About the Author- Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (20 November 1858 – 16 March 1940) was a Swedish author and teacher. She was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lagerlöf was educated at the Högre lärarinneseminariet in Stockholm from 1882 to 1885. She worked as a country schoolteacher at a high school for girls in Landskrona from 1885 to 1895 while honing her story-telling skills, with particular focus on the legends she had learned as a child. Through her studies at the Royal Women’s Superior Training Academy in Stockholm, Lagerlöf reacted against the realism of contemporary Swedish language writers such as August Strindberg. She began her first novel, Gösta Berling’s Saga, while working as a teacher in Landskrona. She wrote Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils) which is one of Lagerlöf’s most well-known books, and it has been translated into more than 30 languages.
Summary of “The Rattrap” by Selma Lagerlof
This story by Selma Lagerlof is about a poor vagabond who went around selling rattrap. His life was full of struggles and misery as he had to resort to begging and petty thievery for survival. He plods along the road and moves from one place to another but still does not feel welcomed anywhere. One day when he was musing over his rattraps, he figured that metaphorically the whole world is a rattrap. The world with its natural beauty, joys and sorrows, shelter, food and clothing is nothing but a rattrap. These are just to baits to lure men like the bait of cheese pr pork offered to rats to trap and kill them eventually. As soon as a person attempts to touch the bait, he is tricked and everything comes to an end. He mostly thinks ill of the world and finds pleasure in it. He cannot really be blamed for this as the world has always treated him badly. He loved to think of people he knew who were caught in the trap and others we were about to get trapped soon.
One day, while walking, he noticed a little cottage by the side of the road and stopped to ask for shelter. Normally he was frowned upon but this time he was lucky to find an owner who was lonely enough to feel happy to get a visitor. The owner was an old man who had no family. He was thrilled to have someone to talk to. He offered the peddler food and tobacco and the old man played cards with his guest until his bedtime. The old man was very generous and trusting. Unsuspecting the nature of his guest, he told him that he had earned thirty kronor the previous month. When the peddler looked dubious, he even went to the window, took out a leather pouch which hung on a nail in the window frame, and picked out three wrinkled ten-kronor bills and showed it to him.
The next morning when the old man left to milk his cow, the peddler also got up, thanked
him for his hospitality and went his own way. Half an hour later his character overpowered him. He returned to the old man’s house, broke the window pane, got hold of the pouch and stole the thirty kronor. After stealing the money from the old man, he was impressed by his presence of mind. However, he was concerned that he might get caught and he decided to turn to the woods. He kept on walking through the woods but then he realized that he had been walking
around in the same part of the forest. Soon he recalled his thoughts about the world and the
rattrap and realised that he was the victim this time. He let himself get fooled by the bait that the thirty kronor was. He felt trapped in an endless loop. It was a cold winter night and the darkness was already surrounding the forest which meant increased danger. Just as he was going to
give up, he heard the sound of hammer strokes from an iron mill. The peddler gathered all his strength and decided to pay a visit to Ramsjo Ironworks. There was so much noise at the site that nobody noticed the peddler open the gate and enter the forge until he stood close to the furnace. The blacksmith casually glanced at him as he was used to seeing homeless peddlers
looking for shelter. The peddler too looked like any other vagabond with a long beard, dirty appearance, ragged clothes and a bunch of rattraps hanging on his chest which is why when the peddler asked permission to stay he just nodded without honouring him with any verbal response.
The owner of Ramsjo iron mills was on an inspection as he saw the peddler lying down close to the furnace. On noticing the peddler, he went close to him and looked at him closely. However, he mistook the peddler for someone else and offered him to come home with him. In the hope of getting some kronors from the ironmaster’s pocket, he peddler didn’t bother to correct him and played along. He said that he was not doing so well in his life which is why he was in such a condition. When the ironmaster insisted him to come with him, he politely refused the invitation as he was afraid that going to the manor house after stealing thirty kronors from the old man could get him into trouble. The ironmaster interpreted his rejection as a sign of his embarrassment because of his ragged clothes. However, failing to convince the peddler to come with him, the ironmaster sent his daughter, Edla Willmansson, to insist the peddler to join them for the night. Edla, who was followed by an attendant carrying a fur coat, introduced herself to the peddler and attempted to make him feel comfortable. On noticing his uneasiness, she thought that he must have stolen something or else had escaped jail. But she continued to insist him to stay with them and made it clear to him that he is free to leave whenever he wants. Swayed by the amiability of Edla, the peddler agreed to spend spend Christmas eve on the manor house. He was not left with many choices but to comply.
The peddler was offered food and clothes. The next morning the ironmaster and his daughter were discussing about the miserable condition of the peddler when the ironmaster said to her that they must make sure that he doesn’t go around selling rattraps anymore. The petty plight of the peddler complimented by his tattered clothes made it hard for Edla to believe that the man had proper education. As soon as the peddler entered the room in fresh clothes in daylight, the ironmaster realized that he had mistaken him for an old acquaintance. He was furious at the peddler’s audacity of the peddler and asked him to leave immediately. On that note the peddler said that all this time he had claimed himself to be a poor trader and nothing more. But the ironmaster was not willing to back off. He declared that he will be taking this matter to the sheriff and have his arrested. To this the peddler responded with his theory of rattraps and the world. He expressed his belief in the idea that the whole world is a big trap and that all good things offered are nothing but bait. He went ahead to say that if the sheriff arrested him then one day he will be caught in the trap too. As he was about to leave, the daughter protested that he should be allowed to stay for Christmas as they had already promised him a Christmas meal.
Edla says that the peddler travels from one place to another throughout the year and he is not welcomed anywhere he goes. He constantly lives in the fear of being chased away and arrested. She insists her father that they should let him take a day off from his monotonous life. The ironmaster was not in favour of this idea but he couldn’t say against her. He only hoped that his daughter should not regret her decision. She made the peddler sit down and eat. The peddler followed her instruction and ate without uttering a single word. He could not comprehend why the girl was so supportive to him.
On Christmas eve he did nothing but sleep peacefully. It seemed like he hadn’t slept in ages. In the evening when the Christmas tree was lighted, they woke him up. He accompanied them for a while and went back to sleep again. It was after a really long time that he had a proper place to sleep. He woke up two hours later for Christmas dinner. After the dinner the daughter told him that the suit he wore was to be taken as a Christmas present from his father and that if he wished to spend the next Christmas in peace then he could come back. The peddler could not say a word. He was amused by the generosity of the girl.
The next morning, the ironmaster and his daughter woke up early to go to the Christmas
service. The peddler was still sleeping which is why they didn’t bother to disturb him. At the church they were informed about the old crofter who had been robbed by a man who went around selling ratttaps. The girl was shattered and the ironmaster wondered if anything would be stolen from the house by the time they reach.
On reaching home they enquired where the peddler was. The valet informs them that he has left without stealing anything at all. On the contrary, he left a package for Miss Edla. As Edla opened the package, she found in it a small rattrap and three wrinkled ten kronor notes. In contained a letter stating that since Miss Edla has been so nice and generous to him, he wished to be nice to her too. He did not want her to be embarrassed by a thief. In addition, he wanted her to return the thirty kronors to the old man and consider the rattrap as a Christmas present. The letter was signed as “Captain von Stahle”.
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