Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Goblin Market: Animal Tropes and Instinct

In Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, it can be argued that there is a definitive ranking of the species mentioned in the book– the sisters, Laura and Lizzie, are obviously higher ranked than the savage, sexually driven goblins described in the poem. However, there is a startling resemblance between the two that can be derived from a short paragraph.

When the goblins are introduced, they are described with animalistic qualities. For example, “One had a cat’s face, one whisked a tail, one tramped at a rat’s pace, one crawled like a snail…” (Rossetti, pages 2 and 3) With animalistic qualities come a more sub-human and primeval quality to the description. Rosetti chose these animals wisely; snails and rats are seen as disgusting by humans, and cats are seen as sneaky. When reduced to nothing but an animal, the point that Rossetti tries to make come across more bluntly: the goblins are sneaky, kniving, and have malicious intent. Thus, they are described as these more hideous creatures.

While the animalistic, “subhuman” comparison of the goblins to different animals are expected, the comparison of Laura to an animal is surprising to readers: “Laura stretched her neck like a rush-imbedded swan…” (Rossetti, page 3) At first, it was surprising to me that the passage would compare Laura to an animal. If she is seen as the “original inhabitant” and thus pure creature of her habitat, why is she degraded to an animal? And even though she is described as something so graceful and pure, she is still degraded to nothing more than an animal.

This is because in these few lines, Rossetti is trying to prove that even though goblins are very unequal than humans, they still have the same quality of instinct. In this case, both the goblins and Laura rely on their sexual instincts in order to make decisions. The goblins cry out to Laura hoping to take away her purity, and her curiosity and instinct eventually lead her to comply. Since animals are normally seen as more instinctual than humans (who are seen to rely on thought process and reason), Rossetti can degrade her characters to nothing but animals to get the factual point across.

What I am really trying to say using this passage here is that even though the goblins are seen through a more brutal lens, in reality everyone is an animal no matter their background, and must bend to their instinct at one point.

1 Comment

  1. I like your conclusion that all humans must “bend” to their instincts at one point. Instinct-driven behavior seems to be quite contradictory when we think about many of the characters from our class readings. Highlighted by the recurring contrast between science and the supernatural we have often read about chracters (mostly men to be precise) who base their thinking and their following actions on rational thinking. Your concusion, howeverm seems to also fit the behavior of Jonathan Harker. While he is usually rational and logical, trying to uncover the Count’s dark secret, he is still nearly seduced by the Three Weird Sisters at one point. His mal instincts tehrefore take over, and like Laura in Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, Jonathan Harker bends to his sexual desires.

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