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Themes in Goblin Market

Redemptive Power of Love: The main theme in the text focuses on how Laura’s redemption is facilitated through Lizzie’s sacrifice. Despite the dangers of the goblin market, Lizzie risks everything in order to save Laura from a life of suffering because of the love she has for her sister.

Spiritual Love as Nourishment: Similar to the theme of the redemptive power of love, this theme reveals the parallel between Lizzie and the biblical Jesus Christ. When Lizzie returns and invites Laura to taste the fruit on her body, this alludes to the same communion ritual that Jesus takes part in with his disciples. As a result, Laura is nourished and given new life.

Dangers of Sacrificing Chastity: Another theme is the relationship between sacrificing a part of the self to indulge in pleasure. Laura trades a part of her body to indulge in forbidden fruit, and after doing so, she suffers as a direct result of her actions. This suggests that giving up one’s purity for the sake of temptation or pleasure is not worth the risk.

Themes Examples in Goblin Market :

Goblin Market

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"there is no friend like a sister..."   (Goblin Market )

The narrator ends the story with a concrete moral: familial love is the key to resisting temptation and preserving one’s life.

"Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices..."   (Goblin Market )

While these commands, “suck,” “kiss,” “hug,” could be read for their sexual connotations, the Christian imagery that dominates the end of this poem encourages us to read these words as indicative of religious love instead. At the end of the poem, Laura’s love for the divine Lizzie replaces her longing for the fruit, a symbol of erotic desire. In this way, the poem offers a solution to resisting desire: love and faith in God.

"clipped a precious golden lock..."   (Goblin Market )

Because Laura does not have money to buy the fruit she pays with a lock of her hair. Metaphorically, this means she is paying with her body. In the Victorian era, locks of hair were exchanged between lovers as a symbol of their commitments to each other. However, Laura trades her hair to indulge in sweet fruit rather than to secure a marriage to a loved one. This payment suggests that the poem is a metaphor for the dangers of sacrificing chastity in order to give in to temptation.

"We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?'..."   (Goblin Market )

This powerful metaphor for evil is one of the most quoted lines from this poem. "Hungry thirsty roots" and "fed" suggest overconsumption. In speculating "what" these fruits were eating, Lizzie suggests that they were indulging in something evil or suspect. This metaphor underscores a larger theme within the poem: that which one eats defines them and can taint them forever.

"Golden head by golden head,..."   (Goblin Market )

Throughout the poem, Rossetti uses the color of gold to signify goodness and purity. Although Laura has eaten of the goblin fruit, leaving her impure, the image of the two golden heads together indicates the redemptive power of sisterly love, which is one of the poem’s main themes.

"wombat..."   (Goblin Market )

A “wombat” is an Australian marsupial with rodent-like teeth and claws that burrows into the ground. The British empire began to colonize Australia in 1770 and began passing land rights laws in the 1830s. Rossetti’s mention of this strange exotic animal both paints the goblins as strange creatures and reveals the colonial backdrop of this poem. Written in 1859, “Goblin Market” could also be read as indicative of anxiety about Britain's growing colonial empire: these new places were so different from Europe that they might have seemed threatening to a Victorian mindset.

"merchant man..."   (Goblin Market )

Notice how the depiction of the goblins shifts throughout the poem. They begin as mythological monsters, then become male goblins, then become “merchant men.” This progression advances the metaphorical reading of this poem as a Victorian allegory against sexual temptation and the preservation of one’s chastity. In this way, the goblins represent men tempting women into sexual deviance.

"Worn out by her resistance..."   (Goblin Market )

Lizzie’s moment of triumph reinforces the theme of the story: resisting temptation leads to righteousness. Notice too how the goblin men’s failure to make her indulge causes them all to abandon their fruit and vanish. Despite the terrible injuries and humiliation the goblin men put upon her, Lizzie stoically handles the abuse and defeats her tormentors.

"men..."   (Goblin Market )

While at the beginning of the poem the goblins are just monsters from folklore, now they are specified as “men.” This creates a connection between the tempting fruit and the masculine threat to chastity. In the Victorian era in which this was written, female sexuality was strictly regulated and restricted. A woman who exhibited desire or had extramarital sex was seen as a “fallen woman,” an unworthy deviant. To these two “maids” the most threatening temptation would be men and the carnal desire they trigger.

"Maids..."   (Goblin Market )

The noun “maids” refers to virginal or chaste women. The main characters of this poem are portrayed as innocent and under the threat of temptation. Setting up the poem in this way suggests a thematic undertone of both resisting temptation and preserving one’s chastity.

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