“Eat me, drink me, love me”: An Analysis of Masculinity, Spirituality, and Sexuality in “The Goblin Market”
The popular image of forbidden fruit, stemming from the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis, has become salient in numerous forms of media. Some of the most well-known renditions include Disney’s Snow White with the poison apple, or, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, in which forbidden fruit manifests itself as Turkish delight. Not surprisingly, this widespread motif is typically paired with a fallen woman figure, or, an innocent woman transformed into a sinner through temptation. The fallen woman figure implies that experimentation and experience kindle corruption and that innocence and childlike qualities need be held on to. “The Goblin Market,” by Christina Rossetti, twists the traditional forbidden fruit story, adding in more nuanced ideas about gender roles and consent. Rossetti’s version of the fall draws influence from the biblical story, yet adds essential refinement to the story’s problematic gender politics and shows the necessity of sisterhood. Through the examination of Rossetti’s depictions of masculinity, spirituality, and sexuality in the poem, it is evident that the poem criticizes patriarchal ideals and champions female autonomy.
In the poem, the goblin merchants embody and enact toxic masculinity. For example, the goblins’ vocal attempts to convince the sisters to buy their fruit sound eerily similar to what one would now dub a “cat-call”: “With their shrill repeated cry,/ ‘Come buy, Come buy’” (Rossetti 1653). The goblins’ calls serve as a form of domination and manipulation, luring Laura into a dangerous situation with no regard for her humanity. Rossetti places emphasis on the repeated nature of the goblins’ hyper-masculine insistence, utilizing repetition to nail the frequency and urgency of their demands in place. Furthermore, Rossetti subverts the mythological trope of the female sirens, giving it a masculine reversal: “…The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste/ In tones as smooth as honey,/ The cat-faced purr’d…” (Rossetti 1653). The goblins’ voices are simultaneously described as “shrill” yet “smooth,” portraying the idea that masculinity (like the sirens’ songs) can be both enticing and repulsive, seductive and destructive. This duality, specifically the captivating side of it, showcases the goblins’ devious intent and makes it difficult for Laura to discern whether or not the fruit is truly dangerous. Finally, the ultimate demonstration of the goblins’ exertion of masculine power occurs when they ask Laura for a lock of her hair: “‘You have much gold upon your head,’/ They answered all together:/ ‘Buy from us with a golden curl’” (Rossetti 1653). This commodification and objectification of Laura’s body shows the goblins’ complete disregard for her person-hood. In order to acquire their fruit, she literally has to sell her body. The fact that the goblins all speak in unison indicates that their power comes from unity. One goblin may not have been as intimidating (or as luring) of a force. In conclusion, toxic masculinity in the poem triggers the “fall” and leads Laura into temptation, ultimately illustrating Rossetti’s ideas on the dangers of patriarchal society.
Spirituality plays an essential role in establishing female autonomy in “The Goblin Market,” primarily through allegory and biblical association. For example, the story in the poem follows a typical temptation, fall, redemption story arc. At the beginning of the poem, Laura and Lizzie are both presented as fairly innocent. Laura finds herself tempted by the goblin merchants’ offerings and succumbs to their proposition. Laura’s fall occurs when she finds herself addicted to the fruit and even experiences withdrawal-like symptoms when she can’t get more. Lizzie executes the redemption in the poem, representing a Christ-like figure. When Lizzie chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save Laura’s life and buy her fruit, she experiences a torture that echoes that of the cross: “Lashing their tails/ They trod and hustled her./ Elbowed and jostled her,/ Clawed with their nails…” (Rossetti 1659). Lizzie has to endure arduous torture from the goblins in order to make her purchase; however, the torture ends up being seemingly futile because they goblins refuse to sell her fruit. In the end, Lizzie’s power comes from her ability to resist eating the fruit. The goblins attack her and attempt to force the fruit into her mouth, but she clamps it shut and resists: “…finally Lizzie triumphs because she defends the sphere of her body from the onslaught of forbidden fruit and snarling invective” (Scott 219). Lizzie’s ability to resist the consumption of the fruit imitates Christ’s temptation on earth. Finally, when Lizzie returns home, she urges Laura to eat the fruit juice off of her face and be saved: “‘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’” (Rossetti 1661). Lizzie’s words parallel the ceremony of the Eucharist, or the book of Matthew when Jesus declares that the bread at the Last Supper is his body. Rossetti subverts expectations again through this scene, using a female savior figure and using Lizzie and Laura’s relationship to break Christianity’s often male-dominated view of church hierarchy and gender roles.
Sexuality in the poem can be either destructive and violent or incredibly powerful. Humphries describes sexuality in this case as being “double-powered” (Humphries 403). Rossetti utilizes sexuality in order to show the importance of autonomy and the essentiality of sisterhood. First, Laura and Lizzie’s relationship is part of what saves Laura; however, their relationship often seems to go beyond what would be expected in a typical sister relationship. The moment when Laura drinks the juice from Lizzie’s face is steeped in homoeroticism and sexual overtones: “She clung about her sister,/ Kissed and kissed and kissed her:/…She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth” (Rossetti 1661). Rossetti spares no details and makes no attempt to tone down the moment or remove its explicitness, indicating that sexuality is an integral part of Laura’s salvation. This scene shows that the fruit possesses the “double-powered” nature that Humphries speaks of. When Laura receives the fruit directly from the goblin merchants, it causes her to fall sick, but when she receives it from her sister, it heals her. Sexuality infused with toxic masculinity and patriarchal ideals was harmful to Laura, while the experience with Lizzie allowed Laura to reclaim her sexuality, take ownership of her own body, and exercise consent. Additionally, the “salvation” moment is female-centric and occurs in a space in which only females are present, highlighting Rossetti’s implicit commentary on the importance of female friendship and sisterhood. In conclusion, the dichotomous sexuality exhibited in the poem shows the nuance of sexuality and the importance of female sovereignty.
In conclusion, Rossetti’s aim in writing “The Goblin Market” was to show the dangers of patriarchal rhetoric and advocate for women’s sexual independence. Although Laura’s consumption of the forbidden fruit was primarily a negative experience, it led to the acquisition of knowledge and a closer (perhaps too close by some standards) relationship with her sister. Rossetti’s poem shows readers the ramifications of bounding women up. If Laura had been more free to explore on her own in society, she may not have been as enchanted by the goblin market, and may have found a healthier way to taste a poison apple.
- Humphries, Simon. “The Uncertainty of Goblin Market.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 45, no. 4, 2008, pp. 391-413.
- Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: 4th ed, vol. 2B, edited by David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar et. al., Pearson Education, Inc. 2010, pp. 1650-1663.
- Scott, Heidi. “Subversive Ecology in Rossetti’s GOBLIN MARKET.” The Explicator, vol. 65, no. 4, 2007, pp. 219-222, doi:10.3200/EXPL.65.4.219-222.
- ESV Study Bible. English Standard Version, Crossway, 2011