Throughout literature history there have been stereotypes that relate to gender roles. Both in a negative and a positive light. When looking at gender stereotype, it is important to establish the difference between masculinity and femininity. Typically men are stereotyped as physically strong, rational and self-reliant. Compared to women, who are typically stereotyped in literature is two different ways: the ‘pure’ and the ‘sinner.’ (AQA Critical Anthology) In Rossetti’s Goblin Market, it is clear that she shows men in a sinister light, as well as acknowledging the stereotype of women, but bringing the gender stereotype to a middle ground. This poem was written in 1862, during the victorian era, the first wave feminism movement was taking place. For example, the suffragette movement which was working to allow women to have the right to vote. Rossetti used her poetry to challenge the ideals of the victorian period, which was already starting during this era.
At the start of the poem, Rossetti lists twenty-nine forbidden fruits. The way that Rossetti presents these fruits is very quick, the fast pace at the start of the poem, draws the reader in,as well as Laura, with the vast amount of fruit that is presented. Throughout the poem, although it does not follow a strict structure or rhyme scheme, the way in which the sisters are feeling creates the structure of the poem. For example, when Laura is starting to feel tempted, the pace of the poem becomes quick, or when it shows that Lizzie is ignoring that temptation, the poem become much more steady. Another reason why Rossetti did not conform to a particular structure or rhyme scheme is because she is challenging the views of men and women in society. Saying that men and women should be able to do what they want without having to conform to the structural conditions that have been placed on men and women, throughout the course of history.
The list starts with an apple, with is often what people believe to be the forbidden fruit, from the bible with Adam and Eve. By using this religious imagery, Rossetti could be suggesting that women are weak and are easily tempted. But another interpretation if this is that Rossetti is showing, every woman’s temptation is different. That women in this world have a choice, to give into temptation or to channel that temptation into religion, continuing to be ‘pure.’ But it is interesting to note that the ‘Goblins’ that Rossetti is referring too are likely to be human men. Only the ‘maids heard the goblins cry’ suggest that only unmarried women can hear the goblins. Inferring that men are the seducers, who will destroy the ‘pure’ nature of women. During the victorian period, women were not allowed to speak to men, unless they were married and had a chaperone with them. In contrast to men, who were able to do what they wanted, act on their temptations and not be ridiculed for it. ‘We must not look at goblin men/ We must not buy their fruits:/ Who knows upon what soil they fed/ Their hungry thirsty roots?’ this shows that throughout the poem, Rossetti constinaly implies that men are predators, able to do what they like, wanting to ruin the ‘pure’ women.
Throughout literary history, men and women have been conditioned to take certain views, especially with gender stereotypes. Women have been shown in two different ways, the pure or the whore. Men were often stereotyped as people who were strong, the provider and the ones who could do what they pleased. It can be seen with female authors who have published work under a mans name, like the Bronte sisters, because they felt there works would more likely to have been read, than if they had published in their own name. This shows the inequality of gender during this time. Even Bram Stoker who wrote, Dracula, characterised women as the pure or the whore, and men as powerful and dominant. But it could be argued that much like many of the men of this time and even before them, they have been conditioned to have theses views. Even the Bible predict women as the easily tempted and weaker gender, which gave the men of history a reference, giving them the authority to hold theses views.
Even Rossetti uses theses two different interpretations to show the difference between the two sisters, Lizzie and Laura. Instead of using these two different interpretations to define women, she takes the views and challenges them. ‘She thrust a dimpled finger/ In each ear, shut eyes and ran:/ Curious Laura chose to linger’ Rossetti is showing that Lizzie is the ‘pure’ and Laura is the ‘sinner.’ This can also be seen when Rossetti uses imagery to show that Laura is no longer ‘pure’- ‘Her hair grew thin and grey’. But is is interesting that now the two stereotypes of women have been established, Lizzie still stands by her sister. Normally in the victorian period, the ‘pure’ women would have nothing to do with the disgraced women. It is possible that Rossetti is making a point, to show that women should stick together, no matter if they are ‘pure’ or a ‘sinner’, women should not be categorized and should stay united. However, this is another interpretation that when Lizzie goes down to the Goblin Market and asks for fruit to save her sister, she is now tainted, ‘tore her gown and soil’d her stockings’, no longer innocent. But this interpretation seems far fetched because throughout the poem, Rossetti makes the point that women should be united.
In this poem, Rossetti portrays men with animalistic features. Many critics believe that Rossetti is referring to human men, ‘One had a cat’s face/ One whisk’d a tail,/ One tramp’d at a rat’s pace’ without human characteristics. By giving men animalistic features, it makes the women look pure and the men like they are seducers. Rossetti could be suggesting that men will take and get what they want. This can be seen, when the goblins are selling their fruit, there is no ‘sweet talk’ when getting the women to buy the fruit- the words they speak are very harsh, ‘come buy, come buy’. It was the victoria belief that if men were not tamed then they would become sexual predators. It was also believed that women were considered physically weaker than men, yet morally superior to men. (British Library, Kathryn Hudges, 2014) This is clearly shown throughout goblin market.
Throughout the poem, Rossetti makes a point of binary opposites, through brotherhood vs sisterhood. ‘Brother with queer brother’ and ‘Brother with sly brother’ shows that Rossetti is putting an emphasis on the brotherhood. This can also be seen when when Lizzie says, ‘For there is no friend like a sister’ this shows that the bond of sisterhood can not be broken. Yet it also shows that women are not seen to be able to exist in this world without each other. This can be seen when Lizzie is telling Laura about Jeanie, the women who died, showing that she died because she did not have a sister to look out for her. Aijun Senaha wrote an article called ‘A punishment Required: Pleasure of pain in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin market.’ Which says that around the time that Rossetti wrote this poem, women were fighting to own their own property and wanted to be treated by doctors just as men were. If the women had a sexually transmitted disease then they were considered ‘fallen’ and a prostitute. This was a movement of sisterhood in Britain. (https://www.usi.edu/media/2416962/krocker.pdf) However, at the end of the poem, Rossetti uses more binary opposites, ‘calm and stormy weather…To lift one if one totters down’ this indicates that Rossetti recognises that without brotherhood there can not be sisterhood and without sisterhood, there can not be brotherhood.
Overall, it is clear that Goblin market is very empowering towards women, but shows men in a negative light, like they are the enemy. The gender stereotype of women starts out in a negative light, but throughout the poem, there is a strong message of sisterhood, that women should stand united. Yet reading this poem through the lens of a feminine perspective, men have been overlooked and are still being stereotyped as ‘seducers’. During this time of change, first-wave feminism was taking place with the suffragette movement, but not all men were opposed to this idea. This can be seen with Mr Selfridge, who actively supported the suffragette movement. But first-wave feminism was more about women and less about men. Men had always had the upper hand, until this point, when everything was starting to change, which is very reflective of Christina Rossetti’s, Goblin Market.