Orientals and Goblin Men



During our recent visit to the Trout Gallery, the image that intrigued me the most was the one entitled Salammbo.  In this image, a pale naked woman is lying across a bed while being entangled by a giant snake.  Off to the side, a fully clothed, swarthy looking man conceals himself in the shadows, starting at her ominously while playing his musical instrument.  The setting appears to be in an foreign land due to the black snake, the apparel of the swarthy man, and the pictures on the wall that resemble ancient Assyrian engravings.  While examining this image, two things come to mind: an obvious sexual tone and exotic themes.

The sexual tone is pretty evident due to the nudity of the woman, the snake (a phallic symbol) being wrapped around her, and her suggestive body language; she does not appear to be attempting to fight off the snake since her right arm is thrown over head and because of her closed eyes and pleasurable facial expression.  In terms of exoticism, there are certain aspects of the setting that make the image exotic such as the snake, the swarthy man, and the wall engravings.  Both the giant black snake and the Assyrian images are certainly not from England, or from the West in general.  The clothing and dark skin of the man seem to indicate that he is also non-European.  I also interpreted the setting of the image to be an intentional implication of orientalism since all the foreign objects are displayed in a bizarre and sexual way that implies that it is a stereotypical critique of the East.  A Westerner would probably view the image and think, “This setting is obviously foreign!  Who else but the orientals would lie with wild beasts in a strange room while others look on?”

The sexual and exotic themes of Salammbo reminded me of Laura and Lizzie’s encounter with the goblin men in Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market.  When Laura buys fruit from the goblins, the language seems overtly sexual.  Her consumption of the fruit is described as thus: she “sucked their fruit globes fair or red…she sucked and sucked and sucked the more, fruits which that unknown orchard bore, she sucked until her lips were sore” (Rossetti 4).  The instance in which the goblins swarm and try to force feed Lizzie can also be interpreted as being sexual because the scene eerily mirrors a gang bang/orgy since she “would not open lip from lip lets they should cram a mouthful in: but laughed…to feel the drip of juice that syrupped all her face…and streaked her neck” (Rossetti 12).

Meanwhile, the goblin men are described as possibly being foreign since Laura asks the question, “Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?” (Rossetti 2), hinting that the goblins are from other lands or “soils.”  Either way, the goblins men are clearly not human and are strange, which is similar to the exotic themes of Salammbo.  By being foreign like the figures of Salammbo, the goblins are portrayed in a dangerous, bizarre, and “sexual” manner.  The woman in Salammbo lies with a snake, a dangerous animal, and the goblin men, who are vicious and animal-like, have a “sexual” encounter with Laura and Lizzie.  The goblins are therefore outsiders who cannot be trusted by the sisters, much like how Westerners of the Victorian Era deemed foreigners such as Asians as “orientals”, strange violent folk from the edges of the world.     


4 thoughts on “Orientals and Goblin Men”

  1. I too saw the goblins in Goblin Market as foreign figures. Their portrayal reminded me of the fear that white westerners had of black men raping white women. While this fear is most strongly associated with a later era, it begun much earlier, and the racial themes in this poem reflect that demonization of “the other.” Perhaps this poem reflects the kind of fear that led to anti-miscengenation laws (laws that enforced marital, and sometimes even sexual, segregation) in the Americas. I’m not sure whether or not similar laws existed in Brittan.

  2. This is so interesting in the context of the “exotic other,” the being somehow different and desirable because of its difference. The goblins are somehow more attractive because they are so different from the L sisters – also, there are no men in the poem and we have no evidence either sister has ever seen a man. The woman in Salammbo is also othered through the expression on her face, her body language, and her physical face markings, yet she is definitely the object of desire in the painting. Like the goblins, Salammbo is othered because of her exoticism. The Victorians claimed they were strait-laced and straight and narrow but they only thing they were was laced.

  3. Another similarity between the two is their connections with the temptation of Eve. Salammbo uses the image of a snake to represent temptation, linking the woman’s sexuality with the snake itself so that it represents the dangerous desirability of female sexuality, which in the Biblical story causes the fall of man. In “Goblin Market,” the goblins represent the tempting Satan, enticing Laura to embrace her sexuality for pleasure’s sake. The emphasis here is on the ruin this creates for the woman herself, who is no longer pure for marriage after she has indulged in these temptations. The use of fruit as the fall for Laura strongly connects the story with the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

  4. Really interesting post on the similarities between these two works. As you were describing the serpent and the fruits, it made me think of the biblical connections to temptation. The serpent lures Eve with his apple, and we see the snake in the Salammbo engraving and the fruits in the Goblin Market poem. This makes me think of the question of blame – is it Eve’s fault for taking the apple, and is it Laura’s fault for wanting the fruit? Do these texts blame women for giving in to temptation and express a sort of warning to on looking Victorian women through the blatantly exotic and seductive nature of the works?

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