In Rossetti’s Goblin Market the forces of life and love are threatened by death – elaborate
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No matter from which angle it is looked at, Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ is fundamentally a battle of good against evil. Throughout her lifetime, Rossetti insisted that this poem should be treated as nothing more than a harmless fairytale. If one look’s at the poem from its intended angle, a story of two kind, pure sisters, Lizzie and Laura, begins to unravel itself to the reader. One learns of how in their village, evil goblin men do their best to tempt the village folk to buy the succulent, forbidden fruit.
Although Lizzie refuses to succumb to the temptation, it is her sister Laura who first indulges herself. As the story unfolds, Laura becomes addicted to the forbidden fruit and touches death’s door. It is only in the end when her sister Lizzie risks her life by eating some of the goblin fruit herself, that Laura is cured. This was because Lizzie was willing to sacrifice her life in order for her sister to be cured. Lizzie’s love saved Laura’s life and prevented death.
Despite, the story being about someone alive, trying not to die, the characters can be looked at in a more symbolic nature. Indeed, one may state that Lizzie and Laura are representative of life in general. As life is perceived to be when we are born, the girls are pure, simple and kind. However the vices and trappings of their world (the fruit possibly as opposed to drugs etcetera, see below), come to tempt them in the form of the goblins and their wares, representing death, as it later becomes clear that their final intention death by their fruit.
Rossetti, although describing the animals as being peculiar (saying, ‘one had a cat’s face’), she masks the goblin’s intent, showing the devious nature of death. Furthermore, Laura paying for her fruit with her hair, ‘buy from us with a golden curl’, is symbolic as her long beautiful hair was a sign of both life, growth and femininity. This being taken away from her was as if the first part of her was already going, indeed, we soon hear of how her hair, a symbol of life ‘grows thin and grey’.
Rossetti was a devout Christian and I believe her roots in the Church are apparent in the poem, especially from the book of Genesis, as there are striking resemblances between the story of Adam and Eve and that of the tale of the two sisters. Like Adam and Eve, the two girls were tempted by forbidden fruit and eventually succumbed to it. Lizzie was not made ill from the fruit because she ate it out of love and sacrifice for her sister (agape) as opposed to, like Laura eating it for pleasure.
I feel this rare form of sacrificial love is highly reminiscent of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, who was said to have saved man kind from evil by being killed. In the poem the evil of the world is represented by the fruit. Like Jesus, Lizzie offered to sacrifice herself by taking the evil (fruit) in order to prevent death. One quote which I also thought had biblical connections to it was when Lizzie says “eat me, drink me”, as I felt it was mnemonic of the Eucharist, eating the body and blood of Christ.
Although at first the plot might sound simple and childlike, it is as early as the second stanza that one starts to feel a strong sense of cynicism emerging. This, in my opinion is first apparent at: ‘Crouching close together…. “Lie close,” Laura said, Picking up her golden head”. Although at first glance the stanza the quote comes from paints an image of two pure sisters hiding from the forces of the queer goblins; endless sexual innuendos which later appear such as when describing the fruit, ‘juice that syrups all her face’ aid in leading the mind astray.
As one rereads the line, a picture of two sisters, their young bodies bound to each other in the fear of being found, now appears. Although the relationship between the sisters is close and a certain level of eroticism between them is apparent, it is nothing compared to what can only be described as the ‘poetic-orgasm’ that occurs while Laura eats the fruit, an example of which was given in the quote above. As Laura first encounters the goblins, once being groped by them, they begin to advertise their goods to her saying “Plums on their twigs; Pluck them and suck them”.
How this cannot be scene as an innuendo, is beyond me. Equally, the line ‘sucked and sucked and sucked and more…. until her lips were sore’ cannot help but lead an adolescent’s mind astray… Rossetti creates alliteration in several of her lines, for example, ‘goblins cuffed and caught her’. Such alliteration manages to create a heightened sense of tension, and in this case helps to create an image of what the goblins are truly like. Even the goblin’s chant ‘come buy, come buy’ gives the poem an erotic rhythm.
However, the real task in hand is wondering why Rossetti decided to charge her poem with erotica, since she was a devout Christian. Possibly because her brother was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a radical new ‘school of thought’ within the arts, which although had moral roots, equally had a reputation for its less than moral lifestyle. Since she was such a devout Christian and never married, possibly, these were here secret sexual desires and such was her frustration that she expressed them through her poetry and like Lizzie was battling to suppress them.
However, I think the actual reason for the eroticism was Rossetti intentionally wanting to make the reader ‘squirm’. Like the theme of the poem of good and pure versus evil, while reading this, ‘un-holy’ thoughts seep into ones mind, and as Lizzie tries to battle evil, one tries his (or hers) hardest to remove inappropriate thoughts from mind, to concentrate on Lizzie’s just plight. Addiction to the fruit is an evil which Laura clearly finds difficult to overcome.
In modern British society, say the word ‘addiction’ to most people and drugs instantly enter the mind of many. Indeed, Rossetti’s sister-in-law died of an overdose. Relating the fruit to a drug, fits in well with the theme of life battling with death as although a drug user might long to quit, its body cannot, and so an internal war commences with body and soul. Equally, one can look at life and death in a more symbolic way.
Instead of talking about living itself, one relates life to being financially secure. In such a case, one can easily say that the goblins are representative of the salesmen, advertisers and marketers of corporate Europe who get us addicted to their produce (i. e. their fruit), landing ourselves as a society into unhealthy and endless debt we cannot afford which can ultimately, financially, kill us. This theory would fit in well with Rossetti’s ideologies of living a simple, humble life.