Friday 26 April 2024

The Rattrap

                                                         The Rattrap                                                                           By Selma Lagerlof


Analysis :

·      The chapter ‘The Rattrap’ is written by Selma Lagerlof, a Swedish writer whose stories are based on a universal theme of essential goodness in a human being. Her stories have been translated into many languages.

·      A universal theme runs through this story that the essential goodness in a human being can be awakened through understanding and love.

·      This story is set amidst the mines of Sweden, a country rich in iron ore, which is also supported by the history and legends of the country.

·      The story is told somewhat in the manner of a fairy tale where everything is set right at the end.

·      The chapter explores the themes of of Kindness and hospitality towards the poor people and the needy to bring remarkable change and economic stability in their life. The act of Kindness and hospitality shown by the ironmaster's daughter awakens basic human goodness in the peddler.

·      The story highlights a beautiful message that this world is a big rattrap. Riches and wealth only tempt us towards them and trap us in, forever.

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Summary / Synopsis :

This is the story of a man who went selling small rattraps made of wires by the peddler himself. The business was not profitable so he had to depend on begging and petty thefts. He moved about in rags and hunger gleamed in his eyes. 

His life was sad and monotonous. The world had never been kind to the peddler so it gave him joy to think ill of this world. Once, the peddler was struck by an idea that the whole world was nothing but a big rattrap. Its only purpose was to set baits for people. Riches, joys, shelter, food and clothing were just nothing but tempting baits. Anyone who lets himself tempted by these baits, the trap closes on him. And then everything comes to an end. It became his cherished pastime to think of people who were caught in the dangerous snare and others who were still circling around the bait.

One day he was wandering along the road and happened to see a little gray cottage and knocked at the door. An old man greeted him. He was alone so became happy to get someone to talk to. He served him supper and offered him tobacco to smoke. The host took a pack of cards and played "mjolis" with him till they slept.

The old man told the peddler everything about his work at Ramsjo Ironworks as crofter in his young days and, his cow that helped him earn thirty kronor last month. He went to the window. He took down a leather pouch which hung on a nail in the window frame. He picked out three wrinkled ten-kronor banknotes. He held them up before his eyes and kept them back into the pouch. The next day both men left the cottage at the same time. But half an hour later, the peddler came back, smashed a pane and took the pouch. He stole the money and hung the pouch back in its place. He was quite pleased with his smartness. Considering it unsafe to walk on the public highway he moved away from the road into the forest but he lost the way. It was a big and confusing forest.

Now, the world really appeared to be a big rattrap. This time, he had let himself befooled and trapped by the bait and had been caught in a rattrap.

It was getting dark. Finally, when he saw no way out, he sank down on the ground. He was tired to death. But soon he heard the sound of hammer strokes coming from an iron mill, the Ramsjo Ironworks, a big plant. He gathered all his strength and dragged himself towards it. The master smith and his helper sat in the dark forge near the furnace waiting for the pig iron, which had been put in the fire. The fire boy shovelled charcoal into the maw of the furnace with a great deal of clatter. The blacksmiths didn't mind the peddler standing close to the furnace as it was usual for them. He asked permission to stay and the master blacksmith nodded in approval.

The ironmaster came into the forge on his nightly round of inspection. He saw the peddler in the dark and mistook him for an old acquaintance,  an old comrade of his regiment. The peddler didn't know his name nor did he ever meet the man. He lied to the ironmaster that things had gone 'down- hill'. The ironmaster told that he should not have resigned from the regiment. He invited the peddler to come home with him. The vagabond didn't want to go to the manor house as he didn't want to throw himself voluntarily into the lion's den. The ironmaster wanted him to give them company at Christmas. The peddler declined the offer.

The ironmaster's daughter, Edla Willmansson came to the forge with a valet to persuade the peddler. She thought that the man was frightened. She compassionately requested him to stay with them over Christmas Eve. He didn't resist, accepted the fur coat given by the valet and followed the lady. The next day it was Christmas Eve. The valet had bathed him, cut his hair and shaved him. The peddler stood there in a good suit that belonged to the ironmaster. Now, the peddler stood before the ironmaster in broad daylight. It was impossible to mistake him for an old acquaintance. He got angry at him. The peddler understood that he was exposed and told the ironmaster that it was not his fault. He didn't want to deceive anybody. He had never pretended to be anything than a poor peddler. He had only begged to be allowed in the forge. He was ready to put on his old rags again and go away. First, the ironmaster threatened to call the Sheriff but then asked him to go away at once.

