In the heart of Victorian England, amidst the shadow of industrial progress, a tale of enchantment and redemption unfolds through Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”
Published in 1862, this narrative poem transcends the simple fabric of children’s fairy tales, weaving a complex allegory of religious, social, and political motifs. It explores themes of temptation, sacrifice, and salvation, making it a cornerstone of Victorian literature and a pivotal extension of the Pre-Raphaelite movement into the realm of poetic narrative.
The story begins with the sisters, Laura and Lizzie, as they encounter the beguiling cries of goblin men.
These creatures, a mix of animal and man, hawk their wares with a seductive charm, offering fruits of unknown lands to anyone willing to buy.
Despite Lizzie’s warnings, Laura’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she succumbs to the goblin’s enchantment, trading a lock of her hair for a taste of their otherworldly fruit.
This moment of weakness sets the stage for Laura’s harrowing descent. She becomes consumed by her longing for the fruit, her vitality draining away as she pines for the taste she cannot forget.
Her decline mirrors the fate of Jeanie, a young woman who withered away after her own dealings with the goblins, serving as a grim reminder of the consequences of succumbing to temptation.
In a daring act of sisterly love and bravery, Lizzie decides to confront the goblins to save Laura. She ventures out, money in hand, to buy the cursed fruit. The goblins, sensing her resistance, turn violent, assaulting her in an effort to force their fruit upon her.
But Lizzie’s resolve is unbreakable; she withstands their abuse without succumbing, securing the salvation her sister so desperately needs without tasting the fruit herself.
Lizzie returns to Laura, battered yet triumphant, offering the salvation smeared across her own skin.
Laura’s initial horror turns to hope as she consumes the remnants of the goblin’s fruit from Lizzie, leading to her miraculous recovery. This act of sacrifice and resilience marks the turning point, not just for Laura, but as a testament to the enduring power of love and sacrifice.
Years later, as Laura and Lizzie recount their ordeal to their children, the tale of the goblin market serves as a cautionary tale against the lure of forbidden temptations and the redemptive power of love.
1. Temptation and Resistance
At the heart of “Goblin Market” lies the timeless struggle between temptation and the strength to resist. Through the vivid depiction of the goblin men and their irresistible fruit, Rossetti explores the nature of desire and its potential to lead individuals astray.
Laura’s initial succumbing to the goblins’ temptations embodies the human vulnerability to seduction, whether it be the allure of forbidden pleasures, the deceptive charm of consumerism, or the broader enticements of a materialistic society.
In contrast, Lizzie’s staunch refusal to eat the goblin fruit, despite severe coercion, symbolizes the power of will and moral integrity.
This theme not only highlights the personal conflict between indulgence and restraint but also reflects broader Victorian anxieties about the erosion of societal values amidst rapid industrial and economic change.
2. The Power of Sisterhood and Sacrifice
Rossetti intricately brings to us the theme of sisterhood and sacrifice throughout the poem, presenting it as a beacon of hope and redemption.
The bond between Laura and Lizzie transcends mere familial ties, evolving into a profound emblem of selfless love and mutual support. Lizzie’s courageous decision to face the goblin men to save her sister exemplifies the ultimate sacrifice, risking herself for Laura’s sake.
This act of love is transformative, not only saving Laura from her plight but also serving as a potent counter to the malevolence of the goblin men.
Through this, Rossetti champions the strength of female solidarity and the redemptive power of sacrifice, offering a counter-narrative to the dominant patriarchal discourse of her time and emphasizing the potential of women to be agents of change and protectors within their own narratives.
3. The Consequences of Consumerism and Exploitation
“Goblin Market” is also a prescient critique of growing consumerism and the exploitation inherent within it, mirroring concerns of Rossetti’s Victorian contemporaries about the impact of industrialization on society.
The goblin fruit serves as a metaphor for the enticing yet ultimately harmful products of a consumer-driven culture, promising satisfaction but delivering ruin.
Laura’s obsession with the fruit parallels the destructive nature of unchecked desire, illustrating how consumerism can lead to a loss of self and a disconnection from genuine human values.
Furthermore, the goblins’ exploitation of Laura’s desire reflects the broader exploitation of individuals within a capitalist marketplace, highlighting issues of manipulation, inequality, and the commodification of the body.
Through this theme, Rossetti critiques the dehumanizing aspects of consumer culture and its capacity to ensnare and diminish the human spirit.
As I wander through the enchanting yet perilous landscape of “Goblin Market,” I find myself not merely an observer but a participant in its rich mix of allegory and symbolism. I step into the shoes of Laura and Lizzie, feeling the pull of temptation and the weight of sisterly love.
I hear the goblins’ call, a siren song of forbidden fruits, and like Laura, my curiosity is piqued. The vivid descriptions of the fruit stir a longing within me, an irresistible desire to taste the unknown, despite the warnings.
The goblins, with their animalistic features and honeyed voices, offer not just fruit, but a taste of the exotic, the dangerous. I exchange a lock of my hair, a piece of myself, for this experience, crossing a threshold from which there is no easy return.
In the aftermath of indulgence, I, like Laura, find myself ensnared. The fruit, once a symbol of exotic delight, becomes a curse. I yearn for more, but the fruit’s absence only deepens my despair.
I witness my own vitality fading, a reflection of Laura’s decline, a vivid reminder of the cost of yielding to temptation without heed.
The transformation of Lizzie into a beacon of salvation resonates deeply with me. In her, I see the embodiment of courage and selfless love.
Her venture into the goblin’s lair, her steadfast refusal to succumb, and her endurance of their wrath—all for the sake of saving me, her sister—speaks to the profound bonds that tie us. Her pain, her sacrifice, becomes a crucible through which redemption is possible.
Tasting the bitter juice from Lizzie’s ordeal, I undergo a rebirth. The bitterness, a stark contrast to the goblins’ fruit, serves as a purgative, cleansing me of my obsession.
In this act of sisterly love, I find my salvation, a return to innocence and a restoration of life. Lizzie’s resilience, her willingness to face the darkness for my sake, illuminates the path back from the brink.
Years later, as I recount our tale to our children, the lessons of the “Goblin Market” take on new meaning. I warn them of the goblins’ temptations, not just as literal fruits but as the myriad enticements that life will offer.
I teach them about the strength found in love, in sacrifice, and in the bonds that unite us. Through my story, I hope to arm them against their own goblins, to instill in them the wisdom to resist and the courage to stand firm in the face of temptation.
In living through “Goblin Market,” I traverse a landscape rich in moral and existential dilemmas. I grapple with the allure of the forbidden, the consequences of desire, and the redemptive power of love.
Christina Rossetti’s poem, through its layers of allegory and symbolism, becomes not just a story but a lived experience, offering lessons that transcend its Victorian era to speak to the eternal human condition.
“Goblin Market,” with its rich mix of themes ranging from the dangers of consumerism and the exploitation of women, to the sanctity of sisterhood and the possibility of redemption, remains a testament to Rossetti’s genius and the enduring appeal of Victorian literature.
Through its allegorical complexity and poetic beauty, Rossetti’s poem invites multiple interpretations, each peeling back layers to reveal new meanings and insights, making “Goblin Market” a timeless exploration of human nature and societal challenges.