Tempted, But Unyielding

In Rossetti’s poem, “Goblin Market,” two sisters are tempted by the delectable fruits offered to them every night by the goblin men. One, Laura, gives in to that temptation and suffers the consequences, leaving Lizzie to figure out how to free her from those consequences. With her sister’s very life at stake, Lizzie goes through a vivid transformation from one who refuses to look, hear or taste to one who will look and hear but remain unyielding in her refusal to partake.

At the start, Lizzie is unwilling even to peek at the goblin men and berates Laura for doing so, saying “‘Laura, Laura, / You should not peep at goblin men.’ / Lizzie cover’d up her eyes, / Cover’d close lest they should look;” (48-51). Here we see a timid but resolved Lizzie, unwilling to chance the dangers of sating her curiosity regarding the goblin men. A few lines down, Laura entices Lizzie to look at the goblins with their trays and Lizzie remains resolute, saying, “‘No, no, no; / Their offers should not charm us, / Their evil gifts would harm us.’ / She thrust a dimpled finger / In each ear, shut eyes and ran” (64-68). Lizzie response to the dangers of the goblin market is to come her eyes, block her ears and run. That changes after Laura is affected from eating the goblin fruit.

When her sister’s life is in danger, Lizzie changes her attitude. Now, instead of fleeing the Goblin Market, Lizzie, ” for the first time in her life / Began to listen and look” (327-328). However, Lizzie shows a strength that Laura could not. Whereas when Laura looked and listened she also gave in to the temptation to eat the fruit, Lizzie shows an incredible amount of fortitude. “Though the goblins cuff’d and caught her, / Coax’d and fought her, / Bullied and besought her, / Scratch’d her, pinch’d her black as ink, / Kick’d and knock’d her, Maul’d and mock’d her, / Lizzie utter’d not a word; / Would not open lip from lip / Lest they should cram a mouthful in:” (424-431).

The imagery Rossetti uses to describe Lizzie also changes throughout the poem. Whereas at first she is “placid” with an “open heart” and “tender,” when facing the goblin market Lizzie becomes something entirely different; strong. “Like a lily in a flood,— / Like a rock of blue-vein’d stone / Lash’d by tides obstreperously,— / Like a beacon left alone / In a hoary roaring sea, / Sending up a golden fire,— / Like a fruit-crown’d orange-tree / White with blossoms honey-sweet / Sore beset by wasp and bee,— / Like a royal virgin town / Topp’d with gilded dome and spire / Close beleaguer’d by a fleet / Mad to tug her standard down” (409-421). Now Lizzie is like a fortified town, like a strong tree, like a hard rock, yet still threaded with beauty and grace, as is made clear by the blue vein in the rock and the flowers atop the orange tree. She does not lose who she was before, but rather adds to it a strength that was not there initially – the strength to submit herself to temptation for the sake of another and remain unyielding, where before she had needed only avoid the situation altogether.

 

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