Class 12 English Flamingos

The Rattrap

Selma Lagerlof

Think as You Read

Question 1: From where did the peddler get the idea of the world being a rattrap?

Answer: Rattrap was his only available means to escape from abject poverty. So, it was natural that his mind was always occupied with the rattrap. One day when he was thinking about the rattrap, he god the idea of the world being a rattrap.

Question 2: Why was he amused by this idea?

Answer: The peddler was of the opinion that the world had never been kind to him. By comparing the world with a rattrap he got the luxury of thinking all sorts of ills about the world. This gave him instant pleasure and a vent to release his anger. So, he was amused by the idea of the world being a rattrap.

Question 3: Did the peddler expect the kind of hospitality that he received from the crofter?

Answer: The peddler was used to unwelcome gestures and words from everybody. So, he never expected the kind of hospitality that he received from the crofter.

Question 4: Why was the crofter so talkative and friendly with the peddler?

Answer: The crofter was lonely person who needed someone to talk to. So, he was so talkative and friendly with the peddler.

Question 5: Why did he show the thirty kroner to the peddler?

Answer: The crofter probably wanted to share his success and happiness with peddler. That is why he showed the thirty kroner to the peddler.

Question 6: Did the peddler respect the confidence reposed in him by the crofter?

Answer: No

Question 7: What made the peddler think that he had indeed fallen into a rattrap?

Answer: Once the peddler stole thirty kroner from the leather pouch he was afraid of getting caught. He tried to escape that situation and ended up getting lost in the maze of the forest. It was like falling from a frying pan into fire. This made the peddler think that he had indeed fallen into a rattrap.

Question 8: Why did the ironmaster speak kindly to the peddler and invite him home?

Answer: The ironmaster thought the peddler to be a long lost acquaintance. So, he spoke kindly to the peddler and invited him home.

Question 9: Why did the peddler decline the invitation?

Answer: The peddler was afraid of landing in prison for the crime of theft he had committed. So, he declined the invitation.

Question 10: What made the peddler accept Edla Willmansson’s invitation?

Answer: The friendly gesture and nice words by Edla Willmansson had such a profound impact that the peddler accepted her invitation.

Question 11: What doubt did Edla have about the peddler?

Answer: The peddler’s mannerisms showed signs that he was not the Captain which Edla and her father thought him to be. Instead he turned out be an uneducated person.

Question 12: When did the ironmaster realize his mistake?

Answer: Once the peddler went through the makeover of cleaning and shaving, the ironmaster realized that he was nowhere even close to his old acquaintance.

Question 13: Why did Edla still entertain the peddler even after she knew the truth about him?

Answer: Edla wanted to do some charity on the occasion of Christmas. So, she entertained the peddler even after knowing the truth about him.

Question 14: Why was Edla happy to see the gift left by the peddler?

Answer: Edla was probably happy by the peddler conceding guilty and leaving the proceeds of his crime.

Question 15: Why did the peddler sign himself as Captain von Stahle?

Answer: The peddler probably did not want to reveal his true identity. There is another possibility of him falling into the rattrap of developing a sense of grandeur of being a captain even for a few moments.

Understanding the Text

Question 1: How does the peddler interpret the acts of kindness and hospitality shown by the crofter, the ironmaster and his daughter?

Answer: The peddler thinks the whole world to be a rattrap. He thinks that the acts of kindness and hospitality shown by the crofter, the ironmaster and his daughter are akin to rattraps for poor people. The peddler thinks that the crofter even kept an alternate rattrap in the form of leather pouch with cash inside. The peddler was eventually caught in the rattrap and as a result ended up stealing the cash. After that he was robbed of his peace of mind and was forced to wander in forest.

Question 2: What are the instances in the story that show that the character of the ironmaster is different from that of his daughter in many ways?

Answer: The ironmaster and his daughter have different characters in certain aspects. The ironmaster invites the peddler to spend Christmas because he thinks the peddler to be an old acquaintance. But his daughter invites the peddler because she just wants to do some charity for a desolate person. Once the ironmaster comes to know that the peddler was none of the old acquaintances, he is making his mind to ask the peddler to go away from his home. But his daughter decides to allow the peddler to spend the Christmas evening at her house. She even resists her father from calling the Sheriff to start proceedings against the peddler.

Question 3: The story has many instances of unexpected reactions from the characters to others’ behaviour. Pick out the instances of these surprises.

