Interpretations of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”
“Goblin Market”, an early work considered to be one of Rossetti’s masterpieces, was intended simply as a fairy tale. Despite Rossetti’s statements that she meant nothing profound by the tale, its rich, complex, and suggestive language has caused the poem to be practically ignored as children’s literature and instead regarded variously as an erotic exploration of sexual fantasy, a commentary on capitalism and Victorian market economy, a feminist glorification of “sisterhood”, and a Christian allegory about temptation and redemption, among other readings.
In attempts to decode what is often described as the poem’s revolutionary text, critics have looked to Rossetti’s life for interpretive keys. The biographical aspects which have been examined by critics as means toward achieving a greater understanding of the poem include Rossetti’s love affairs, her work with the Oxford Movement’s “women’s mission to women” (Carpenter 426) in which she helped “rehabilitate” prostitutes, and her association with her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. Since the language of “Goblin Market” suggests a variety of meanings, critics rarely agree on what the poem is about. Although scholars have failed to agree about something as elemental to the poem as its themes, “Goblin Market” is generally viewed as one of Rossetti’s greatest works.
The argument for the poem’s erotic and sexual nature made by Cora Kaplan is supported by the language of the poem (61). The nature of the goblins’ fruit is extensively detailed and described as luscious and succulent. Laura consumes the fruit ravenously, “She sucked until her lips were sore,” (1654. 136) and physically pays for it with a lock of her hair. Once Lizzie decides to seek the goblin men, their taunts carry heavy sexual overtones as well. First they “Squeezed and caressed her” (1658. 349) and then invite her to “Bob at our cherries / Bite at our peaches” (1658. 354-55), and to “Pluck them and suck them” (1658. 361). When she refuses to eat, they “Held her hands and squeezed their fruits / Against her mouth to make her eat” (1659. 406-07). Finally, when Lizzie returns home, battered and bruised, she invites her sister’s embrace: “Come and kiss me. / Never mind my bruises, / Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / . . . Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me.” (1661. 466-68; 471-72) This erotic language has been used to support readings of the poem as a sexual fantasy and an examination of the sexuality and cruelty of children (Moers 95). Some critics focus primarily on Lizzie’s suffering and subsequent offering of herself to her sister, reading this not as a sexual advance but as a sacrifice similar to Christ’s redemption of humanity’s sins or as representing the power of sisterhood in a worldly or feminist sense (Conner 439). Steven Conner explores the relationships between “Goblin Market” and Rossetti’s other works, maintaining that the use of repetition in Rossetti’s devotional poetry establishes a sense of“confirmed redemption,” while in her nursery rhymes this repetition formula creates a sense of “irresolution.” Similarly, Conner suggests, this “irresolution” is the result of the use of repetition in “Goblin Market” (434).
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- Merissa Bartlett (Author), 2013, Interpretations of Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/269649