Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“Goblin Market,” Rossetti’s most anthologized and discussed poem, is also, at 567 lines, one of her longest. A narrative poem (a rarity for Rossetti), it tells the story of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, and their close brush with a sinister group of goblin merchants. The first of the twenty-nine irregular stanzas simply records the cries of the goblin men for someone to buy their magical fruits. Lizzie warns Laura not to succumb to their temptation, reminding her of the fate of their friend Jennie who, tasting the goblin fruit, wasted away and died. Laura ignores the warning and buys the enchanted fruit with a lock of her golden hair.
The enchantment of the fruit is one of addiction: Having tasted it, the victim desires nothing but another taste, which the goblins refuse. Like Jennie, Laura pines away for the fruit, dwindling and turning gray. This image of the dangers of temptation is typical of Rossetti’s later religious poetry, though here the spiritual import is embedded in allegory. When Lizzie realizes her sister is dying, she goes to the goblins, wears them down with heroic resistance to their temptation, and returns to Laura, not having tasted the fruit, but having its juice and pulp smeared all over her face by the struggle. When Laura kisses her sister, she tastes the juice, which removes the curse of the goblin fruit and restores Laura’s youth and health. While the poem is not overtly Christian in the way that Rossetti’s later...
(The entire section is 467 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
“Goblin Market,” which appeared in Christina Rossetti’s first published collection of poetry, is unquestionably her most original poem and stands out as a masterwork of aesthetic taste. Rossetti’s ties with her brother Dante’s Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (she contributed verses to their short-lived magazine, Germ) also explain why the anthology has been labeled the movement’s first literary success. It was Dante, furthermore, who suggested the title, having written a poem himself about the market of fallen girls. “Goblin Market,” however, differs notably from her other poetic work, which possesses a depth and a Victorian pathos all its own, principally in its alluring singsong quality and pervasive sexuality.
That Rossetti could have been unaware of the intense sexual imagery of “Goblin Market” seems unlikely, although in a note to the poem, her brother William Michael (who edited most of her poetry) speaks of her insistence that nothing “profound” had been intended. It is far more feasible to see her apparent obsession with certain images in the poem as suggestive of a more religious interpretation, one in which the goblins may be seen as maliciously evil creatures who have set out to beguile—and then seduce—the two girls. In this respect, the poem does bear a resemblance to Rossetti’s major poetic themes, which are heavily laden with introspection, suffering, and otherworldly love.
(The entire section is 2074 words.)
For more than a hundred years Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market has fascinated teachers and critics while enchanting readers of all ages. In remarkably simple, yet richly textured language, Rossetti creates a strange and haunting world inhabited by horrid goblin creatures who tempt the unwary to buy their magical fruit. The poem's human protagonists, two adolescent sisters, thoroughly engage the reader through their joys, suffering, and love for one another.
But Goblin Market is more than just an enjoyable, readable story. It offers intriguing insights into important human concerns. Rossetti illustrates through the goblin men and their magically appealing fruit the seductive nature of evil. Through the effects of the fruit on Laura, Rossetti shows that evil, like drugs and other apparently pleasurable things, cannot long satisfy. She conveys the idea that those who embrace evil or selfish pleasure will suffer—and so will those who love them. On a deeper level, Rossetti's 567-line poem provides significant insights into the relationships between men and women and into the often-divided human personality. Perhaps more important, the poem develops the idea that a suffering individual enslaved by habits or evil can be rescued through the redeeming love and sacrifices of another.
(The entire section is 198 words.)