Answer: The first instance is when the crofter invites the peddler to spend a night at his house. The peddler is used to being shooed away from every home, so it was a surprising gesture from the crofter. Most of the people ignore a vagabond which the peddler is. But the ironmaster takes out time to look at him attentively. This is another example of surprising behaviour. Ironmaster thought that the peddler must have stolen some silver spoons from his house. But instead the peddler left a rattrap (with cash inside) before leaving the house of ironmaster.

Question 4: What made the peddler finally change his ways?

Answer: The peddler was highly impressed with the behaviour of ironsmith’s daughter. He had never got so much respect and attention in his life. This motivated the peddler to change his ways.

Question 5: How does the metaphor of the rattrap serve to highlight the human predicament?

Answer: Humans are greedy by nature. A human being generally gives in to his innate greed. But the greed causes all the miseries in life. As Gautam Buddha preached, “Greed is the root of all the misery.” Greed arises out of our desire to satisfy our needs. As the peddler says that cheese and pork kept in a rattrap are similar to various inducements we get in life. Once someone gives in to an inducement one is caught in the trap with no scope for escape. People get trapped in never ending cycle of earning and spending in order to satisfy their greed. Some people turn into incorrigible criminals just after giving in to an inducement.

Question 6: The peddler comes out as a person with a subtle sense of humour. How does this serve in lightening the seriousness of the theme of the story and also endear him to us?

Answer: This is a serious story, depicting all the pains and sorrow which a poor person suffers. No matter how hard he tries, he never comes out of the drudgery of barely able to make two ends meet. This story is all about the sorrows and dejections which a poor person suffers continuously. It can be said that the central idea of the story is about human suffering because of depravity. Peddler’s subtle sense of humour helps in lightening the seriousness of the theme of the story. In spite of all his problems, the peddler succeeds in tickling our funny bones. It makes him endearing to the reader.

Talking About the Text

Question 1: The reader’s sympathy is with the peddler right from the beginning of the story. Why is this so? Is the sympathy justified?

Answer: The peddler once used to be engaged in gainful employment. But as bad times came he became unemployed. He is not poor because he does not want to work but because he is not getting opportunity. He is trying whatever he can do to earn a decent living but is unable to come out of the rut. So, readers can develop sympathy for him. The peddler is not a criminal but situations force him to commit the crime of theft. He is honest about his situation and limitations. So, I think reader’s sympathy to him is justified.

Question 2: The story also focuses on human loneliness and the need to bond with others.

Answer: The main protagonist and other key protagonists in this story, all suffer from loneliness. The peddler suffers from loneliness because of his poverty. He is so poor that people don’t want to come anywhere near him. The crofter is lonely in spite of owning a house and a cow. He invites the peddler to his him so that he can have a person to talk to. The ironmaster is lonely because he and his daughter have nobody to share their joy during Christmas. Apart from focusing on the poverty and its related problems, the story also focuses on human loneliness and the need to bond with others.

Question 3: Have you known/heard of an episode where a good deed or an act of kindness has changed a person’s view of the world?

Answer: There are many real and imaginary stories where a good deed or an act of kindness has changed a person’s view of the world. You may have read the story of Baba Bharti and Daku Khadag Singh. Baba Bharti was an ascetic who had a pet horse named Sultan. The horse was very dear to Baba Bharti. Daku Khadag Singh had his eyes set on the muscular beauty that Sultan was. One day, Khadag Singh donned the robe of a beggar and sat on the roadside to wait for Baba Bharti and his horse. When Baba Bharti stopped to help the beggar, Khadag Singh snatched the horse and fled away. While racing astride the horse, Khadag Singh was told by Baba Bharti not to disclose that incidence to anyone. Baba said that otherwise people would stop helping the beggars. This was a touching statement that changed Khadag Singh’s mind forever. At the end of the story, he returned the horse to Baba Bharti.

Question 4: The story is both entertaining and philosophical.

Answer: This story is both entertaining and philosophical. Let us first see the entertaining aspect. The author has used dollops of humour to make it an interesting story. The peddler turns philosophical instead of being sad at his state of affairs. He begins comparing the life to a rattrap, the ware that he sells. This story is philosophical because it focuses on miseries which are heaped upon a person due to poverty. This story also focuses on human loneliness and the need to find a company.