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Literary Devices Found in "Goblin Market"


"Goblin Market" is Christina Rossetti's longest and most famous poem. In it, sisters Laura and Lizzie hear the call of a goblin fruit market. Laura succumbs to the temptation to visit and eat the goblins' fruit, but Lizzie does not. Lizzie nearly dies as a result of her indulgence, but her sister's ability to resist temptation ultimately saves her. The poem is widely seen as an allegory about temptation, and literary devices like symbolism and metaphor reinforce its moral message.

Pervasive Symbolism

Symbolism is used throughout the poem to underscore the moral message. For example, color is used to represent purity and sin. Lizzie's appearance is described as white and golden to signify her purity. For example, she is described as "sending up a golden fire," which acts as a guide for those who are not as virtuous as she. Laura once had golden hair, but after she eats the fruit -- succumbs to temptation -- her hair turns dark and gray, symbolizing her fall from virtue.

Light is also used to symbolize virtue and sin. Lizzie regularly yearns for the light of day and warns her sister of the twilight, but Laura longs for the night time, when she can eat the fruit again. The light of day reveals all sin, while the night allows sinners to indulge.

Metaphor and Extended Simile

Metaphor and extended simile are used in the same way symbolism is used to underscore the meaning in the verse. Throughout the poem, the sisters are compared to flowers, which represent purity and delicacy. Flowers can also be plucked, or lose their purity, which happens to Laura after she gives in to temptation and eats the fruit. Metaphor is also used to compare Laura's hair to gold and her tears to pearls (used to barter for fruit), creating a sexual suggestion that Laura "pays" for her fruit, or pleasure, with her body. Of course, after losing her virtue, she almost pays the price of her life.

Meaningful Allusion

Many scholars believe the poem to be an allegory of redemption similar to the story of Christ, though Rossetti's brother said she never intended the poem to be perceived as such. However, allusions used throughout the poem support this interpretation. Lizzie is seen as a savior figure to Laura, taking the abuse of the goblins in penance for Laura's sin. Because Lizzie resists temptation, Laura is able to heal and has a second chance at life. Lizzie even tells Laura, "Eat me, drink me, love me," alluding to how Christ told his disciples to eat bread representing his body to gain salvation.

Free Verse

The poem does not follow a strict rhythm or meter. Though many of the lines rhyme, they do not adhere to a strict pattern. The structure deviates as necessary to match the tone and mood of each section of the poem. When intense emotion is present, the verse becomes more erratic, such as when all of the goblins' fruits are listed. Laura is heady with temptation, and the verse matches her excited state of mind.

About the Author

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.

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