Sunday, 3 July 2016

Selma Lagerlof's The Rattrap is all about Transformation!

The Rattrap, by Selma Lagerlof is an allegory in the tradition of fables and fairy tales  that  suggests that there is a little of goodness hidden somewhere in the minds of even the most battle-hardened drudge born on this Earth. The greatest question is, however, to be able to tap or exploit this goodness so as to bring out a transformation in that person!

Without doubt one can say that the entire story describes a process of transformation that takes in the Peddler.  Take for example the character of the Peddler in the beginning of the story and then compare his character with the writer of the letter towards the end! You will notice that both of them are diametrically and radically different from each other! The  Peddler in the beginning of the story is a revengeful, vindictive, and jealous person who has no scruples in robbing others. He has poor self-esteem, and is full of feelings of vengeance, hostility, and malevolence towards the whole world. We see him as a perpetually suspicious man who views the kindness of others with doubt.

Enter the new reformed and transformed Peddler. He now has a name and title. He has the dignity and self esteem of a captain in the army! The letter that he leaves for Edla is an affirmation of the transformation that had taken place within him. He signs the letter off as Captain Von Stahle. The gift of the Rattrap with the thirty kroner is a symbol and acceptance on his part, of the change that has taken place in him. The letter and the gift are both his way of thanking Edla for bringing out a transformation in him. She had treated him with the respect and dignity due to an army captain, thus he was returning goodness with goodness, for if evil begets evil, then in the same way, good begets good!

The process of transformation takes place in three very clear stages. The first stage in the process of transformation takes place when he comes across the old crofter. The old crofter, unlike everyone else he has met in life, greets him with a smile. He gives him porridge, shares his tobacco, plays a game of cards 'mjolis' with him, and then shares his confidence with him. To prove that he is not lying , he shows the Peddler the thirty kroner. The overarching emotion that courses through the Peddler's mind is that of doubt and suspicion! As per his world view, the old crofter might as well be the Devil's advocate who is trying to get him trapped by tempting him with the thirty kroner as the bait! That this was what he thought is proved when he gets lost in the forest and berates himself for having fallen for the thirty kroner. He looks at the forest as a Rattrap!

The second stage in the process of transformation takes place when the Iron Master comes across him at the ironworks. Mistaking him to be an old comrade, Niels Olof, he invites the Peddler to his home. The Peddler initially plays along but then gets frightened when the Iron master insists that he should accompany him to the Manor to share in the Christmas fare. Somehow he knows, the Peddler, that to to to the Manor would be risky and dangerous, as if he was entering a 'lion's den'. What if he got caught by the Sheriff? The overarching emotion in the second stage is the emotion of fear and terror - the fear of being caught for stealing the thirty kroner.

The third stage in the process of transformation takes place when Edla intervenes on her father's behalf and she is able to convince him that he will be free to leave whenever he wished. Later when the Iron master realises his mistake and he threatens to hand him over to the Sheriff, Edla intercedes on his behalf. Her father thinks she had gone crazy, and the stranger is puzzled by her insistence that he stay and enjoy the Christmas fare with them, not only this, but she even tells him that the suit he is wearing is his to keep, a gift from them, and to add to all this, she  tells him he is welcome to spend the next Christmas with them! The principal emotion the Peddler goes through in the last stage of transformation is the emotion and feeling of amazement, and awe, that a person totally unknown to him should fight for him so spiritedly!

The writer, Selma Lagerlof ends up suggesting that it is unconditional love and unconditional kindness that have he power to transform people. The Old Crofter showed unconditional kindness towards the Peddler. The Iron master did not show unconditional kindness towards the Peddler, because the kindness he showed to the stranger was intended for and old comrade, not an imposter. This does not however mean that the Iron master did not have a role to play in the process of transformation. In fact by agreeing to his daughter's pleas, he was furthering the process of transformation that had been started by the old Crofter. The final stage adds up to the contribution of the old Crofter and even the business minded Iron master when Edla displays her unconditional kindness towards the stranger. Her conviction that in the midst of all that was bad in the Peddler, there lurked deep within, a little boy who was good in nature . It was to that boy that Edla appealed when she fought on his behalf! If negativity begets negativity, then surely this story proves that positivity begets positivity, in the same way that unconditional kindness brings out what is good in us!

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