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Societal Morality And Female Virtue In Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”

1339 words - 6 pages

Christina Rossetti, a writer known for protofeminist and Christian exploration of the feminine identity within Victorian society, manages in “Goblin Market” to use the form of poetry to counter the prevailing societal view of fallen women that they cannot be redeemed and must be shunned. Rossetti does this by challenging society’s ostracism of such women. Rossetti tells the story of two sisters: Lizzie, the virtuous female who is resistant to temptation and sin; and Laura, who develops as the more curious and likely to succumb to temptation between the two. Laura becomes a fallen woman within the poem, allowing herself to indulge in the “fruit forbidden” of the goblin men (Line 479). The ...view middle of the document...

The speaker describes Lizzie as being “[tender]” (299). She is compassionate and willing to protect her sister through means of femininity and internal strength rather than violence or physical force. Evidence for this arises when the goblin men attempt to violently force Lizzie to yield to the same invitations they imposed on her sister (390-446). The speaker describes Laura as “sweet-tooth[ed]” which in itself signifies an individual who indulges. Each character is complex in contrasting ways to highlight the scope and severity of society’s expectation for all Victorian women to remain virtuous. As well, it is clear that though each woman is different, the male-dominated Victorian society expects the same from both. An example occurs when each is doing her work and Rossetti’s speaker displays both who “[fed] their poultry, sat and sewed;/ Talked as modest maidens should” (208-9 emphasized). Here, Rossetti gives her speaker a satirical tone to heighten society’s constraints on every female character. By this it is apparent Rossetti concerns herself wholly with the way society deals with a woman’s character, more specifically a fallen woman’s character. She challenges society’s shunning of such women. Instead, she implies by the end of the poem that society should facilitate the reacceptance of fallen women in the same way Lizzie does with Laura.
Laura’s reintegration back into society is important to examine. But first, within the context of Rossetti’s work, it is known that she combines both sensuality and religious severity (Norton 1490). After tasting the fruit, Laura does not display regret, remorse or shame. With this, Laura’s emotional deterioration from society only comes from her desire to taste the fruit once more. Laura attempts to entice Lizzie into tasting the forbidden fruit (170); however, Lizzie continuously contests these temptations. When Lizzie hears the cry of the goblins she exclaims, “O Laura, come;/ I hear the fruit-call but dare not look” (242-43). In contrast, Laura becomes desperate to know why it is she cannot hear them like her sister: “Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?/ Must she no more such succous pasture find,/ Gone deaf and blind?” (257-59). Her inability to hear the cries of the goblin men heighten this desperation for “[day] after day, night after night,/ Laura [keeps] watch in vain/ In sullen silence of exceeding pain./ She never caught again the goblin cry” (269-72). The notion of fruit within the poem becomes a motif for corruption versus virtue and morality. Where Lizzie is virtuous, she does not eat the fruit. Where Laura is immoral, she gives into temptation and eats the fruit.
In portraying fruit this way, Rossetti expands the scope away from being related solely to Christianity and her own faith. Instead of being one fruit to represent sin, Rossetti’s speaker describes an abundance of fruit representing immorality of a larger scale: “Apples and quinces,/ Lemons and oranges,/ Plump unpecked...

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