The Rattrap Summary by Selma Lagerlof

A Desperate Poor Man

The story is about a desperate and poor man who wanders the streets in order to fill his belly. He steals, lies and cheats to survive. He also makes rattraps sometimes if he can find enough scrap to make them.

In a philosophical way, he considers the entire world a giant rattrap where people are allured into a caged and imprisoned life. For him the allure was survival.

A Winter Cold

One day, he is caught in the winter cold and looks for shelter with an old tenant farmer. The old man is lonely but compassionate. He takes the rattrap dealer in and offers him warm food and clothes. They enjoy the night playing and chatting.

The old man tells him about the money he earns by selling his cow’s milk and even shows him where he keeps the money. The next morning they both depart. But once the old man leaves his house the dealer comes back and steals his money from the safe.

The old man is dejected to learn about the betrayal. The dealer, however, is remorseless and runs into the forest to avoid any detection. But he finds himself lost and directionless once inside the forest. He ponders over his rattrap theory and accepts that the money was the bait he fell for.

A Metalwork Place

But when all hope was lost he hears loud metal clanging and thudding. He follows the sound to a metalwork place. The owner discovers him and mistakes him for his old army pal. He believes him to be Captain Von Stahle who became poor and homeless after a spell in the military.

The dealer does not correct him but refuses him when the owner invites him to his house. However, the owner sends her daughter to convince the dealer and he obliges. Edla, the daughter, is very kind and friendly with him.

After they arrive at the house, they are welcomed to Christmas celebrations. The dealer saves and showers and puts on nice and clean clothes. But this exposes his true identity and enrages the owner.

The dealer tries to put forth his rattrap theory as an excuse but it is dismissed. The owner (host) feels that he has been duped and asks the dealer to leave at once.  Elda, on the contrary, calms her father and asks the visitor to spend the holiday with them. Her generosity leaves a mark on the dealer.

True Identity of Visitor

The next day when Edla and her father reach the church they learn about the true identity and crimes of their visitor. They are disappointed and hurt. When they return home they expect to find things and items missing but find a surprise instead.

There a small rattrap and money beside it. It also carries a note by the dealer who acknowledges his misdeeds and asks for forgiveness. He requests Edla to return the money to its rightful owner (the farmer) and then signs the letter with the name ‘Captain Von Stahle’.