was why he was able to free himself from the rattrap he had been trapped in. He signed the letter Captain von Stahle.

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THEME

The main theme of this story is that most human beings are prone to fall into the trap of material benefit. But every human being has inherent goodness that can be awakened through understanding and love. A human being tends to redeem himself from the wrongdoings.

• Human Kindness

“The Rattrap” is a short, almost fairy-tale centred around the transforming power of human kindness. An unnamed rattrap peddler goes from seeing the world as “one big rattrap” and stealing his stolen money and proclaiming himself free—all as a result of Edla Williamson’s experience of true kindness and generosity on Christmas Eve. By showing the potential of the peddler for positive change, the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf expresses the belief that there is a core of goodness in all people and that this goodness can be unlocked by compassion and kindness.

• Trust vs. Cynicism

The story starts with the homeless peddler characterised by his “rattrap” philosophy of life, which states that the world is nothing more than a big rattrap that offers “bait” in the form of luxuries and pleasures, then ensnares and destroys anyone who reaches for this bait. This is a cynical worldview, which the storey eventually debunks by explaining its shortcomings and suggesting an alternative philosophy. Despite the fact that life can be harsh and cruel at times, Selma Lagerlöf claims that being fully cynical leads to loneliness, immorality, and unhappiness. Instead, the storey promotes a more trusting worldview, one that considers human kindness and can foster community among people.

• Loneliness and Companionship

Connected to the themes of kindness and trust, the story also explores the basic human need for companionship and community, and shows the negative effects of loneliness, whether due to poverty, cynicism or unkindness. At the beginning of the storey, the peddler leads an incredibly lonely existence, and this affects him in extremely negative ways, causing him unhappiness and bitterness, and driving him to steal and lie to others. However, through the transformational interactions of the peddler with the old man, the ironmaster, and Edla Williamson, the storey shows the importance of human companionship and suggests that society should bring people together rather than isolate them.

Justification of Title

Since it is about a rattrap peddler, the title “The Rattrap” is fitting. To emphasise the human situation, the author has used the metaphor of a Rattrap. Most people fall into the pit of material benefits in the same way as a rat is tricked by bait and is stuck. The plot centres on a man who becomes imprisoned as a result of his avarice. Therefore, the title is apt.

Message

The story viz. ‘The Rattrap’ conveys the universal message that love, reverence, kindness, and empathy could awaken a person’s inherent goodness. It emphasises humanity’s plight. Material gains are the most common traps that most people fall into. Humans, like the peddler at the end of the storey, have a propensity to redeem themselves from dishonesty.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

1. In what sense was the world a big rattrap according to the peddler?

OR

Why did the peddler think that the world was a rattrap?

ANSWER: – The peddler was a very poor man who made a living by selling rattraps that he made himself from the materials he had obtained by begging. His mind, therefore, was always concerned with rattraps. He suddenly thought one day that the whole world was a big rattrap. He felt that the shelter, the food, the clothing, the richness and the joys that the world provided were all the baits set to entrap man just as a rattrap offered cheese or meat to entrap rats. As soon as one of them was trapped, everything came to an end.

2. Why did the peddler derive pleasure from his idea of the world as a rattrap?

ANSWER: – The world was never kind to the poor peddler. He was greeted with sour faces wherever he went and turned or chased away. He thus derived pleasure from the ill-thinking of the world in this way. Besides, he may have envied those whose lot was better than his, and he was rather amused to think that someday they too would be tempted by the bait and caught in the Rattrap.

3. Why did the peddler knock on the cottage by the roadside? How was he treated by the Owner Of the cottage?

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ANSWER: – The peddler knocked on the cottage on the side of the road to seek shelter for the night. The owner of the cottage was a crofter who lived alone. He considered the peddler to be a welcome company and treated him very hospitably. Not only did he put him up for the night, but he also offered him food and played cards with him.

4. Why did Edla plead with her father not to send the vagabond away?

OR

Why did Edla still entertain the peddler even after she knew the truth about him?

ANSWER: – Edla had always thought that the peddler was a poor, homeless tramp. Therefore, when his true identity was revealed, she didn’t feel cheated. Instead, she felt very bad about him and his miserable condition, and pleaded in his name. She and her father had promised him Christmas cheer, and she felt it was wrong to send him away.

5. What conclusion did the ironmaster reach when he heard that the crofter had been robbed by the peddler?

ANSWER: – The ironmaster and his daughter were at the church when they learned that the crofter had been robbed by a peddler, who, no doubt, was the one they had sheltered at the manor house. The ironmaster at once concluded that, in their absence, the peddler would probably have stolen all his silverware and run away.

6.What made the peddler think that he had indeed fallen into a rattrap?

Ans: The peddler realised he couldn’t walk down the street with stolen money in his pocket. He went for a walk in the woods. He didn’t make it to the end of the woods because he kept going. Then he realised he had gotten himself caught in the rattrap. He had been duped by a bait and had fallen victim to it.

7. What made the peddler accept Edla Williamson’s invitation?

Ans: Miss Edla Williamson gave the peddler a sympathetic glance. She realised the man was frightened. She told him that he would be free to leave as he had entered. She asked him to spend Christmas Eve with them. Her warm demeanour inspired the peddler to trust her and accept her invitation.

8. The story has many instances of unexpected reactions from the characters to others’ behaviour. Pick out instances of these surprises.

Ans: The peddler is taken aback by the crofter’s warm welcome, generous supper, cheerful company, and intimate confidences. Captain von Stahle is how the ironmaster addresses the peddler. When the ironmaster addresses him as “Nils Olof,” he is taken aback. The ironmaster believes that his refusal was due to humiliation caused by his dreadful attire. The ironmaster laughs at the peddler’s analogy of the universe to a rattrap and abandons his attempt to summon the sheriff. When Edla tells him the suit is a Christmas gift, the peddler is absolutely taken aback. She also invites him to join them for next Christmas. She does all of this even though she realises he is not who he claims to be. In exchange for his hospitality, the crofter’s guest, the rattrap peddler, robs him.

9. How does the metaphor of the rattrap serve to highlight the human predicament?

Ans: The world tempts a person with numerous good things in life, such as wealth and happiness, shelter and food, warmth and clothes. These looked just like the rattrap baits. Once an individual has been enticed by the bait, the world has closed in on him. The crofter’s thirty kronor enticed the peddler. It causes him to withdraw. He takes a stroll through the woods. He is apprehensive about visiting the Manor House. Only after returning the bait (money) does he find harmony.

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