References below are to line numbers.
- The poem can be read as a fairytale (for children--see lines 184-98) with a moral lesson about selfish pleasure vs. the care and concern for others. (Denial of personal pleasure--e.g., Maggie Tulliver in Eliot's Mill on the Floss). The goblin men, imaginary creatures, represent evil and tempt Laura (and Lizzie) with forbidden fruit (biblical/sensual overtones). Laura, who is tempted (though not a first) and tries the fruit, soon wants more, and when she begins to wane because she cannot buy more, her sister, Lizzie, sacrifices herself and saves her sister. See the end of the poem--moral (543-67). Sisters help each other. They prevent each other from going astray and give each other strength.
- Moral tale: Complexities of life - Linear pattern of causes and effects - Moral (message)
- But asserting a moral may overlook/oversimplify the poem's complexities. For example, why does the ending of the poem show families with no men? Why doesn't Laura reveal a sense of guilt or shame about her behavior? Why doesn't Lizzie seem bothered by her encounter (rape?) with the goblin men? Is the story of Jeanie a better or competing moral story? How does this story relate to the main story about Laura and Lizzie?
- The "moral tale" reading may not take full account of the poem's focus on economics (capitalism) in nineteenth-century society. The poem's title signals its focus on the marketplace, and in the nineteenth century, a goblin was a slang term for a gold coin. ("Come buy") In terms of Marx's notion of
fetishism, fruit (a product of nature) becomes a commodity based on its exchange value (aside from its material/use value as a piece of fruit). The relationship between workers and their labor
becomes hidden (and workers alienated) through a fantastical relationship between their products--commodities
exchanged for money--that assume human or magical qualities (fetishism). Consider how the fruit is described (1-31; 60-63; 170-83).
- Also, labor is never foregrounded in the poem. Only the products (fruit) are highlighted. Finally, buying is presented as an addictive process (Although Laura can only buy fruit once, she wants to buy more.).
- It is interesting, though, that the goblins give Lizzie's money back to her. Is she a bad consumer in their eyes? Nineteenth century economics have alienating and addictive results that affect individuals negatively, both those who labor and those who buy. The marketplace represents evil and danger, opposed to domestic economy (see 199-214). Can the marketplace remain isolated from the domestic sphere (consider the poem's ending)?
- A consideration of economics presents connections to gender: Sin is presented as female temptation, and exchange value between men and women occurs in economic terms.
- A gender/sexuality reading examines the goblin men interacting with women in the public sphere of economic exchange, where women become commodities for exchange. (Laura gives her hair/Lizzie's body--as a prostitute or rape?--becomes payment.) Also, in the nineteenth century, women were viewed as either angelic, naturally innocent, domestic, and virginal (see 209) or monsters, wicked, and oversexed. [Think of Rose Maylie (Oliver Twist) and selections from "the Woman Question." ] Think of Laura and Lizzie as representing these contrasting value sets. The public sphere threatens to destroy "the angel in the house." Is the moral of the poem really rooted in how women are supposed to act and behave?
- The story of Jeanie incorporates many of these ideas. (pages 1592, 1596)
- Also, the tempting fruit may represent not only sin but the desire for education (the tree of knowledge) denied to women.
- There is also the question of sensuous/sexual fulfillment (128-40; 263; 464-74). Is true sexual fulfillment experienced through the homosocial, homoerotic, or lesbian (incestuous?) relationship, in which both sisters are united as one in a truly loving relationship (marriage)? Is this an alternative to conventional male/female relationships given societal attitudes towards women involving sexuality? (Lesbian relationship: fluid, mutual love and respect, equality, sharing) Consider the ending of the poem (line 552 to the end). Are Lizzie and Laura's marriages stable, comfortable, and traditional? (Note line 550: the "pleasant days long gone.") A question also raised by "The Blessed Damozel": Can a worldly sexual union also become a spiritual one?