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The Rattrap: Selma Lagerlof Essay

The rattrap seller is a homeless fellow who stays in the crofter’s cottage for a night. The crofter entertains him as a guest and friend. But the rattrap seller returns later the next day, smashes the window pane and steals the money of the crofter. The fortune however turns later when the iron master mistaking him to be an old comrade takes him home. There he stays for two days as his guest. Once again he is on his way to continue his usual profession of selling rattraps, thievery and begging. But he sends a letter to the iron masters daughter telling her that she was a wonderful hostess and he cannot lie to her. He also returned the money that he had stolen from the crofter and asked her to return it. He lets her know that this whole world is like a rat trap. Just like the rats are trapped by cheese and food similarly men are lured by land, food, shelter, clothing etc. these are baits. Those who touch them are trapped.

A Change of Heart “The Rat Trap” written by Selma Lagerlof is a short story about an old disheartened beggar and thief who is taken in and shown generosity by a young woman, her kindness changes his bitter attitude about life. The peddler is a man who has fallen upon misfortune and now resorts to selling rattraps, begging, and thievery. He is very pessimistic about the world around him and sees the world as merely a “rat trap”. He believes that society tempts us with riches and fine things, and when we accept, we are caught in the trap and are left with nothing. His theory arises from the fact that he was caught in the rattrap, he once was wealthy in both money and loved ones, and then he was stripped of his riches and was reduced to a homeless beggar. One night, after stealing money from an old man that gave him shelter, he is taken in by a man and his daughter who mistake him for a respected captain.

They treat him esteemed guest but when they discover that he has lied and is actually a thief; the young woman still bestows kindness and respect. Only when he is shown true compassion does the beggar witness the humanity in people that he was unaware of earlier. The world is not a rattrap, not everybody will rebuff him once a relationship is formed. By the end of the story, the rat trap peddler has a change of heart, therefore gaining a new perspective about the world around him, gratitude and consideration for others. At the beginning of “The Rat Trap,” the peddler was deeply miserable leading tedious life, his misery led him to believe that the world was a cold, uncaring place; however after experiencing Ms. Williamson’s compassion, his view of the world is changed. He believed that his world was a big rat trap, and it tempted people with happiness and money. If they took the bait, the trap would close and the happiness would end.

He took life for granted and did not see or want any pleasure in his life because he was afraid it would be taken away again just as his wealth, family, friends and status were taken from him. The peddler was treated warmly by few people, the old man and Ms. Williamson; however the turning point in his views towards the world come after Ms. Williamson respects him regardless of his position in life. Ms. Williamson represents the kind of person, a rich, affluent person, that his cynicism was reserved for. In his downfall, in his previous life, he was downcast by wealthy people who were unkind and unsympathetic towards him. However, Ms. Williamson is different than the others and he realizes he shouldn’t judge people just because they are the type of people that hurt him before. Williamson changed his views on the group he despised the most, and unfairly type casted. With changing his views on that group, he stopped judging the world and its people and the world was seen in a different perspective.

The peddler also gains gratitude and learns how to express appreciation towards the people who help him out. When an old man gives the peddler food and shelter, the peddler steals the old man’s money. The beggar does not appreciate the old man’s services because he is bitter and selfish. He still remembers the wrongs people committed against him and does not care about others anymore. Moreover, he does not grasp the common concept of courtesy and respect for others. Later in the story, Ms. Williamson takes him in knowing he has lied and is a thief. He realizes her kindness and changes his view on others.

He recognizes that he must show kindness in return and writes a touching thank you note. Another lesson the mendicant learns throughout the course of the story is to be considerate of others. At the end of the novel, he makes amends with the old man by returning his money and writing Edla a thank you note. He understands what he did to the man was wrong and that was not returning the kindness and trust given to him. He apologized for lying to the girl and her father and leaves her a present, a rat trap, the peddler finally gains respect for people and learns how to treat people with the kindness they deserve.

This short story teaches lessons on compassion, appreciation, and positivist to the peddler and the reader as well. These are classic lessons that educate the reader to make himself a better person and the world a better place. The peddler experiences kindness and sympathy from others and at the end of the story finally returns it. His experiences finally release his self pity and negativity is replaced with a more positive attitude about others. This new knowledge about the true humanity of others makes him appreciate and respect his world.


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