The World as a Worldview

Christina Rossetti’s The World tells the story of the narrator being wooed by a woman who in daylight seems beautiful but by night transforms into a devilish creature. At first the title of the poem seems unrelated to the poem itself, but I believe that Rossetti may be describing how she views “The World” or society. In particular, I think that The World serves as an allegory for the experience of a woman growing up in Victorian society. The attractions of participating in society such as companionship, status, and respect are represented in the poem as “ripe fruit, sweet flowers” and the promise of “full satiety.” The gaining of these attractions is contingent upon acceptance which in turn is contingent on conformity to societal expectations. As the narrator starts to realize this, they see the beautiful woman “in the naked horror of the truth:” “Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.” 

 The narrator engages in an internal debate between giving themselves up to the woman or turning their back on all she has to offer. If the narrator wants to gain access to the fruits of society, they must first become what society expects of them. By conforming to societal expectations, the narrator has to “sell My soul to her, give her my life and youth Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell.” Once a woman has sacrificed her freedom, independence, and ability to support herself, she may become accepted as the ideal presentable woman and go onto uphold the societal expectations that she may have once abhorred.  

3 thoughts on “The World as a Worldview”

  1. This is a really interesting interpretation of Christina Rossetti’s “The World.” I think it is interesting that the subject of “The World” is referred to with feminine pronouns. I believe this could be a reference to other women in Rossetti’s life, who could perhaps be trying to convince Rossetti to conform into society. In this way, “The World” could be a metaphor for the internalized misogyny Rossetti sees in other women, and her fear of becoming like them.

  2. Very nice post. The lines you quote: “sell My soul to her, give her my life and youth Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell” are integral to the message of the poem. The narrator asks the question “is this a friend?” then proceeds to describe a transaction in which he sells his soul and takes hold on hell. This theme of sinful desire reminds me a lot of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Dr Jekyll gives into his violent dual personality as if he has sold his soul to the devil.

  3. I really like this post, and the interpretation of the narrator’s inner debate. I think that Rosetti writes specifically from women’s perspective, and I think that it could go hand in hand with Jekyll and Hyde, if you interpret that as a male perspective, as they are both about kind of giving up a part of yourself in order to live a certain life.

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