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Goblin Market

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Essay title: Goblin Market

“For there is no friend like a sister.”

-Christina Rossetti

Sisterhood has been bond that throughout the ages has changed from only family members, to females that feel a special bond with one another, to females sharing the same interest in religion or education. Christina Rossetti shared the sisterhood bond to her readers when she wrote her poem Goblin Market. The poem has even been centered on by the critics to be the theme of “sisterhood” and feminism. But the “sisterhood” in Goblin Market is not an exclusionary term; rather it implies several meanings in the same way that it potentially includes the experience of both sexes.

In the beginning as readers we are faced with the exploits of two popular Biblical stories, that of Christ and Eve, these two of which have important implications concerning the traditional roles of men and women. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the male is the Redeemer; Church hierarchy, male suffrage, and other patriarchal practices carried this religious tradition of male power into cultural realm. With the role of the “savior” reserved exclusively for males, females are relegated to the supporting role, for example Mary, and Martha or the role of the person in need of salvation, example Eve. Mary and Martha, are the females that fulfill the secondary function of nurturing the male, the Christ figure. As Eve, the female is the archetypal “fallen woman” who, contrasted to savior, the embodiment of spiritual love, is traditionally associated with carnal love. Both female roles, of course, are inferior to the role of the male.

Since we as reader have a background of the nineteenth century, we tend to the Victorian female as an egoless, domestic “angel” in the service of the male, who possesses all social and political power; diametrically opposed to this “ideal” of womanhood is the “fallen” woman, whose sins are of sexual nature.

Christina Rossetti’s use of the term “sisterhood” in Goblin Market reveals the same underlying concept: those both “male” and “female” roles are in fact available to everyone. Through the key characters Lizzie, and Laura, Rossetti shows that the female may in fact act as redeemer and redeemed, as nurturer and nurtured, as lover and beloved.

At the end of the poem we are not shown a world without men, but a world in which all people are allowed to play all parts, to embrace a wholeness that is only possible with the dissolution of the traditional male or female dichotomy. This poem, defines “sisterhood” as the independence, rather than isolation, of antinomies, and demonstrates this interdependence both within each of the girls between them.

Yet, while at the same time she advocates this fundamental dynamism between polarities, however, Rossetti also argues on a simpler plane on the nineteenth century definition of “sisterhood” as a religious order of nurses, this suggests that nurturing, rather than being a secondary function, this then embodies a heroism.

Thus, the meaning of the word “sisterhood” in this poem is anything but simple. On one side, these competing issues of the ending of the male and female dichotomy and of the dignity of the female role as a nurturer that seem to echo and re-echo throughout the work until the word “sisterhood” achieves a new richness of meaning through these reverberations.

The “weaker” side of all polarities (day and night, sun and moon) is traditionally associated with women: thus erotic love is conventionally the realm of females while the “higher,” spiritual love is associated with men. In Goblin Market Christina Rossetti created a world in which women embody both the “strong,” male side as well as the “weak,” female side. Rossetti also achieves this end by subverting the Biblical stories of Eve and Christ, which have deep roots in religious and cultural conceptions and which have helped to shape and define both the scope and relative importance of the roles which men and women may play in a patriarchal society. This poem undercuts the traditional patriarchal binary concept that the redeemer is somehow “better” than the redeemed and the spiritual superior to the erotic. Instead, Goblin Market celebrates dynamism a “sisterhood” between polarities, and allows Laura and Lizzie to represent this interdependence in both narrative and metaphoric terms.

Lizzie’s and Laura’s reactions to the goblins almost immediately indicate the differences in their personalities. At the goblin’s cry, “Laura bowed her head to hear / Lizzie veiled her blushes,” Lizzie thrust a dimple finger / In each ear, shut eyes and ran: / Curious Laura chose to linger.” The reader later learns more about Lizzie’s prudence: she worries about the possibility of the girls losing their way,

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