Textual Analysis of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”

Christina Rossetti’s Victorian-era poem, “Goblin Market”, is mired in allegorical representations of biblical proportions. Specifically, allusions to Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis as well as Christ’s sacrifice for humanity are tied to the main characters in the narrative of this poem (Lizzie and Laura). Additionally, there is a fair amount of diction that can be perceived to be sexual in nature. These elements of the poem are significant because they serve to either ratchet up the stakes these characters face or to invoke a social commentary on gender roles during this time period.

Lizzie acts like a Christ-like figure toward the conclusion of the poem when she saves Laura’s life, but even near the beginning of the narrative, Lizzie warns Laura not to purchase the fruit the goblins are attempting to sell and advises Laura to not even look at the goblin men. Similarly, God warns Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. This is the first indication of protagonist Laura’s Christ-like role in the poem. “We must not look at goblin men, / We must not buy their fruits: / Who knows upon what soil they fed / Their hungry thirsty roots?”

The goblins themselves seem to be representative of the devil. Their attempt at persuading the girls to purchase and eat the fruit is congruent with Satan’s efforts to convince Eve to eat from the tree and like Eve, Laura obliges their request.

The sexualized imagery that is conveyed through Rossetti’s diction (“She sucked and sucked and sucked the more / Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; / She sucked until her lips were sore…”) and the very presence of fruit itself could be interpreted as a commentary on how women were viewed as little more than sexual beings, or else people who were meant to fulfill the sexual desires of men, during the Victorian era.

Another instance of the Christ-like portrayal of Lizzie comes when she instructs Laura to “Eat [her], drink [her], love [her].” Here, a sort of holy communion is invoked through Rossetti’s diction following the subjugation of her body to the goblin men. This successfully rids Laura of her ailments from the previously consumed fruit. One of the morals of the story speaks to the power of the relationship between sisters: “For there is no friend like a sister / In calm or stormy weather…”

From a broader vantage point, this text offers a thematic element of familial redemption at its core. Through Lizzie’s resistance to the temptation that befalls her, as well as her considerate, kind-hearted nature toward her sister, this poem had the capacity to evoke strong emotional connections between the readers and the poem’s content (University of Toronto Libraries). The symbolism throughout this piece helps to achieve this, such as the fruits’ representation of a greedy, Dionysian excess on behalf of the goblins or a sexual lust present in Laura’s desire for them.

In sum, “Goblin Market” is a rich, allegorical poem that is peppered with biblical allusions and even hints at gender roles in Victorian society. Rossetti successfully conveys the importance of sacrifice and the value of intimate relationships between family members to her audience.

Picture: Christina Rossetti, courtesy of literaryhistory.com