Goblin Market


Christina Rossetti

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Temptation and Fallen Women Theme Analysis

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“Goblin Market” is a complex poetic allegory about sexual temptation. Writing in the mid-nineteenth century, at a time of strict societal expectations regarding women’s behavior, Christina Rossetti was intensely interested in the plight of fallen women—those women who, by society’s standards, were perceived to have given in to the temptation of engaging in sex outside of marriage and who were subsequently shunned. Rossetti’s fairytale-like poem focuses on two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, one of whom succumbs to sexual temptation with near-fatal consequences, while the other withstands temptation and saves her fallen sister. While it is tempting to read “Goblin Market” as a warning to women to avoid sexual temptation, Rossetti’s allegory also lends itself to more complex readings. In contrast to many other representations of fallen woman in nineteenth-century art and literature, Rossetti’s fallen woman, Laura, never loses her purity and is ultimately saved through the self-sacrificing love of her sister. Rossetti thus seems to argue, against the dominant view of her time, that fallenness is not a permanent state and that fallen women can be saved and reintegrated into their communities through the compassion and support of their unfallen sisters.

Opening her poem with the goblin men’s seductive cry, Rossetti immediately establishes them as figures symbolic of sexual temptation. The goblins seem to exist solely in order to tempt young women to purchase their delicious but poisonous fruits, which they describe in terms that are unmistakably erotic: from “Plump unpecked cherries”—simultaneously suggestive of virginity and sexual ripeness—to voluptuous “Bloom-down-cheeked peaches” that invite the buyer to touch as well as taste. Their sales pitch is effective; when Laura and Lizzie hear it, they crouch close to the ground and hide themselves not just to avoid looking at the dangerous goblin men, but seemingly also to hide the evidence of their sexual arousal: their blushes and “tingling cheeks and finger tips.” The goblins are an object of curiosity and desire, and their exotic fruit functions as a metaphor for forbidden desires that cause young women to transgress the boundaries of acceptable feminine behavior at the time. While Lizzie runs away to prevent herself from looking at the goblin men or sampling their fruit, Laura finds the spectacle of their bodies—which resemble animals—irresistible. Although the goblins use gentle, seductive language to persuade the women, their potential for sexual violence is foreshadowed by their animalistic appearances, which hint at their wildness and unpredictability.

Laura suffers a kind of symbolic sexual fall that is set in motion when she disregards her sister’s warnings and looks at the goblin men, sensuously stretching forth “her gleaming neck” because her “last restraint is gone.” Although Laura is apprehensive about accepting the goblins’ fruits without paying, they persuade her to cut a lock of her hair and “Buy from” them “with a golden curl.” In nineteenth-century culture, locks of hair were considered to be precious and were exchanged between lovers, friends, and family members. Symbolically, the goblins commodify a part of Laura’s body—a part associated with love and intimacy—so when Laura cuts her hair in exchange for the fruit, she symbolically sells herself and becomes aligned with the fallen woman or prostitute. Her immediate regret is signaled by the fact that she “dropped a tear more rare than pearl,” however she sucks the fruit “until her lips [a]re sore,” with a violent intensity that is distinctly sexual. Here, Laura is not just aligned with fallen women but with the biblical Eve, the archetype of the fallen woman, who ate forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and was expelled from the Garden of Eden. Like Eve, Laura similarly loses her innocence after eating the fruit; the desire to purchase more preoccupies her thoughts, and when she finds that the goblins have abandoned her, she pines away, ages prematurely, and refuses to eat. Following a pattern established by many works of art and literature about the fallen woman, the goblin men abandon Laura after seducing her, destroy her peace, and bring her to the verge of death.

Rossetti allows Laura to avoid the typical fates for fallen women in nineteenth-century literature, however, which are death, exile, or transportation to the colonies. In doing so, Rossetti seems to suggest that fallenness is only a temporary state rather than a stain that remains on a woman for the rest of her life and that complete rehabilitation and reintegration into her community remains possible. Laura’s rehabilitation is made possible by her sister, Lizzie. Lizzie knowingly puts herself in danger by confronting the goblins at nightfall to buy more fruit for Laura; she understands that, like Laura, she might be tricked into eating their fruit herself. However, the goblins, finding that they cannot persuade Lizzie to eat, violently attack her. Not only do they scratch her arms and pull out her hair, but they try to force fruit into her mouth in a scene that resembles a sexual assault. Lizzie withstands their attack and refuses to eat. Triumphantly returning home to Laura, Lizzie instructs her to lick the juices from her face with the sexually suggestive words: “Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices,” “Eat me, drink me, love me.” Despite their sexual undertones, Lizzie’s words evoke Christ’s instructions to his followers at the Last Supper to drink his blood and eat his body. Laura is revived by sucking the fruit juices from Lizzie’s body, as if she has taken part in a sisterly version of holy communion. Lizzie, then, functions as a Christ-like figure, whose self-sacrifice and willingness to risk death enables her to purchase the redemption of her sister.

The poem concludes years later, with Laura explaining to her own and Lizzie’s daughters the importance of sisters protecting and supporting one another, “For there is no friend like a sister.” Rossetti thus argues that fallen women are not inherently tarnished or irredeemable, and can be reclaimed through the love and labor of other women.

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Temptation and Fallen Women ThemeTracker

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Temptation and Fallen Women Quotes in Goblin Market

Below you will find the important quotes in Goblin Market related to the theme of Temptation and Fallen Women.
Goblin Market Quotes

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”

Related Characters: The Goblin Men (speaker), Laura, Lizzie
Related Symbols: The Goblin Men’s Fruit
Page Number: 5-6
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Related Characters: Laura, The Goblin Men
Related Symbols: The Goblin Men’s Fruit
Page Number: 7
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: