Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Goblin Market and Other Poems Analysis
The poetry of Goblin Market and Other Poems was immediately recognized as a significant contribution to English literature, and it set the tone for Christina Rossetti’s later writing: Her metrical inventiveness, as well as her themes of death, ascetic renunciation, and thwarted love, were established here.
The theme of renunciation is central to the title poem “Goblin Market,” and critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar have identified it as a key aspect of all Rossetti’s writing. Though not overtly Christian or devotional as her later poetry, “Goblin Market” seems at first to express a traditional Christian attitude of renunciation of the sensual, of the flesh. Yet many critics have noted an ambiguity in the way in which sensuality, represented by the goblin fruit, is depicted in the poem. Laura’s devouring of the fruit, paralleled later by her equally sensuous sucking of the juices off her sister’s face, is described in a lushness of physical imagery unusual in Christina Rossetti’s poetry (though typical of the verse of her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti).
The overt moral on the value of sisterhood, found in the final six lines of “Goblin Market,” is often disparaged as an afterthought, unrelated to the rest of the poem, which is about renunciation. A close study of Lizzie’s sacrifice for her sister, however, reveals that the themes of renunciation and sisterhood are related. Lizzie’s resistance to the charms of the goblin fruit is merely temperance in the first scene, but when she seeks the goblin merchants after Laura’s illness, her resistance takes on a heroic, sacrificial quality. Lizzie’s Christlike self-giving defines sisterhood and makes her even more Christlike as Laura’s savior, resurrecting her from the death-in-life caused by the evil fruit—an obvious parallel to the Eden story.
A few critics have been tempted to discover an autobiographical element in “Goblin Market,” which leads to a general question of how subjective a reader should consider Rossetti’s poetry to be. Christina dedicated the poem to her sister Maria Rossetti, and her brother William speculated that...
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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Goblin Market and Other Poems Analysis
Although “Goblin Market” is told in a simple narrative form appealing to young readers, its main themes are interwoven in a complex manner through both overt and subtle references and imagery. The most apparent subject of the poem is that of temptation and the consequences of indulgence, on the one hand, and resistance, on the other. Laura, willful and romantic in nature, is juxtaposed to the sensible Lizzie, who is, in effect, her other half. The two together represent the conflicting impulses that push one toward either experience or innocence, excess or prudence. Such temptation is repeatedly expressed in terms of oral craving and heightened sensory detail. “Sweet-tooth Laura” ignores the warnings of her sister in favor of the “sugar-baited words” of the goblins, indulging in a gluttonous feast until she can eat no more, but Lizzie, contrastingly, will “not open lip from lip” as the goblins force food against her mouth. While the poem’s message is clear, the ultimate ramifications of this theme require close consideration from the reader.
The question arises, for example, of what specifically the fruit represents. The majority of evidence suggests that the goblin wares, referred to as “fruit forbidden,” are Edenic in quality and indicate Rossetti’s tendency to include traditional Christian morality in her works, a fact corroborated by the devotional pieces included in Goblin Market and Other Poems. The fruit then denotes sexual sin, and the goblin men, with their “evil...
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Goblin Market and Other Poems is considered a Victorian classic, and the seeds of its creation clearly lie within the nineteenth century. Among the works that form a basis for the title poem’s story line is Thomas Keightly’s Fairy Mythology, well known to the young Christina Rossetti, which recounts a folktale about a boy who pines away after yielding to the temptation of fairy food. Also discernible within Rossetti’s work is a Keatsian influence on imagery and mood: the highly sensual descriptions of food in “Goblin Market” most likely owe their genesis to those in “The Eve of St. Agnes.”
It is perhaps because of this strong grounding in the nineteenth century that the book has suffered some decline in readership. As Rossetti’s most famous book of verse, Goblin Market and Other Poems enjoyed considerable popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian nursery, but, by the twentieth century, it was less widely read in households and classrooms. Critics of a post-Freudian mind-set are less likely than the Victorians to accept the work as a simple morality tale and will instead question the compatibility of the poem’s Christian message with the latent violence and eroticism of its imagery. Rossetti’s later writings for children—The Prince’s Progress (1866), Sing Song (1872), and A Pageant (1881)—are usually considered more straightforward than “Goblin Market,” but they have never achieved its fame. Despite shifting critical standards, the poem remains an elusive work that evades concrete judgment.