Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Selma Lagerlof's The Rattrap describes how people can help bring about a transformation of character

The lesson, The Rattrap describes how transformation of character is often the result of the impact of good people on one’s life. In the case of the peddler, it is a drawn out process starting from the time when he comes across the old crofter and then ending up with his departure from the Manor.
In the beginning we see the peddler as a rather cynical and asocial kind of a person, a person who would rather take revenge on the world than view it with kindness and tolerance. This, in effect was because of the fact that he had never come across kind people in life! This, rather negative and rather asocial attitude towards the world is because, ‘The world had, of course, never been very kind to him’. The  bad company one keeps often leaves a lasting effect on the character, and this rings true for the vagabond, until at least he comes across good people who want to do good for him.
What is transforming about goodness is that it is all about unconditional kindness. This is what the rattrap seller is not able to understand, thus he views the Old Crofter’s kindness with suspicion, believing perhaps that by sharing his confidence, especially the bag with the thirty Kroner, he wants to tempt him with a bait, so that he gets trapped in a world as a rattrap! When he shows him the bag with the thirty Kroner, the peddler notices him, ‘nodding knowingly’ as if he were the devil’s advocate, the tempter who is bent upon taking something from the peddler in return for his hospitality, tobacco, porridge, and confidence!
The process of transformation starts immediately after the peddler enters the forest after leaving the Old Crofter and then finds himself lost. This starts a process of introspection and reflection and he thinks how, ‘He had let himself be fooled by a bait and had been caught. The whole forest, with its trunks and branches, its thickets and fallen logs, closed in upon him like an impenetrable prison from which he could never escape.’ He has literally and symbolically become trapped and punished for his misdemeanour of not respecting the confidence reposed in him by his host. One might also state that when he gets trapped in the forest, it is as if he has gotten a taste of his own medicine for believing so negatively about the world as a rattrap where even the smallest things like warmth and clothes are baits!
The ironmaster’s invitation to visit the manor is also a part of the process of transformation, although one might not look at his invitation as being motivated by pure kindness because the ironmaster was kind towards the peddler since he thought him to be an old comrade of his! It is unfortunate that the moment the ironmaster realises that the peddler is not his old friend, he tells the peddler to get out of his house!
It is Edla’s intervention however that sets the peddler thinking. When she intercedes on his behalf, the peddler wonders, ‘What could the crazy idea be?’ Later when she tells him that he is to keep the suit as a Christmas present, and that he can spend next Christmas with them, ‘He only stared at the young girl in boundless amazement.’
Edla’s honesty, unconditional kindness, and ability to put him at ease are the qualities that force the peddler to undergo a transformation. While the ironmaster made the peddler feel vulnerable and insecure, even while at the iron mill, Edla was able to put him at ease! The peddler felt safe and secure in her company because she was a compassionate person. While at the iron mill, she tells him very clearly that, ‘you will be allowed to leave us just as freely as you come. Only please stay with us over Christmas Eve.’ It is this sincerity and unconditional kindness that wins over the peddler.
As a final thank you gift the peddler leaves a rattrap with a letter in it. Both, the rattrap and the letter are a proof of a positive transformation of a peddler from a vagabond and a petty thief into a Captain in the army. The peddler won his dignity in himself because Edla had ‘been so nice’ to him all day, ‘as if I was a Captain’. He wanted, therefore, ‘to be nice’ to her in ‘return’. Just as bad begets bad, in the same way, good begets good! Ultimately one can only accept that the process of transformation was the result of three people being kind towards the peddler – the Old Crofter, the Iron master, and Edla. Each one of these people had an important role to play in this process of transformation.
The Rattrap is written as an allegory, rather like a fairy tale with a message to convey. The message apparently is that the company of good people can bring about a change for the better in us. The company one keeps defines a person's character. In the beginning peddler was cynical, suspicious, and bore ill will to others because of the kind of company he kept. He liked to think ill of the world, he liked to think of the world as a rattrap because the world had never been kind to him. He had never come across people who did things without expecting anything in return. There was always an ulterior motive behind each action of his so called friends in the beginning. It is only when he comes across the 'Unconditional Kindness' of the Old Crofter and Edla that the peddler comes to understand what kindness means. The letter that he leaves for Edla at the end is proof enough that kindness has the ability to transform a person. Edla's kindness prompted the peddler to change his ways. He is forced to shed his tramp clothes and tramp manners and instead take upon himself the dignity and respectability of a Captain in the army because Edla had been kind towards him, she had faith in him and treated him with respect.

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