The Rattrap – Summary

The Rattrap is written by Selma Lagerlöf a Swedish writer. It is based on the theme that the essential goodness in a human being can be awakened through understanding and love. The writer has beautifully brought out human loneliness and the need to bond with others.


Once upon a time, there was a man who went around selling small rattraps of wire. He made them himself but his business was not profitable. So, he had to beg and steal a bit to survive. His clothes were in rags, his cheeks were sunken and hunger could be noticed in his eyes. The world had never been kind to him. His life was sad and monotonous. He had no home, no shelter. One day, he was struck by an idea that the whole world was nothing but a big rattrap. As pork and cheese serve as baits to trap rats, the world offered lands, clothes, foods, joys and riches to trap people. As soon as anybody touched them the trap closed on them. He was mused to think of some people who were already trapped and some others who were trying to reach the bait.

One dark evening, as he was trudging along the road, he saw a grey cottage on the roadside. He knocked at the door and asked for a night’s shelter. The owner of the cottage was a lonely old crofter. He wanted someone to talk to. He welcomed the peddler. He gave the peddler hot porridge to eat and tobacco to smoke. Then they played cards. The crofter was generous as well as trustful. He told the peddler that he had a cow and sold her milk and cream. He also told him that he received thirty kronor as payment the previous month. Then he took down a pouch and showed him the money. Then he put the money back in the pouch and hung it on a nail in the window frame. Next morning the peddler left. The crofter locked his cottage and went away.

The peddler came back to the cottage. He had been tempted to steal the money that hung like a bait in the window frame. He smashed the pane and stole the money. Now he thought it was not safe to walk. He felt pleased with his smartness. Then he realised that he dared not continue on the public highway. So, ho took to the woods. He got into a big and confusing forest. He kept on walking without coming to the end of the forest. He realised that he had only been walking around in the same part of the forest. He thought that he had let himself befooled by a bait and had been caught. The whole forest seemed to him like an impenetrable prison from which he could never escape.

It was late in December. Darkness increased the danger as also his gloom and despair. He sank down on the ground as he was quite tired. He heard the sound of hammer strokes. He summoned all his strength, got up and staggered in the direction of the sound. He reached a forge where the master smith and his helper sat near the furnace waiting for the pig iron to be ready to put on the anvil. There were many sounds—big bellows groaned, burning coal cracked, the fire boy shovelled charcoal with a great deal of clatter, the waterfall roared, a sharp north wind whipped the rain against the brick-tiled roof. On account of all these noises the blacksmith did not notice that a mall had opened the gate and entered the forge until the stranger stood close up to the furnace.

The blacksmith glanced only casually and indifferently at the intruder with a long beard, dirty, ragged and with a bunch of rattraps dangling on his chest. The peddler asked for permission to stay. The master blacksmith nodded a haughty consent without saying a word.

The owner of the work was very particular about the quality of the iron he produced. On one of his visits he came into the forge while he looked intently at the peddler’s face. He felt sure that the peddler was one of his old regimental comrades Captain Von Stahle, who had fallen on evil days. He Invited the peddler to go home with him for Christmas. But the peddler was alarmed. He refused and the iron master went home.

Half an hour later the sound of carriage wheels was heard outside the forge. The ironmaster’s daughter came there, followed by a valet, carrying a big fur coat. She introduced herself as Edla Willmansson. She noticed that the man was afraid. She thought that either he had stolen something or else he had escaped from jail. She, however assured him that he would be allowed to leave them just as freely as he had come. She addressed him as captain and requested him to stay with them over Christmas Eve. She said this in such a friendly manner that the rattrap peddler agreed to go with her. The fur coat was thrown over his rags and he followed the young lady to the carriage. On the way the peddler thought why he had taken that fellow’s money. He was sitting in the trap and would never get out of it.

The ironmaster was happy to have his old regimental comrade under his roof. He planned to feed him well, and give him some respectable work. The servant cut the peddler’s hair and bathed him. The peddler appeared wearing one of ironmaster’s fine suits. But when the iron master looked at him in the day light he felt he had committed a mistake. The peddler was not Captain Von Stahle. He thought that the man had deceived him. He even thought of handing him over to the sheriff.

The peddler said that he had not pretended to be what he was not. He had not been willing to go the ironmaster’s house. Even then he was willing to put on his rags and leave. He also told the ironmaster that the world was a rattrap and he too might be tempted by a big bait and caught in the trap. The ironmaster told him to leave at once.

Edla did not like her father’s asking the poor peddler to leave. She thought it was unfair to turn away the man whom they had invited. She wanted to have the joy of entertaining a homeless wanderer on Christmas. She stopped the peddler and her father gave in.

Edla served food to the peddler. In evening during Christmas party he was given Christmas presents which he thankfully received. Edla told him that her father’s coat that the peddler was wearing was also a Christmas present. She assured him that he would be welcomed again if he liked to spend the next Christmas Eve with them.

The next morning the ironmaster and his daughter got up early and went to Christmas service. They drove back at about ten o’clock. The young girl sat, and hung her head even more dejectedly than usual. At church she had learnt that an old crofter of the iron works had been robbed by a man who went around selling rattraps. The ironmaster feared that the man Might have stolen many silver spoons from the cupboard. As the wagon stopped at the front steps, the ironmaster asked the valet about the stranger. The valet told him that the stranger had left. He had not taken anything with him at all, but he had left a package for Miss Willmansson as a Christmas present.

On opening the package, she gave a little cry of joy. She found a small rattrap, and in it lay three wrinkled ten kronor notes. There was also a letter addressed to her. He did not want her to be embarrassed by a thief but act as a captain. He requested her to return the money to the old man on the roadside, who had money pouch hanging on the window frame as a bait for the poor wanderers. The rattrap was a Christmas present from a rat who would have been caught in this world’s rattrap if he had not been raised to captain, because in tb,af’ way he got power to clear himself.

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