The Truth of “Goblin Market”
After reading Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” I had many questions on the content
and presentation of the poem. Unlike some people, I found it difficult to understand how this
poem could have originally been marketed toward children. On the surface, this poem seems
somewhat innocent. The poem describes the adventures of two people, Laura and Lizzie. At
some point, Laura eats the fruit of the goblin men and pines for the fruit until it gets to a point
where Laura seems to be dying. In response, Lizzie offers her fruit juices, and after taking the
juice, Laura ultimately survives. The two grow old, and eventually, each has a family of their
own. With this storyline, the poem seems like it could be structured for children. When analyzing
and reading through, there are a lot of questionable things going on. However, after analyzing
Rossetti’s use of metaphors and imagery, one can infer that the poem has a sexual undertone.
The essence of this poem is about fruit. When watching films or television shows
involving a fruit, there is usually a sexual context. For instance, with couples from the medieval
era on television, often a woman will be feeding grapes to a man, setting the tone of power and
sexuality in the show or film. In this poem, fruit is used correspondingly. The fruit is used to
represent the sexuality and power over Laura and Lizzie. Mitchell’s view of Rossetti’s use of
metaphors concerning fruit that seems to coincide with mine. “In addition to the obvious
resonances in diction and imagery, “Goblin Market” shares its theme with Herrick’s verse,
linking female sexuality with ripened fruit.” (Mitchell, #50). In her poem, Rossetti uses various
metaphors referring to fruit through the poem, with most, if not all, are being used to represent a
sexual act. We get this idea through Rossetti’s word choice. For example, “She suck’d and suck’d
and suck’d the more” (Rossetti, line #134). Making a few changes to the wording of the sentence
would have taken away any assumption of sexual acts.
One notable part of the poem is when Laura encounters the goblin men. She exchanges a
lock of her golden hair for what Rossetti says to be fruit. As I said previously, I believe the fruit
is symbolism for much more. Harrison seems to agree he says that her encounter with the goblin
men was “powerfully sensual” (Harrison, #416). After analysis, I believe that this instance is an
exchange of sexual favors for her beloved golden hair. We get this idea through these lines, “She
suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more/Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;/ She suck’d until
her lips were sore;” (Rossetti, Lines 134-136). Reading through Mitchell’s beliefs about “Goblin
Market” I found that many of my ideas and opinions were validated such as this one. ““Goblin
Market” also shares the suggestion of an economic transaction at the heart of sexual relations; in
the poem, Rossetti amplifies the market as a metaphor for sexual interaction” (Mitchell, #50).
Once Laura has had the fruit, she finds herself wanting more. To the point of the fruit being on
her mind continuously. Harrison defines this want as a sexual temptation after having such a
sensual first encounter with the Goblins fruit (Harrison, #416), and I have to say this coincides
very much with my overall view of the poem.
Rossetti considered herself an Anglican catholic and wanted to be remembered as such.
Mason argued that even in death, her request coincided with her religious beliefs. “Her material
bequest confirm her intention to be remembered as both a devout Angelo- Catholic and as a
member of a universal Catholic Church that she believed embodied all Christians” (Mason, #1).
Experts argue that many of her poems, although superficially do not appear to be religious, are
interpreted to have some religious ties. “Much of Rossetti’s life and work was dedicated to
preparing herself and her readers for the transition into the new creation.” (Mason, #2). Also,
The angelic catholic church has a strict stance on sex in general. Anglican catholic religion
insists that sex is used only for its sole purpose; having children. I believe that for Rossetti to
follow her religious beliefs that she was so dedicated to following, she represses her sexual
desires and thoughts. Harrison agreed that this idea very well could have been a possibility, “In
cultural context, this poem can be read as a monitory exemplum and thus an extreme instance of
Victorian sexual repression: it reflects a profound fear of female sexuality and its potential
consequence.” (Harrison, #416). However, when thoughts and emotions continuously get
repressed, they often emerge in other ways subconsciously. I believe Rossetti unintentionally let
her mind roam free, more than she intended while writing “Goblin Market.”
