Lizzie saves her sister, Laura, through an act of self-sacrifice that occurs at the poem’s dramatic climax. Believing Laura to be on the brink of death, Lizzie seeks out the dangerous goblin men and, in doing so, places herself in extreme danger; she risks being tempted, as Laura and Jeanie were, to eat the forbidden fruit, and, although she does not know it when she sets out on this dangerous mission, she will also be physically—and, it is implied, sexually—assaulted by the goblin men. Rossetti uses biblical allusions to align Lizzie with Christ, whose sacrifice saves humanity from death, a radical decision given that Victorian society did not treat men and women as equals. Perhaps more radically still, Rossetti seems to suggest that the plight of fallen women might call out the nobler qualities—like bravery and self-sacrifice—in their unfallen sisters, calling them to become more like Christ.
Simply confronting the goblins alone, in the dark forest, is a significant sacrifice on Lizzie’s part for the sake of her sister. For Lizzie, the goblins are a source of terror. Not only was she so frightened of them that she “thrust a dimpled finger/ In each ear, shut eyes and ran” away, leaving Laura to contend with them alone and setting in motion her fall at the start of the poem. She has also observed firsthand their dangerous effects on women, having buried Jeanie and witnessed Laura’s suffering and decline after eating the fruit. The extreme fearfulness with which Lizzie initially regarded the goblins—coupled with her intense physical response to them, her veiled blushes and “tingling cheeks and finger tips”—indicates that she believes herself to be susceptible to their seductive sales pitch. By confronting the goblins, Lizzie willingly puts herself in danger and risks becoming a fallen woman herself, an important symbolic reversal of her previous act of sisterly abandonment.
Lizzie’s fears about the goblins are well-founded. When she arrives at the brook, they try to seduce her. Finding she will not give in to temptation, however, they begin to brutally assault Lizzie while also attempting to force their fruit into her mouth—an attempt to violate her body that might be read as a metaphorical rape. Lizzie, however, sacrifices her safety and subjects herself this attack because she is desperate to bring the goblins’ fruit back home to revive Laura—even if she is only able to bring back the “juice that syrupped all her face,/ And lodged in dimples of her chin,/ And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.” Unlike at the start of the poem, this time, Lizzie refuses to run away.
Determined to withstand the goblins’ attack, Lizzie is described in a series of images that emphasize her strength and moral purity in the midst of turmoil and danger. She is compared to “a beacon left alone/ In a hoary roaring sea,/ Sending up a golden fire” and “a fruit-crowned orange-tree/ White with blossoms honey-sweet/ Sore beset by wasp and bee.” More importantly for the religious elements of Rossetti’s allegory, Lizzie is also described as “a royal virgin town/ Topped with gilded dome and spire/ Close beleaguered by a fleet/ Mad to tug her standard down.” These lines seem to connect Lizzie with the Virgin Mary, who is often viewed as a second Eve. Through the birth of her son, Jesus, Mary was believed to have reversed the consequences of Eve’s fall and saved mankind from sin and death. This connection foreshadows the way that Lizzie’s sacrifice—in submitting to the goblins’ attack—will reverse Laura’s fall and secure her salvation.
Not only does Lizzie survive the goblins’ attack and refuse to eat their fruit, and not only, like the Virgin Mary, does she manage to reverse Laura’s fall. Through her act of self-sacrifice in undergoing this terrifying ordeal, Lizzie becomes thoroughly Christlike. When she returns home, she instructs Laura to lick and suck the goblins’ fruit juice, which covers her face and body, in words that echo those of Christ at the Last Supper: “Eat me, drink me, love me;/ Laura, make much of me.” In the Bible, Christ’s sacrifice in allowing himself to be tried, tortured, and crucified allows him to purchase eternal life for his followers. In the same way, Lizzie’s act of self-sacrifice secures the salvation of her sister, who recovers after sucking the fruit juices from Lizzie’s battered body. Like Christ, who transformed water into wine, Lizzie’s sacrifice transforms the once delicious goblin fruit—“Sweeter than honey from the rock”—into a bitter but life-restoring antidote.
Contrary to the dominant beliefs of her time, Rossetti seems to suggest that braving danger in order to help fallen women (who were often vilified by society) is what makes a woman Christlike, not maintaining sexual purity by avoiding danger altogether. Through Lizzie’s act of self-sacrifice, Laura is saved from Jeanie’s fate, and Lizzie, herself, grows in strength and understanding. In overcoming her fear, Lizzie sets an example for the young women of the next generation—including Lizzie’s and Laura’s own daughters—of the way that women should care for one another, “For there is no friend like a sister.”
Salvation and Sacrifice ThemeTracker
Salvation and Sacrifice Quotes in Goblin Market
One called her proud,
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.
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.
She cried “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”
“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”