Goblin Market

by

Christina Rossetti

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Hair Symbol Icon

In “Goblin Market,” women’s hair functions as a symbol of their purity and health—both spiritual and physical. At the start of the poem, Laura and Lizzie are both described as having golden hair, a desirable color during the nineteenth century and one that was often associated with youth, beauty, and purity in the literature of the time. Laura’s hair, in particular, might also be read as an allusion to Petrarch’s Laura, the beautiful, golden-haired, idealized woman immortalized as the love interest in the fourteenth-century poet’s sonnets (Rossetti was thoroughly familiar with Petrarch, incorporating allusions to his poetry within her own). When Laura and Lizzie are described as like “two wands of ivory/ Tipped with gold for awful kings,” their hair is associated with treasure, precious and pure enough to crown the scepter of a king. And earlier in the poem, Laura uses her golden hair as if it was literally gold or currency. At the goblins’ suggestion, Laura clips “a precious golden lock,” drops “a tear more rare than pearl,” and uses it to pay for their forbidden fruit. Hair is literally an extension of Laura’s self.

Within nineteenth-century culture, hair had great symbolic significance and value. Locks of hair were exchanged as tokens of love and kept as mementos of the dead. Hair also had material value, as many destitute women sold their hair to wigmakers. The act of giving away her precious hair in exchange for indulging in the sensual pleasures of the goblins’ fruit thus aligns Laura with the figure of the fallen woman. The change from golden hair to gray, then, symbolizes the loss of Laura’s youth and innocence after succumbing to temptation, selling a part of herself, and eating the fruit. As Laura loses her childlike innocence, she begins to physically age and decline, and this change is reflected in the quality of her hair. Laura’s hair only regains its golden color after she drinks the fruit juice that Lizzie brings back to her after a terrifying confrontation with the goblin men. Through Lizzie’s Christlike act of self-sacrifice, the goblins’ fruit is transformed from poisonous to restorative and life-giving. When Laura consumes it, it restores her youth and purity and the golden abundance of her hair.

Hair Quotes in Goblin Market

The Goblin Market quotes below all refer to the symbol of Hair. 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:
Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Goblin Market published in 2005.
Goblin Market Quotes

Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger tips.
“Lie close,” Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”

Related Characters: Laura (speaker), Lizzie, The Goblin Men
Related Symbols: The Goblin Men’s Fruit, Hair
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
“Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.”
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answered all together:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:

Related Characters: Laura (speaker), The Goblin Men (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Goblin Men’s Fruit, Hair
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

“Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the noonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more but dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.”

Related Characters: Lizzie (speaker), Laura, The Goblin Men, Jeanie
Related Symbols: The Goblin Men’s Fruit, Hair
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.

Related Characters: Laura, Lizzie
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

Related Characters: Lizzie, The Goblin Men
Related Symbols: The Goblin Men’s Fruit, Hair
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,—
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously,—
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire,—
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee,—
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tug her standard down.

Related Characters: Lizzie, The Goblin Men
Related Symbols: The Goblin Men’s Fruit, Hair
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Goblin Market LitChart as a printable PDF.
Goblin Market PDF

Hair Symbol Timeline in Goblin Market

The timeline below shows where the symbol Hair appears in Goblin Market. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Goblin Market
Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Icon
Women’s Role in Society Theme Icon
...regions the fruit has grown. Yet, hearing the goblins’ call, Laura “pricks” up her “ golden head .” (full context)
Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Icon
Women’s Role in Society Theme Icon
The goblins, however, point to Laura’s golden hair as an adequate payment and urge her to clip one of her curls to offer... (full context)
Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Icon
Women’s Role in Society Theme Icon
...fruit, and wore their flowers, but then pined away when the goblins abandoned her. Jeanie’s hair grew grey before she died in her prime. No grass will grow upon Jeanie’s grave,... (full context)
Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Icon
Women’s Role in Society Theme Icon
The two sisters then retire to sleep in the same bed, “ Golden head by golden head,” and with their arms enfolding one another. They are lulled to sleep... (full context)
Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Icon
Women’s Role in Society Theme Icon
...sees or hears them again. In her sorrow and anxiety, Laura becomes decrepit and her hair turns thin and gray. One day, she remembers the kernel stone that she brought back... (full context)
Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Icon
Women’s Role in Society Theme Icon
Salvation and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...looks become “evil.” Their anger escalates and they begin to attack Lizzie, pulling out her hair by the roots, clawing at her body, stamping on her feet, ripping her gown, and... (full context)
Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Icon
Salvation and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Laura leaps up from her chair and pulls at her hair. She fearfully asks Lizzie if she has eaten the goblins’... (full context)
Salvation and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...flowers, Laura awakens transformed. She laughs in her old innocent way and embraces Lizzie. Her hair returns to its golden color, showing “not one thread of grey,” and her youthfulness is... (full context)