The Rattrap

by

Selma Lagerlöf

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The Peddler / The Stranger Character Analysis

The protagonist and central character of the story is an unnamed man who lives as a tramp wandering the countryside and selling rattraps, which he makes out of wire in his spare time. Because he does not make enough money from this to survive, the rattrap peddler also engages in petty thievery and begging—though even with this he still wears only rags and is constantly on the verge of starvation. At the start of the story, the peddler is cynical and opportunistic. He has a difficult lot in life, and takes whatever he can get and trusts no one. He even steals money from the crofter after the old man offers him his hospitality. Indeed, it seems that the peddler’s only pleasure in life comes from thinking of the world as one large, cruel rattrap, and ruminating on other people he knows who have been ensnared. After experiencing true kindness from Elda Wilmansson, however, the peddler seems to change his mindset. He returns the stolen money and declares that he wants to “be nice,” having been freed from the “rattrap” of life by Edla’s compassion and generosity. The peddler’s transformation shows Lagerlöf’s idea of the latent potential for goodness in all human beings.

The Peddler / The Stranger Quotes in The Rattrap

The The Rattrap quotes below are all either spoken by The Peddler / The Stranger or refer to The Peddler / The Stranger. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Human Kindness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the National Council of Education Research and Training edition of The Rattrap published in 2014.
The Rattrap Quotes

He had naturally been thinking of his rattraps when suddenly he was struck by the idea that the whole world about him […] was nothing but a big rattrap. It had never existed for any other purpose than to set baits for people. It offered riches and joys, shelter and food, heat and clothing, exactly as the rattrap offered cheese and pork, and as soon as anyone let himself be tempted to touch the bait, it closed in on him, and then everything came to an end.

The world had, of course, never been very kind to him, so it gave him unwonted joy to think ill of it in this way. It became a cherished pastime of his, during many dreary ploddings, to think of people he knew who had let themselves be caught in the dangerous snare, and of others who were still circling around the bait.

Related Characters: The Peddler / The Stranger
Related Symbols: Rattraps
Explanation and Analysis:

As he walked along with the money in his pocket he felt quite pleased with his smartness. He realized, of course, that at first he dared not continue on the public highway, but must turn off the road, into the woods. During the first hours this caused him no difficulty. Later in the day it became worse, for it was a big and confusing forest which he had gotten into […] He walked and walked without coming to the end of the wood, and finally he realized that he had only been walking around in the same part of the forest. All at once he recalled his thoughts about the world and the rattrap. Now his own turn had come. He had let himself be fooled by a bait and had been caught.

Related Symbols: Rattraps
Explanation and Analysis:

The ironmaster did not follow the example of the blacksmiths, who had hardly deigned to look at the stranger. He walked close up to him, looked him over carefully, then tore off his slouch hat to get a better view of his face.

“But of course it is you, Nils Olof!” he said. “How you do look!”

The man with the rattraps had never before seen the ironmaster at Ramsjö and did not even know what his name was. But it occurred to him that if the fine gentleman thought he was an old acquaintance, he might perhaps throw him a couple of kronor. Therefore he did not want to undeceive him all at once.

“Yes, God knows things have gone downhill with me”, he said.

Related Characters: The Peddler / The Stranger (speaker), The Ironmaster (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rattraps
Explanation and Analysis:

She looked at him compassionately, with her heavy eyes, and then she noticed that the man was afraid. “Either he has stolen something or else he has escaped from jail”, she thought, and added quickly, “You may be sure, Captain, that you will be allowed to leave us just as freely as you came. Only please stay with us over Christmas Eve.”

She said this in such a friendly manner that the rattrap peddler must have felt confidence in her.

“It would never have occurred to me that you would bother with me yourself, miss,” he said. “I will come at once.”

Related Characters: The Peddler / The Stranger (speaker), Edla Wilmansson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rattraps
Explanation and Analysis:

“I am thinking of this stranger here,” said the young girl. “He walks and walks the whole year long, and there is probably not a single place in the whole country where he is welcome and can feel at home. Wherever he turns he is chased away. Always he is afraid of being arrested and cross-examined. I should like to have him enjoy a day of peace with us here—just one in the whole year.”

The ironmaster mumbled something in his beard. He could not bring himself to oppose her.

