Here are three critical interpretations of “Goblin Market.”
Harrison reiterates two possible readings in Christina Rossetti in Context: “[Jerome] McGann reads the poem as a…critique of Victorian marriage markets. For him the poem is designed to convey, the need for an alternative social order” (NER).
Sandra Gilbert argues that “Goblin Market” is “about Poetic language as well as about female sexuality.” She thinks that the fruits are symbolic of the ecstasies of the artistic process that were poisonous to the Victorian woman (The Madwoman in the Attic).
A third possibility comes from Phillips (a contributor to the Victorian Web) who suggests that the poem relates to issues of the female protagonist, or “heroine.” He argues that while Lizzie saves the day in the end, she does so in an ambivalently passive way that is a requirement for female protagonists in a male literary tradition. In this way, he believes the poem was addressing Rossetti’s frustration with traditional roles for women. In addition, he feels that the ending doesn’t work. He states, “The ambiguities at the end of ‘Goblin Market’ and the almost out of place, strangely irrelevant feel of the last few lines (caused by their sanitized, formulaic tone at the end of a poem so rich in erotic and violent detail) indicate that Rossetti herself had not reached a satisfactory conclusion on the subject of female heroism.”
(Of course, these theories do overlap some, but they emphasize a few angles and issues I wanted you to think about.)
Now, having heard these three theories in brief, let us know what you think “Goblin Market” is about. If they seem helpful, consider any of these ideas as starting points. Alternatively, ignore them completely and write your own analysis. Or, if you’d rather, you can use the questions posed in the Instructor Notes (which look at the symbolism of the poem) and forget you ever read this page. Refer to Rossetti’s other poems if you feel they will support your position.
(Does the ending seem “sanitized” to you?)
I think Goblin Market is about ecstasies and sexual desires, Like Sandra Gilbert argues. It is full of temptation, which haunts people, skews their minds, and plays games with people’s hearts. Temptation can lead to deadly sins, like Laura eating the “forbidden merchant goblins fruit.” Once she ate it she obsessively longed and desired for more and more of this fruit. Sins, especially sexual sins, are extremely hard to resist after you’ve started. Victorian woman had to fit a stereotype and a mold of purity and moral behavior; they weren’t able to full express themselves creatively, emotionally, and sexually. It seems that this is a popular thread among literature and history, about struggle for woman to full bloom into their own person and identity.
The ending of the “Goblin Market,” does not do it for me. It is so short and abrupt; it is “proud” as a goblin called Lizzie for not eating with them. She tried to save her sister, but her sister didn’t want to be saved or her problem solved. She just wanted the fruit! But instead Lizzie got hurt for her sister’s sake. her problem solved. It’s sweet but seems to be symbolic of a Victorian woman fitting the mold and stereotype after all.