Can the poem "Goblin Market" be seen as demonstrating a power struggle between men and women?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Christina Rossetti grew up in an incredibly artistic home. Passionate about both religion and various forms of art, most of the siblings explored their talents in these realms. Her brothers, Dante and William, were members of a group that sought to return to the great art of the early Italian...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Christina Rossetti grew up in an incredibly artistic home. Passionate about both religion and various forms of art, most of the siblings explored their talents in these realms. Her brothers, Dante and William, were members of a group that sought to return to the great art of the early Italian Renaissance (reflecting their father's roots). This group was called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and Christina was never a member; this is not surprising considering the standards of the Victorian ideals in England. She did contribute to the group, but she remained always distinctly outside the circle.

Perhaps "Goblin Market" focuses on a world of women to reflect the potential power females could have when they really support each other. In the poem, these goblins are forever trying to tempt the sisters, and Laura falls victim to their schemes. However, Lizzie bravely returns to the goblins where they:

Bullied and besought her,
Scratch'd her, pinch'd her black as ink,
Kick'd and knock'd her,
Maul'd and mock'd her

Lizzie thinks only of her sister and endures it all. She:

utter'd not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in:
But laugh'd in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupp'd all her face

She obtains the antidote her sister needs and does not waver in her resolve to obtain it.

While some see the goblins as men who inflict unwanted sexual advances on women, it can also be argued that the goblins are symbolic of all of the evil of the world and that the real theme lies in the power of women to bravely overcome it together. It speaks of the unity of women and of the sacrificial love that women hold for each other.

And, in this interpretation, the power struggle between men and women is a bit more abstract. Rossetti thus paints a picture of women no longer standing on the outside of men's circles—as she has done with her brothers' artistic brotherhood. Instead, they empower each other to thrive and overcome: no men needed. In this view, women hold their own power and do not rely on men to provide it or give men the power to deny it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The poem does indeed present a power struggle between men and women, but crucially it turns the tables, which is why "Goblin Market" has been the subject of so much feminist scholarship over the years. Traditionally, women were presented as the tempters of men—cruel, brazen seductresses leading otherwise fine, honest men to their ruin. The figure of the femme fatale in Keats's "La Belle Dame sans Merci" is a prime example of this.

Yet in "Goblin Market," it is men in the shape of wicked goblins who are leading the young women astray, tempting them with their delicious but poisonous fruit.

The academic debate about whether the fruit represents illicit sexual relations has raged for decades, but there can be little doubt that the goblins are throughly corrupt and corrupting figures. They see the young sisters as objects to be exploited rather than as subjects to be respected in their own right. In that sense, Rossetti is laying bare Victorian gender relations, characterized as they were by male domination and the exploitation of women.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Absolutely! One can argue that "Goblin Market" is a direct result of Christina Rossetti's opinions on Victorian gender roles and sexual politics. 

Within the poem, men take the shape of the evil goblins who destroy women by convincing them to taste their enchanted fruits. Women are the victims of this temptation, becoming sick and eventually dying if they choose to indulge. 

The story's heroine, Lizzie, resists the coaxing of the goblins and saves her fallen sister with a kiss. The narrative as a whole seems to walk an interesting line between Christian values (the goblins' fruit serving as a symbol of sex; the death that women experience from eating the fruit as a spiritual or moral death; the Christ-like sacrifice of Lizzie) and intense sexual imagery (the kiss itself, the emphasis on sucking, the fact that the fruit must be eaten in front of the goblin men, etc.). Men seem to pose a true threat to the well-being of women within this context, particularly through their sexual presence and offering of carnal knowledge outside of the boundaries of marriage.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It certainly can.  In this poem, the goblin men try to tempt the women to taste their fruit.  They woo the women with grand descriptions of that fruit, making it sound as appetizing as possible.  However, when women take the fruit, they are left abandoned and ill.  It is the women's only salvation to resist the temptation.

Therefore, the struggle is between the ability of the goblin men to seduce the women, and the will power of the women to resist.  When they resist, as Lizzie does, they gain power.  So much power, in fact, that the hero Lizzie is able to reclaim her sister from the effects of the contaminated fruit.  Her integrity and resistance has made her more powerful than the goblin men.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team