“It was all a mistake, of course,” she continued. “But anyway I don’t think we ought to chase away a human being whom we have asked to come here, and to whom we have promised Christmas cheer.”

Explanation and Analysis:

As soon as they got up from the table he went around to each one present and said thank you and good night, but when he came to the young girl she gave him to understand that it was her father’s intention that the suit which he wore was to be a Christmas present—he did not have to return it; and if he wanted to spend next Christmas Eve in a place where he could rest in peace, and be sure that no evil would befall him, he would be welcomed back again.

The man with the rattraps did not answer anything to this. He only stared at the young girl in boundless amazement.

Related Symbols: Rattraps
Explanation and Analysis:

“Honoured and noble Miss,

“Since you have been so nice to me all day long, as if I was a captain, I want to be nice to you, in return, as if I was a real captain—for I do not want you to be embarrassed at this Christmas season by a thief; but you can give back the money to the old man on the roadside, who has the money pouch hanging on the window frame as a bait for poor wanderers.

“The rattrap is 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 that way he got power to clear himself.

“Written with friendship

And high regard,

“Captain von Stahle.”

Related Symbols: Rattraps
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Rattrap LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Rattrap PDF

The Peddler / The Stranger Character Timeline in The Rattrap

The timeline below shows where the character The Peddler / The Stranger appears in The Rattrap. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Rattrap
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
The narrator describes the peddler , a vagabond who wanders the road making and selling rattraps. He doesn’t make enough... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
The peddler ’s life is “sad and monotonous” as he walks the roads, but one day he... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
One evening, the peddler comes to a cottage and decides to ask for shelter. He is greeted by an... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
...men wake up, say goodbye, and go their separate ways. Half an hour later, however, the rattrap peddler returns to the crofter’s cabin. He breaks the window and takes the thirty kronor from... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
The peddler feels pleased with himself, but knows he now must stay off the road for a... (full context)
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
...to get dark, and as it is late December the forest grows cold and gloomy. The peddler lies down on the ground and despairs, thinking that “his last moment had come”—but then... (full context)
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
...and the forge and bellows are very loud, so at first the two don’t notice the peddler enter. He goes to stand near the furnace and warm himself, and the workers barely... (full context)
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
...work is going. That night as he makes his rounds, the ironmaster notices the ragged stranger warming himself by the furnace. The ironmaster is curious, and approaches the man. He pulls... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
The peddler knows that the ironmaster is mistaken, but thinks that he might be able to get... (full context)
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
The peddler thinks that going up to the house with his stolen money would be like “throwing... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
...who is “not at all pretty, but […] modest and quite shy,” wakes the sleeping stranger and introduces herself as Edla Willmansson. (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
Edla speaks kindly to the peddler , saying she is sorry that he has fallen on such hard times. She notices... (full context)
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Edla offers the peddler a fur coat, which he puts on over his rags, and he gets into the... (full context)
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...clothes. He looks much better, but now the ironmaster realizes that he made a mistake—the stranger is not his old regimental comrade. (full context)
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Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
The ironmaster is angry, and the peddler makes no attempt to prolong his charade. He reminds the ironmaster that he begged to... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
...the peddler to leave immediately. Edla stops him, however, and says that she wants the stranger to stay with them. The ironmaster is incredulous and demands to know why. Edla, who... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
Loneliness and Companionship Theme Icon
...whom we have promised Christmas cheer.” The ironmaster is displeased but relents, and Edla leads the peddler to the table to eat. The peddler eats, but keeps looking at Edla, wondering why... (full context)
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The rest of Christmas Eve passes normally, with the stranger sleeping all day and only waking up for meals, and once to see the lighted... (full context)
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Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
...and the ironmaster wake up early and go to the Christmas service at church, leaving the peddler still sleeping. They return at around ten o’clock, and on the way back Edla is... (full context)
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
When Edla and the ironmaster return to their house, they learn that the peddler has left, but he didn’t take anything with him—in fact, he left something behind as... (full context)
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Trust vs. Cynicism Theme Icon
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Identity and Naming Theme Icon
The letter is addressed to Edla, written in the peddler ’s “large, jagged” handwriting. In it, he thanks her for being so kind to him... (full context)