Underlying Themes of Christianity in “Goblin Market”
Beneath the rich language and suggestive imagery in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” exists a strong parallel to Christianity; more specifically─ the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Though the main intent behind this poem is uncertain (was it truly intended for children?), the underlying Christian influence in the story of Lizzie and Laura is undeniable.
Written by Christina Rossetti in 1859, “Goblin Market” tells the story of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, and the daily temptation they must face in the form of goblins who sell fruit near the brook where they collect water. The poem itself is very sexual in nature, and adult themes and evocative imagery abounds. The goblins serve to entice the two sisters to come and buy their orchard fruits; they call out to the women, tempting their taste buds with descriptions of “Bright-fire-like barberries/Figs to fill your mouth/Citrons from the South/Sweet to tongue and sound to eye/Come buy, come buy” (Rossetti 26-31).
Both the temptation represented by the goblins and their fruit, and the relationship played out between Laura and Lizzie serve to signify the Christian themes within the poem. Specifically, the story of Adam and Eve and the temptation they encounter in the Garden of Eden from the Bible seems to greatly influence the occurrences in “Goblin Market”. The most prominent reference to this biblical story is the variety of fruit in which the goblins attempt to peddle to the innocent passerby. The fruit is alluring, and its scent sweet. Laura is quickly tempted by the goblins’ calls, but Lizzie warns: “…No, no, no/their offers should not charm us/their evil gifts would harm us” (Rossetti 64-66).
Just as the cunning serpent served to lead Eve astray in the Garden of Eden, so the goblins, with their animal-like characteristics, tempt Laura: “The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste/In tones as smooth as honey/The cat-faced purr’d/The rat-paced spoke a word/Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard/One parrot-voice and jolly/Cried “Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly/One whistled like a bird” (Rossetti 107-114). The goblins work as one to lure Laura in; they prey on her weakness, just as the serpent tricks Eve into eating the fruit from the tree─ though God has forbidden it. In yet another parallel to the story of Adam and Eve, Lizzie has given Laura a similar warning; but just as Eve disobeys in the Garden of Eden, Laura too pays no heed to her sister’s words.
Just as there are consequences for Eve for disobeying God, so there are consequences for Laura. The goblins convince Laura, though she has no money, to trade a piece of her hair for the fruit. “She clipped a precious golden lock/She dropped a tear more rare than pearl/Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red” (Rossetti 126-128). Laura has traded her innocence for a taste of the fruit. Just as the serpent persuades Eve into committing the first sin, Laura too commits a sin. The fruit is described: “Stronger than man-rejoicing wine/Cleared than water flowed that juice/She never tasted such before/How should it cloy with length of use?/She sucked and sucked and sucked the more/Fruits which that unknown orchard bore/She sucked until her lips were sore/Then flung the emptied rinds away” (Rossetti 130-137).
Just as God cast Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because Eve gave in to temptation, so now the goblins shun Laura. She has had a taste of the “forbidden fruit” and now can think of nothing else but to taste it again. The goblins, however, can no longer be heard by Laura; and though she seeks them frantically, she cannot see the goblins or their fruit. As Laura begins to waste away from desire, Lizzie intervenes. This aspect of the poem also maintains a strong Christian symbolism:
In order to save her sister, Lizzie sets out to see the goblins, intent on sacrificing herself for her the sake of her sister. When the goblins see Lizzie coming, they react similarly to the Roman soldiers in the Bible who mock, beat, and spit on Christ as he prepares to be crucified. “Laughed every goblin/When they spied her peeping/Came towards her hobbling/Flying, running, leaping/Puffing and blowing/Chuckling, clapping, crowing/Clucking and gobbling/Mopping and mowing/Full of airs and graces/Pulling wry faces” (Rossetti 129-138).
Lizzie refuses to give in; she will not eat the fruit that the goblins so desperately insist that she taste. Though they mock and tempt her, she remains steadfast, even as they begin to attack (rape) her. “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” (Rossetti 408-413). In W. Glasgow Phillips’ essay, Theme in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” he notes: “So what we are left with is this: a woman performed a heroic, self-sacrificing action, certainly related to Christ’s sacrifice of himself, to save her sister…She is forced to offer herself up to goblin abuse (physical, sexual goblin abuse) to perform a positive action”(Phillips).
Lizzie returns home and calls out to Laura: “Did you miss me?/Come and kiss me/Never mind my bruises/Hug me, kiss me, and 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 me” (Rossetti 465-474).
Lizzie has mirrored Christ’s own actions in order to save her sister. She has sacrificed herself for the wellbeing of another, lending a moral tone to the poem, and thereby a deeper meaning to its tale. These underlying Christian themes allow for the poem to become far more than a children’s fable. “Goblin Market” in the end is a story of temptation, sacrifice, and redemption.
Holy Bible. King James Edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan. International Bible Society, 2011. Print.
Phillips, Glasgow W. Theme in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”. ’92. University of Georgia. English 32, 1990. Web. 1 May 2014.
Rossetti, Christina, ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. From “Goblin Market”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Vol. 2B. Boston, Mass. Pearson, 2010. 1650-1663. Print.
Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, Deviant Art. 2013-2014. Web.