“Goblin Market” can be traditionally read as a cautionary tale that warns young women against the dangers of unchecked desire. Located in consumer discourse, the objective of female desire is to purchase goods. Superficially, female desire appears innocuous. However, 19th century discourse viewed desire as a potential danger to the patriarchy. Thus, the poem’s allegorical tale appears to warn against desire as a threat to patriarchal stability.
Not only was female desire a danger to the patriarchy, but desire was also thought to prey on passive femininity by seducing the female customer with a glittering phantasmagoria of goods. The relationship between desire and seduction is useful in exploring Laura’s encounter with the goblin men in the poem. Passing by the spectacle, Laura admires the “glittering phantasmagoria” of the goblin market, stating, “How fair the vine must grow / Whose grapes are so luscious; / How warm the wind must blow / Through those fruit bushes: (ll.60-63). Although Laura rationally knows that purchasing goblin fruit is immoral, she cannot contain her desire. The maid further succumbs when, having no money, she compromises her body and purchases goblin fruit with “a golden curl’” (ll. 125). In this exchange, Rossetti warns readers against falling victim to the seduction of the marketplace. In the poem, Laura’s seduction results in insatiable desire; the maiden “…sucked their fruit globes fair or red / …She sucked and sucked and sucked the more / Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; / She sucked into her lips were sore” (ll.128, 134-136). The “sucking” portrayed in this scene illustrates Laura’s insatiable thirst, which is not quenched from the single encounter. The desire produced by the fruit possesses Laura, transfixing her into an obsessive, drug-like state. Thinking only of her limitless appetite, Laura asserts,
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
Tomorrow night I will
Buy more. (ll. 166-168).
The sporadic, rushed feeling of these lines illustrates Laura’s thirst. This is particularly evident in the enjambment occurring at the end of line 167, which expresses the desire to “buy more.” Symbolically, Laura’s thirst symbolizes an awakened feminine desire, implying both economic consumption and erotic consummation, producing the anxiety of an unleashed female sexuality. Thus, Laura’s insatiable desire threatens the social fabric of the patriarchy because it unleashes the unrestrained female desire.