Feminism In The Goblin Market By Christina Rossetti

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In the 1800’s, the oppression of women was in full affect and would not allow women to be anything other than what the society said they could be or what they could do. But you start to see a turn when women authors started to express what they are going through and demand for a change. The “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti is a tale about how two sisters prevail and save one another through their friendship and sisterhood. The poem draws feminist characteristics by showing how women were intelligent and keen enough to solve problems that they had and breaking the barrier of men always being the hero of the story.

Christina Rossetti and her work of the “Goblin Market” is a poem to show how women were intelligent enough to solve the problem such as the sister Lizzie realizing the fruit is bad that the goblins gave her sister Laura and that the goblins are also bad as well. Lizzie finds out that by eating the fruit again after already having it once, that it can reverse the pain and heal her sister who is withering away to death. So, she goes back to the goblins and lets them try to shove the food in her mouth and all over her, but she keeps her mouth closed and has her sister eat the fruit off of her which saves her life. The poem broke the barrier of the woman being the hero of the story and not always the men, women are starting to flex their muscles and show what they can do. What made this poem even more effective for the feminist movement was that it was also published by a woman, which were very unpopular at this time for publishing work nevertheless writing work.

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Women in literature has been evolving in this time period and is starting to make a name for themselves in the social viewpoint. Women’s writing was an attempt to place themselves into eye of the public, which was dominated by males, they then started to lash out against the gender roles and standards that were placed on them by men. You would see in their writing that they would be talking about their oppression and trying to broaden their audience and reach more than just their public sphere. Feminist writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft were the key reasons for women to start to step up in societies where men could do what they please and women could not. Wollstonecraft was a pivotal author for feminism and her work “A Vindication of Rights of Women” where she discusses that every woman should be able to use the same resources that men use such as education, and that woman should be able to have the same opportunity as men and be able to be seen the same in the social sphere. She also explained how woman’s education was to focus on pleasuring men and not learning vital things to help them become intelligent. Woman weren’t seen as smart because they didn’t receive the same education that men did, and which led to men putting boundaries on what women were capable of doing. Wollstonecraft thinks education should be equally spread through both man and woman so woman can have the same opportunity that man has to become what they set out to be. In the “Goblins Market,” you can see the intelligence of the sister and how she puts two and two together and figures out how the fruit works and how to evidently save her sister.

In Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, she is doing something that has never been seen at this time period in English literature which is having the woman of the story be the hero of the story. She is breaking the barrier of men always being the knight in shining honor to now the women being the heroic, brave advocate for justice. But what was interesting is the way Rossetti had the sister carry out the heroism, she performed her heroic action in a passive kind of way instead of her killing the goblins or something of that nature. She had her give herself up for the better of the group, sacrificing herself and her body to save one another. Women weren’t seen as having heroic key factors and didn’t exude them, they were hardly seen as anything other than a mother, queen, sister, and a daughter helping the real “hero” of the story which was the man. The role that women had at this time period was to stay home and watch over the house, they weren’t allowed to go out and get a job, they were seen as weak in the public sphere and that they couldn’t hold their own. The poem “Angel in the House” by Coventry Patmore represented how women were depicted in the Victorian era, they were to be tiredly devoted to help their husband and to do what he says without having her own say on it. Men were made to go out and work and be in the public sphere whereas women are meant to be in the house and tending to the children. They were not allowed to do what they wanted outside the house. Also, to be mentioned is that when a couple wanted to get married, the rights of the marriage were handed to the husband and represented by the husband. Any possessions that the woman had prior to the marriage would now be owned by the husband as well as the woman’s money.

The poem also shows the bond between the two sisters and how their sisterhood stayed strong after one of them defied the other and did the opposite of what she said. This was also a feminist characteristic because it showed that the sisters could rely on each other and help each other out when they needed it instead of having a man come and do the dirty for them, they lifted up their sleeves and did it themselves. This challenged the gender roles of the woman in the Victorian era because woman at that time were only seen as shy, weak, and couldn’t be assigned jobs that required responsibility. They had no legal say at that time. Now with the rise of feminist authors such as Rossetti, you start to see women portrayed in their rightfully manner but still fighting the oppression of women by man. In Bressler’s “Literary Criticism,” he explains feminist criticism and discusses how male voices kept continuing to determine the social role and personal significance of women. Women wanted to be heard and seen as scholars and writers. They didn’t want to be considered the “other” anymore and had the goal of rescuing them from being known as that.

Christina Rossetti was a very religious woman and expressed her religion in her writing. She was educated from her mother and father from a young age which her studies consisted of religious works. In the “Goblins Market”, she showed the two sisters’ virginity and how one of the sisters gave it up by giving in to the goblins and their fruit and the other one stayed pure and sustained her virginity by not giving in. This shed light on what it means to be and women and how valuable their virginity was to them. Males in English literature would write on the women and devalue them in the writing giving them the lower end of the story and would show what it meant to be women leaving them room to oppress them at this time period.

The poem “Goblin Market” represents a multitude of different feminist subjects but its ultimate meaning is how it represents female power. It shows the strength of the female body, not only their intelligence which I already have mentioned earlier in the paper, but actually shows the woman being brave and wanting to take on the challenge and overcome it. The interesting part is how Rossetti shows it, she exemplifies it in a subtle way. She doesn’t make Lizzie, the sister of the story who is the hero of the story, go out on this long adventure and slay the beast. She makes Lizzie sacrifice her body, letting the goblins spread the fruit all over her body trying to make her eat it to save her sisters life. She made her save the day and be the hero of the story by performing a nonviolent action. This kind of ties back into her religion and how all life is valuable in the eyes of god, even the life of the goblins, and not having them killed for their actions of their treacherous fruit.

Women during the Victorian era lived a very different life compared to men. Women who chose to work were only allowed to be either a maid or a nurse while also still being responsible for the house, keeping it clean and doing chores while also taking care of the children. The gender roles that were set on women were nowhere fair for them, they were supposed to be pure and quite for the man. Women had the more stressful life compared to men, men would act as the head of the household while they only worried about themselves and not help their wife. Not only that, the men saw the woman as a sexual object, not as a human being. Men could mingle and have sexual relations with other women even if he had a wife. Men had all the freedom in the public sphere and had control on how women were seen in the public eye. But you start to see a shift when the women of this time period start to come out of the shadows as the feminist movements started to gain some exposure. This is when you start to see female authors work get published and start to gain their social influence on society leading them to be treated equally.

In conclusion, Christina Rossetti and her work of the “Goblin Market” represents women to be the hero of the story, breaking the barrier of gender roles and showing that women have both the strength and intelligence to solve a problem. This was a major poem in the feminist movement showing that the two sisters in the poem didn’t need a man to come and save them, all they needed was each other and their sisterhood. Women were still struggling with oppression, but this showed the public sphere what was happening and started to lead to change, where men and women become equal.  


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