Later on in the poem, Laura becomes deathly ill after her encounter with the goblin men.
Lizzie now has the responsibility of saving her sister. In Rossetti’s description of the situation,
there is an implication of Lizzie getting raped. Even though Rossetti doesn’t describe the actions
as rape, I believe her use of metaphors gives the audience a reason to see it as such. Mendoza
describes the situation as “unrelenting mob violence of gang rape” (Mendoza, #933). These
actions are shown through these lines, Lest they should cram a mouthful in:/ But laugh’d in heart
to feel the drip / Of juice that syrupp’d all her face” (Rossetti, Lines 432-434). The poem later
says they were “Worn out by her resistance,” (Rossetti, Lines 438). We get the idea of this being
non-consensual through Rossetti’s usage of the words “cram” and “lodge” These lines arguably
point to an act of rape by the goblins.
Even more than this, Rossetti seems to refer to animalistic tendencies in many stages of
the poem. Throughout the poem, Rossetti describes the goblin men with animalistic actions
during their interaction with Lizzie. For example, “Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking”(Rossetti,
Line 402). The goblin men take on animalistic tendencies and features, “Lashing their tails”
(Rossetti, Line 401) as well as “No longer wagging, purring, / But visibly demurring, /Grunting
and snarling” (Rossetti, Line 391-393). These features weren’t mentioned until the interaction
with Lizzie, where she was raped. Inperspective, the act of sex itself can be described as
animalistic in one way or another. I think this idea is yet another way in which “Goblin Market”
has sexual undertones. This description treads along the lines of the use of animalistic features to
portray sexuality. This fact is another reason to classify “Goblin Market” as a sexual poem.
Throughout the poem, there are many instances where we get the imagery of sexual
interaction between either Laura or Lizzie and the goblin merchantmen. The question to consider
is, are those the only sexual interactions happening? I do not think so; I believe that there is an
intestinal relationship between Laura and Lizzie. Later in the poem, Lizzie tells Laura to kiss the
fruit juices off Lizzie’s body. Actions such as these are not appropriate behavior for siblings.
Rossetti used these lines to describe the situation, “Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices” (Rossetti,
Line 468) as well as “ Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me;” (Rossetti, Lines
Generally, I feel that Rossetti’s use of metaphors and imagery gives “Goblin Market” a
sexual undertone. Rossetti usage of fruit as the subject of the poem. Fruits are used to depict
sexual scenes. Also, Rossetti’s poem portrays a sexual theme in “Goblin Market.” Despite this, I
believe that Rossetti used the metaphor as she attempted to repress her feelings and emotions in
line with her beliefs in the Anglican catholic church. However, more cases of metaphors direct
the audience to perceive the poem as sexual. These illustrations are visible in Rossetti’s
description of Laura’s and Lizzie’s encounter with the goblins. Lizzie getting roughed up in a
situation that could be defined as rape. Rossetti’s inclusion of animalistic features in her
description equally substantiates her poem’s claims of having sexual themes. As well as, the two
main characters who happen to be sisters are seemingly having an intestinal relationship together.
With that said, the “Goblin Market” can rightly be declassified as a children’s poem and
categorized as a sexually themed piece.
Harrison, Antony H. “Christina Rossetti: Illness and Ideology.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 45, no. 4,
Winter 2007, pp. 415–428. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/vp.2008.0000.
Mason, Emma. “Christina Rossetti: Poetry, Ecology, Faith.” Oxford University Press, 2018.
v=1. Accessed 28 April 2021.
Mendoza, Victor R. “Come Buy”: The Crossing of Sexual and Consumer Desire in Christina
Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. JSTOR,
Mitchell, Rebecca N. “Robert Herrick, Victorian Poet: Christina Rossetti, George Meredith, and
the Victorian Recovery of Hesperides.” Modern Philology, vol. 113, no. 1, Aug. 2015, pp.
88–115. EBSCO host, doi:10.1086/681024.
Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market,” Pathways to Fantasy, 1862. Poetry Foundation,
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