The ironmaster's daughter being compassionate, wanted the peddler to stay with them. There was not a single place in the whole country where he was welcome. Everyone showed him the door. She wanted him to stay and enjoy a day of peace with them. She was against chasing away a man whom they had promised Christmas cheer. In the evening the Christmas tree was lighted. He enjoyed fish and porridge.

The next morning the ironmaster and his daughter went early for the Christmas service. They didn't disturb him as he was asleep. The girl was dejected to hear a sensational news that one of old crofters had been robbed by a man who went around selling rattraps. When about 10 o'clock they came back, the ironmaster was informed by the valet that the peddler had gone but he had not taken anything at all with him on the contrary, he had left behind a little Package for Miss Willmansson. She opened the package and found a small rattrap and three wrinkled ten kro-nor notes in it along with a letter for Miss Willmansson. He thanked her for being so nice to him as if he were a captain. He didn't want her to be troubled by a thief at Christmas. She was requested to give back the money to the old crofter on the roadside. He had the money pouch hanging on the window frame. It served as a bait for poor wanderers. The rattrap was a Christmas present from a rat who would have been caught if they had not raised him to captain.

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Theme :

The chapter highlights the themes of Kindness and hospitality towards the poor people and the needy to bring a change in this society. The story also talks about the philosophical theme that this world of ours is a rattrap and the humans are attracted by its materialistic gains and get trapped in it.

Message :

The story conveys that an act of Kindness and sympathy is good enough to bring about a remarkable change in anyone’s life, be it a thief or any wrong doer. The act of kindness and hospitality shown by the ironmaster's daughter awakes basic human goodness in the heart of the peddler. The story also highlights a beautiful message that this world is a big rattrap. Riches and wealth only tempt and trap us in. If we can't resist our temptation, we would be trapped in it just like a rat in the rattrap.

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Important Question Answers

Q1. Explain the metaphorical significance of the rattraps in context of the story.

Ans. The story very beautifully compares this world to a rattrap. The seller of rattraps is amused to think that this world is a big rattrap. The riches and wealth, materialistic attractions and other gains such as shelter, heat, food and clothing tempt the people of this world and trap them in it in the sense that they spend their whole life to catch hold of these attractions. They aren't able to stay away from these attractions so that they may live a life of peace and satisfaction. If we can't resist our temptation, we would be trapped in it just like a rat gets caught in the rattrap due to its temptation to catch the bait.

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Q2. The reader’s sympathy is with the peddler right from the beginning of the story. Why is this so? Is this sympathy justified?

Ans. The author, Selma Lagerlof draws the character of the peddler with all the sympathy from beginning of the story till the end. Initially, the peddler is described as sad and lonely leading a monotonous life. His unprofitable business forced him to resort to begging and petty thefts. The writer's sympathy is very well justified as the peddler is presented as a product of unfavourable circumstances which when turned in his favour due to the kindness of Edla Williamson, he changed his ways to better.
The peddler is pragmatist as he understands that the world is a big rattrap which traps us all equally and this theory of his keeps the peddler at par with all human beings who are a bundle of weaknesses.
However, the peddler is not shown in bad lights or portrayed as criminal. He is just a product of adverse circumstances. When he met right people and was treated nicely and kindly, he respects their kindness and honouring their hospitality he returns the money he has stolen from the old crofter. He is portrayed as a common man who is blessed with essential human goodness and this common man is raised to a fine gentleman who recognises the value of kindness and hospitality.

Q3. The story 'The Rattrap' discusses the issue of human loneliness and focusses the need to bond with others. Elaborate the statement with examples.

Ans. Certainly, the chapter discusses the issue of loneliness quite evidently through the characters of old crofter and the ironmaster. Even the peddler was leading a lonely and monotonous life, perhaps that's why he was amused to think of the people caught in the trap of this materialistic world. The author focusses on the need to bond with others through the transformation in the character of peddler towards the end. When the peddler received sympathy, kindness and hospitality, he felt nice and returned the stolen money and decided to raise himself to the character of a fine gentleman. 
The old crofter, without his wife and any child feels so lonely that he is happy to welcome any stranger in his home so that he could spend time and talk to someone. He became so happy in the company of the peddler that he prepared supper for him, ate, smoke and played cards with him just like a member of his family. He also told everything about his life and earning moreover, disclosed where he kept the earned money without a spec of doubt on the peddler. The ironmaster also suffers from loneliness after the death of his wife and sons being abroad. He is so delighted to have the company of an old comrade that he sent his daughter to persuade him to enjoy Christmas with him. All the characters are described to be leading a lonely and monotonous life and in need of human touch and bond of love with other human beings, which eventually can create magic and bring transformation. 

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