She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister
The Tree of Knowledge has been the subject of several poems and stories for many years. As an examination of the failings of human nature, many have felt compelled to examine “what causes us to sin?” But what if Adam weren’t Adam but another Eve? Would the story end differently? Would the moral be different? Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” presents a view of the fall of humanity and the redemption of humanity from a female and perhaps unintentionally feminist point of view.
In the story of Genesis, Adam and Eve and the first of humanity created by God who live in Eden with no knowledge of illness or death or sin. But one day, Eve is tempted by a serpent to eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. She then shares this with Adam and both are soon cast out of Eden, condemned to death, but having tasted knowledge. They are never able to go back or to redeem their sins. This story from genesis gives rise to the concept of Original Sin in the Christian and Catholic faiths. The concept states that all of mankind has a tendency towards sin and that we “inherit our fallen nature” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). Humans do not inherit guilt so much as a tendency to be sinners. But how do we fight this tendency? Can people be redeemed? Christina Rossetti proposes a solution through her poem “Goblin Market.”
Rossetti’s poem starts with the temptation of the two main characters, sisters Laura and Lizzie. They can hear the goblins calling them out to come and taste their forbidden fruits. Lizzie remains strong but Laura is unable to fight the temptation. Laura, like Eve, decides to gain illicit knowledge. Laura tastes the fruit and is deeply changed. She is unable to think of anything else but finding the market for more fruit and begins to wither away. Lizzie decides to save her sister and seeks out the market but where her sister is weak, she remains strong and unyielding. She does not eat the offered fruit even though she is assaulted by the goblins. She manages to instead outsmart the goblins and brings home juices to help heal her sister. She offers her body up to heal her sister “Laura make much of me: For your sake I have braved the glen and had much to do with goblin merchant men” (Rossetti, 1661). She heals her sister through her strength. And later when Laura tells this story to her children she tells them “ there is no friend like a sister . . . to lift one if one totters down, to strengthen whilst one stands.”
Suppose that instead of eating the apple with Eve, that Adam instead said no and stood strong to help Eve? Christina Rossetti’s experience with other “fallen women” suggest that perhaps her solution to help other women wasn’t to marry them to other men but for other women to stand strong for them. And to help guide them to find their own strength.
“Ancestral Sin.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.
“Original Sin.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.
Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch, Heather Henderson, and William Sharpe. New York: Longman, 1999. N. pag. Print.
“Vatican: The Holy See.” Vatican: The Holy See. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.